I was twenty-two years old, working in a hospital in small-town central Kansas. I was disillusioned about church, and had pretty much stopped attending. A young man my age was admitted with hepatitis, and needed to be in complete isolation for a period of weeks. Five days a week, I became Doug’s nurse-aide. The contagion issue forced me to scrub down each time I entered his room. Because of this, I would generally leave him until the end of the morning, go in, do all the cleaning and linen changing required, timing it so that lunch would come about the time I was all done everything else. So most days I was in this man’s room for about a solid hour at a time.
Doug had just graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a school I considered so ultra-conservative I wouldn’t have approached it with a ten-foot pole! I viewed it as extremely bad luck that I had to be stuck with this pious missionary-minded person for such a long time, each day. Doug was not feeling sick, just quite weak, and cheerfully settled into a routine. He had a tape recorder brought in so he could listen to Bible lectures; he had many books, etc. Inwardly I sneered at all his religiosity; outwardly, of course, I had to be civil as I worked in his room to meet his needs.
Over the weeks we developed quite a contest! He would share with me his own beliefs, the things he was learning, reading about, hearing on tape. I would try and bait him with controversial issues of the day. To his credit, Doug never took the bait. He engaged me in all sorts of topics without batting an eye. I grew to admire him in this.
What I learned from this encounter with Doug was that I did not need to “throw out the baby with the bath-water”. Just because I was turned off by church and rejected much of what it stood for, I did not need to also reject my personal faith, my own spiritual life. I came away from this experience ready to continue participating in my faith tradition. My wife and I were at the cusp of a cross-country move to Vancouver, BC. I figured in a city like that, it might be worthwhile to give church one more try. What hadn’t worked for me in conservative central Kansas might be a better experience in a cosmopolitan center like Vancouver.
And it worked! We moved to Vancouver, found a church there, even a Mennonite Brethren one, and had a life-changing experience! But I credit Doug Wedel for helping me stay on track–preventing me from going completely off course. Though he and I came from vastly different places, he was able to be open enough to engage me right where I was at that time. And through becoming my friend, he helped me see that all was not lost with organized religion.
I trust that Doug, whom I have totally lost contact with over the years, will find plenty of rewarding “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” statements upon entering his reward!
So that is how it all began. From starting to veer off into a very secular life-style, to remaining in the church and beginning my spiritual journey. I have always been thankful for Doug’s influence in my life.
One other event which taught me valuable lessons for life occurred a few years before Doug. I was eighteen, a freshman in college. A part-time job as janitor helped with costs. One of my tasks was cleaning the gym after basketball games. Several hours was required to erase the mess left behind by a couple thousand rabid fans. After pushing back the bleachers and mopping the floor, my last duty was to turn out all the lights. The janitor’s closet was diagonally across the basketball court from the exit. The only visible light was a small, red exit light. It appeared very tiny when viewed in total darkness! After assuring myself that everything was put away, the gym floor completely clear, I would turn off the lights, and walk across toward that dim light in the distance. I could see nothing. Waving my hand in front of my face revealed absolutely nothing. Total darkness! I steeled myself to walk boldly across what I knew in my mind to be a clear pathway, keeping an active imagination at bay.
I have always viewed this as a picture of my spiritual journey. We do not have to know our next step. We have only to trust. “Jump, and the net will appear!” a poster of old stated.
The chapters following contain many chronicles of unexpected events. There is no way I could have anticipated most (or any!) of the events in my life. It has been an exciting life to live thus far. I anticipate no less excitement as I enter my “retirement” years. But it is also often a lonely existence. Often misunderstood, sometimes opposed, I have learned to trust the Spirit’s leading through the darkness which is the future.