“Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, I stand here before you a humbled man. As many of you may have seen last night, I was struck down by the power of knowing that I was a sinner and needed the Christ I have been preaching. My father was a fraud and I have been a fraud for almost four years. Now I am the new man I have spoken of many times. Now, I am one transformed to being God’s man by His power. I stand before you a true, renewed man of God, convicted of the truth of the words I have been preaching by the Holy Spirit, and ready to share those same words with you in truth and power.”
The audience sat or stood in silence. Vegetables fell to the dirt. Fruit was dropped. Bags and baskets were pushed aside. Miss Evelyn began signing softly to his right. The crowd slowly gathered in the words of the song, ‘Just as I Am,’ they stood and joined in the singing. Not one verse was missed. Not one person stood silent, they hummed if they did not know the words
Daniel stood with his head hanging and his hands clasped at his chest in awe of the power of the truth.
The first rotten thing hit him, a potato. The rancid stench filled his nose as the eggs and garbage flew pelting him harder and harder until he was covered in the slime of an angry city. He fell to his knees crying from the sense that he deserved all this and they had every right to vent on him.
Evelyn sang louder as she joined him on the stage. The target became her as she joined Daniel on her knees. Words like hypocrite and liar filled the air. The venom of the words was stunning to young Daniel’s mind. How could they hate so much that another had join the Kingdom of God? How?
Louder and louder the audience raged until all became silence as if someone turned off the entire group at once.
Daniel looked up. All he could see were the backs of twenty or thirty folks leaving the building. They were done. He felt that he had only begun. Tomorrow night they would be here with the power of the message, the Gospel of Jesus, and not the sweetness of a man trying to lure the dollars from the suckered crowd.
There was no time to mourn or pout, no time to second guess, he had to preach. All that he was told him that. “This is our baptism, Evelyn. Let’s get to work.”
There was no reply.
He looked to his right and saw Evelyn lying on the stage, blood coming from her forehead.
“Oh, God, please let her live,” he cried louder than he had ever spoken before.
“You care that much?” Evelyn asked.
“Yes,” he replied, startled.
“Let’s get this mess cleaned up. We got a service tomorrow night that will be a world changer, I’m sure.” His face was bright red and it wasn’t from exertion.
The cleanup took until the small hours of the morning. The stage hand had left around midnight leaving only Evelyn and Daniel. Daniel had peeled down to his shirtsleeves and trousers. Evelyn worked in the dress she started in. “It’s destroyed anyhow. The stains and the stink will never come out. I’ll trash it when we’re done.”
As they left the building, rolling the last two wheelbarrows full of garbage before them, Evelyn started singing, ‘More About Jesus Would I Know.’
“Where’d that song come from?”
“It’s a new one I just got the music on. I kinda like it. How about you?”
“It fits, somehow. I like it.”
They arrived at the caravan with both of them singing the song. As it ended again, “Goodnight, Dan.”
An hour later his father came under the caravan to join Daniel. “She won’t open the door, Daniel. Make her open the door.”
“No, Dad.” He reached up and grabbed a blanket from a shelf he had built there years ago. “Here, Evelyn and I are living a new life now. You can join us in Jesus, stay with us as my father, or leave. Goodnight.” He rolled over as a very drunk and perplexed man tried to figure out what was happening and how to wrap himself in the blanket.
Noon found Daniel walking around town in his work clothes hanging new posters all over. The posters read, “The message is the same, but the heart delivering it is changed forever” at the top of the same old poster they had used for years. “Come hear the truth” was at the bottom.
When he finished he stepped into The Grub House to get something to eat only to be received with, “Boo, go away you phony.” A cry of “The imposter had arrived, give him an egg,” followed. The waitress walked up to him and said, “How could you fake your sermons so well. Only the devil himself would be able to do that.”
He replied, “The devil was truly at work.” He handed her one of two posters he still had. “Come see the real thing tonight.”
She turned her back on him and refused the poster.
A large man smelling of blood stepped up to him, “You better get outta town, faker. Most folks don’t care much for swindles and you been pulling a swindle. You get on that stage tonight and you just likely to get tarred and feathered before be lift by a splintery rail and carried out of town.”
“I wouldn’t try that if I were you.” Daniel turned and walked out with his head hanging.
Seven PM rolled around and Daniel watched the seats in the Miner’s Hall. Only two were filled. No one was coming. He had purposefully taken the offering bucket and stashed it in the caravan so folks could see he wasn’t after the money.
Daniel nodded to Evelyn telling her to step out and start singing. She did. Amazing Grace rang through the hall like it was being sung by an angel. Her new dress sparkled in the light of the candles and lantern as if it were a piece of the dark summer sky.
