"If this was religion, I wanted no part of it."
Like Gauguin leaving behind everything for exile in the South Seas, he dropped out and disappeared. Unlike Gauguin, he created nothing except a reputation so loathsome he soon earned, and deserved, the name of "Beast."
His personality had turned 180 degrees. He joined one of the Hell's Angels' West Coast chapters, let his appearance become so raunchy and foul that even fellow bikers were offended. He was so mean and ill-tempered that he would fight over anything. He became a doper. The miracle was that he hadn't killed anybody.
Certainly. Christ can rescue anyone, no matter how depraved he's become.
Converting Beast fell on the slight shoulders of a born-again runaway, Estelle, whom I had led to the Lord. She was a quietly militant Christian who would do anything I asked except return to her parents, so polluted with hate and hassling was her home in the Midwest.
Estelle talked to Beast endlessly, and finally struck a chord. A flashback came to him of what God offered the believer. It had been senseless to judge and dismiss God from his life because of one congregation of pseudo-Christians. Through Estelle, Beast recommitted his soul to the Lord
Estelle brought him to me. Beast and I prayed together, talked over where he'd been, where he could be. "I've got to get out of the Hell's Angels," he concluded. He soon gave away his chopper, jacket, and colors.
A few days later he no longer looked like a beast. He'd shaved, had a haircut, and bought a suit. He phoned his parents and told them he was returning.
The biker once called Beast is back at a Bible college for refresher courses. He plans to preach again. And when this once Devil-consumed ex-biker takes to the pulpit in the future and talks of sin he'll know whereof he speaks. He's a fortunate man; he raged through a hell on earth for three years before re-embracing Christ. Now he has one foot in Heaven.
Beast was one of two bikers I've met who through Christ ended up serving God in the pulpit. The other was named "Preacher." Born, raised, and educated in Florida, he'd left his home state at the age of nineteen. He migrated to the Southwest and took up with a bikers' gang called The Bandidos. He was against everything, the Lord, the Bible, all that the Establishment represented. He would run off at the mouth for hours and so, naturally, they called him "Preacher."
I ran into Preacher for the first time when I was at a revival at Castle Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, which is pastored by hard-working Jack Taylor, a friend for years, an easy- going man on the surface who has a will of iron when it comes to the things of the Lord.
When I arrived in San Antonio, I wanted to conduct an unscheduled Sunday afternoon service.
"There's no singing group available," Jack said.
"Then let's go out and save a group and have them sing and play at the service."
It seemed the logical way to meet God's need, and Jack accompanied me on a tour of San Antonio's nightclubs. We reached one joint that was featuring an all-female, five-member group called The Pink Panthers. Except for their black boots everything about them was pink miniskirts, hats, blouses; even their guitars and drums were painted pink.
We talked to them after their show and led three to the Lord.
When Jack and I asked if they would play at our service, they said they didn't know any church music. "You can learn, you can come up with something," I said.
Next day, after they had practiced through the night they played at our service, which was jam-packed with a crowd of more than seven hundred. The Pink Panthers played "Amazing Grace" with a sound I'm certain no one had heard before. It was in rock tempo and it was out of sight. The kids cheered and applauded lustily. The three converted girls each gave their testimony, then I preached.
I was ten minutes into my sermon when a gang of bikers, unmistakable in their colors, clanked in noisily. Spotting them I began telling stories of converted bikers.
About seventy-five people were saved at that service.
After I finished counseling with those who'd been led to Christ, Preacher introduced himself and told me, "Man, I need something more in my life than I have now."
"Do you want to be saved?"
Not only Preacher, but several of his fellow bikers came forward to embrace Christ. Jack subsequently baptized all of them.
A few weeks later I was back on the Boulevard when Preacher walked into His Place. He was low.
"Man, I've backslid," he said. "I've been hitting up. But every time I take junk it's awful. It's better the way I am when I'm right with God."
I worked hard with Preacher and when he finally rededicated his life he really meant it.
Today he's an assistant pastor at a church in Atlanta, Georgia. Preacher is a real preacher now.
THE RUNAWAY GENERATION
Height: Five feet four inches.
Hair: Light brown with auburn tint.
Identifying marks: Dimple right cheek.
Characteristics: Always neatly dressed, wears eye makeup.
Favorite foods: Pizza, hamburger, French fries, apple pie, and cake.
That could be a capsule portrait of Miss America.
And the girl on the poster is pretty enough to be Miss America.
The poster, one of scores that come to my desk every week from frantic parents, pleads: "A reward of $2,000 will be paid for information leading to the definite location and safe return of our runaway girl."
Poignantly, the poster adds:
We are a churchgoing family, and our daughter was always in morning and evening worship services and in youth fellowship. She seemed well adjusted. She is quick to smile and has a very charming personality.
She is extremely afraid of lightning and becomes very nervous during a thunderstorm.
Her leaving left us in shock as well as grief, for we had no reason to suspect she would abandon us.
The girl has been missing for more than two months. The parents can only wait and wonder where the daughter is who's afraid of lighting and thunder, but wasn't afraid to strike out on her own.
She might be anywhere. Haight-Ashbury. Chicago. New Orleans. Greenwich Village. More than likely the Sunset Boulevard.
It's certain she's in one of those concrete jungles, and may God help her.
J. Edgar Hoover, responding to a letter I wrote him about the runaway problem, said that according to his estimate "based upon reports submitted by law enforcement agencies, there were over 170,000 persons under eighteen years of age taken into protective custody as runaways" in 1968.
But the FBI's figures only skim the surface. An Associated Press story that polled police officials, juvenile authorities, and clergymen around the nation declared: "An estimated half- million youths between twelve and eighteen run away from home every year. The exact figure is unknown because police believe thousands of runaways, particularly boys and older teen-agers, are never reported missing."
The AP estimate of 500,000 annual runaways, plus who knows how many more, leads to thought provoking statistical conclusions: At least one in every hundred American kids is chucking home and hearth. Together their number is larger than the population of Alaska, Nevada, Vermont, or Wyoming. And the disappearance of the runaways leaves another million people in trauma their mothers and fathers.
The runaway is yet another middle-class phenomenon, the middle class that is the alleged guardian of bedrock American values.
"Favorite foods: Pizza, hamburger, French fries, apple pie, and cake," the poster said. "We are a churchgoing family, and our daughter was always in morning and evening worship services and in youth fellowship."
It's apparent that apple pie and church attendance are no longer sufficient "values" to hold many young people.
"She seemed well adjusted."