The two drunks in the seats were shocked into wakefulness. The first said, “What’s that caterwauling, Roger.”
Roger replied, “Some cow’s got her teat in a ringer and the farmer’s still trying to get more milk.”
The two of them laughed themselves silly and went back to sleep by the time Miss Evelyn got to the part about ten thousand days.
She finished her two songs and walked off the stage. “Daniel, we’re done.”
“Meet me on the hill behind the caravan in twenty minutes.”
“I can do that.”
“Wear old clothes.”
“I can do that, too.”
He turned and walked to the two drunks, woke them up, and escorted them out of the building so the stagehand could lock up.
The stagehand asked as he ushered Daniel out the stage door, “You done?”
“The hall is paid for the rest of the week. I will use it for the rest of the week and maybe, just maybe, if the Lord is generous, I will pay up on the option for another two weeks.”
“Works for me. I gotta be here no matter how it’s used or it ain’t. No matter to me. I would like to hear more of what you was talkin’ off that last night before you fainted.”
“I’ll be here at noon and discuss it with you.”
“Where ya off to, Daniel?”
“Up yonder hill to pray. Evelyn and I will be up there for quite a spell, I would imagine. I got a lot to confess and get off my chest, and then there’s a lot I think needs to happen in this town and I aim to find out if God agrees.” He started to walk away.
“Can anybody come up there, Preacher?”
“Yeah. And my wife. She thinks you’re a great preacher and a very brave man.”
Daniel flustered, “Nothing great about me. I just let God go to work on and through me. Come on up and bring a friend or two. I don’t care.”
“See ya in about an hour. Gotta finish locking up, making sure all the lights are out, and the till is in the safe. Ooops, no till, no safe needed.”
Daniel set his face toward the hill and started walking, dropping his coat off at the caravan, and grabbing a heavier jacked to kneel on and use if it got chilly. The top was empty when he arrived, but the sound of small rocks being disturbed came from behind and he knew at least one other person would be there, Evelyn.
“I’m here,” she said.
He fell to his knees and began praying silently with his face raised to the heavens. Evelyn understood and joined him five feet away. Within minutes they were both on their faces with tears dripping from their noses into the dirt. Neither of them heard the stage hand and his wife join their small group. Twenty minutes later six others joined. The Presbyterian preacher brought a few with him a few minutes later. By 10 PM a crowd of over a hundred was on that hilltop praying, yet not a sound was heard except sobbing.
By midnight folks were leaving the hilltop, many of them totally wrung out before their God. At the sound of the city clock announcing 1 AM, the crowd was half diminished. As the sun rose in the east, only two were still there. Each of them was standing with arms outraised welcoming the new day, praying harder that it would be a new day and life for many in the city below them.
Daniel looked at Evelyn, “Let’s go eat.”
Evelyn replied, “I feel filled.”
“So do I, but I am still hungry for food.”
They walked down the hill and across the streets until they arrived at The Grub House. No one said a word except the waitress. “What can I getcha this morning, Preacher?”
“Coffee.” He looked at Evelyn, who nodded, “Make that two.”
“Hey, Jim. Two cups a wide-awake for the Preacher and the Singer.”
“Comin’ right up.”
The waitress handed them a copy of their morning offering which offered eggs, side meat, steak, taters, beans, and grits in any combination cooked any way the cook cooked them.
They both knew what the place had, Evelyn said, “Load a plate for me,” and looked at Daniel.
“Same here,” he said.
They sat at an empty table and just looked at each other. Two smiles began to grow until Daniel said, “God’s gonna do something in the hall tonight that will determine the rest of my life. I really feel like He told me that up on the hill.”
“That goes along with what I felt. I feel He told me that my work was just beginning. The other side of that is, He wants me to dump your father and stay with you as your opener.”
“Dad isn’t going to like that after these past years.”
“I can no longer live in sin with a man not my husband. He refused to marry me last time I asked him. He was drunk enough to give a bar gal a twenty dollar bill, but not drunk enough to marry an ex-saloon gal and singer. I’m done with him. God said it had to be. I felt I had to sleep with him or I wouldn’t have a home or a job. My own stinking thinking kept me there. Your dad even preached that sermon one time in a camp where folks were all livin’ together without benefit of marriage because a preacher had never come to town and he found out. In his case it had nothing to do with sin. He wanted the money they’d pay for the weddings. It worked. He did 22 weddings that after noon and the least he received was a five dollar nugget which I still have in my case. It’s been my mad money for almost six years now. Well, I’m mad but I ain’t the one that’s gonna be movin’ out. I may have been a saloon gal, but I am not one now.”
“Sounds good to me.” He looked at her with new insight into the complexity of life as a Christian for a woman with a history.