© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 9: Impact of a Storm
Months went by with no more contact from Ben. The boys seldom mentioned him, as they did not want to make their parents recall the pain of losing him. Robert continued to pray for his brother every day and requested prayer for him at church.
By taking nine hours of college work per semester, Robert was in his junior year by May of 1957. He kept watching the mailbox during the first week of June, looking for his grade report for the semester he had just finished. It arrived the first Saturday of June. Actually, he received several interesting pieces of mail that day, besides his grade report.
Robert had been writing to several mission boards for several weeks. He had been feeling some pulling toward Christian service for months and felt he should investigate the possibility of service whenever he finished college. Those letters, along with his grade report, made for a windfall of good mail that Saturday.
However, another letter interested Robert more than any of the others. There was no return address. It was postmarked, ‘El Paso, TX’. The handwriting seemed familiar to Robert. His heartbeat seemed to have speeded to a very high rate. Could this be the letter he had hoped to receive nearly a year and a half ago?
Lila noticed the excitement on her son’s face as he entered the farmhouse and handed her all except four envelopes. “You got your grade?” she guessed.
“Yes Mom, but more than that,” he excitedly exclaimed. I got my grades and some letters from mission boards and ....”
“Mission boards?” The familiar worried look crossed her face. “You’re writing to mission boards, Son?”
“Yes, Mom, but even better, look at this one.”
He showed her the unopened letter from El Paso. His face beamed. “I’m going to read it upstairs.”
“Who’s it from?” asked Lila. “Who do you know in Texas?”
He didn’t answer but just bounded the stairs and let his bedroom door slam shut. It was about ten minutes later that he reappeared in the living room, wearing a large smile.
“Mom, it’s from Penny,” he announced, his face wreathed in a gigantic smile. “I finally got a letter from Penny.”
“That’s great, Son!” Lila returned. “What’s the news from her, coming back here?”
“No, it doesn’t look like it,” he replied. “Still, it is good to hear from her. She’s not in nursing school right now. She dropped out after one semester and hasn’t returned to it yet. She says she’s home schooling some Mexican children and plans to lead some daily vacation Bible schools this summer there in the El Paso area.”
“Why did she wait so long to write?” asked the mother.
“I don’t know; she didn’t say,” he answered. “It doesn’t matter, though. At least, I heard from her.”
He had not forgotten her during the seventeen months of her absence. Sure, he had been seeing Emily Liming, but his mind often returned to memories of the days with Penny. He had never consciously considered dropping the relationship with Emily if Penny should re-enter his life. However, now, it was a very real consideration.
Robert wrote a long letter to Penny that same evening and drove into town to mail it. He wanted it to get to her as quickly as possible. He informed her of the activities in the various churches; he told her of his slow progress at the community college; of course, he shared the account of Ben’s disappearance. He hoped that she would answer his letter promptly and give him some glimmer of hope that she may some day return to Michigan.
To Robert’s surprise, within ten days he received a second letter from Penny. It contained happy thoughts, a few clippings about home mission work among the Mexican people along with some snapshots which Penny had taken over the months. Each photo had writing on the back to explain its significance. No news, though, about returning.
Robert found himself spending less time at the Liming home. He wrote twice a week to Penny but continued to sit with Emily in church. He did not, however, continue taking her out on Friday nights for a meal. Somehow, his heart was not involved when he was with Emily, not the way it had been up to his receiving the letters from Penny.
Lila noticed the change in Robert. He no longer talked of Emily. She noticed that he was receiving a letter every week from El Paso and that he seemed to be sending out a lot of mail. She guessed it was to Penny.
At the end of the summer, Lila received a letter from Emily Liming. Emily was concerned about the changes in Robert’s attitudes toward her. She asked Lila to write back if she knew why Robert was becoming more detached. “Is it that I have done or said something that offended him?” she asked in the letter. “Please contact me if you know what the problem concerns.”
Lila did not write back to Emily. She did try to talk to Robert about his sudden coolness to Emily, but she got no satisfactory response from him.
“I’m not ready to talk about it,” Robert advised his mother. “Sometimes, I think you become too much involved in my personal affairs. Really, Mom, sometimes I feel you are desperately trying to get me married off. I can make that decision for myself whenever I feel it is the right time.”
“I’m sorry if you feel I’m crowding your life,” Lila offered. “I am concerned about you and the other two boys as well. I want you to find good wives and have happy lives and give me some grandchildren.”
With an expression of exasperation, Robert said, “What’s the rush, Mom? I’m only twenty-one, you know. I have enough common sense to know what kind of person I want for a wife. I don’t intend to be pushed into something I really don’t want. I’ll decide for myself whether to keep seeing Emily.”
“Don’t you think she’s a good Christian, Robert?”
“Sure, she is. But, that’s not reason enough to get serious enough to talk about marriage,” he reasoned. “I must pick the one who is right for me.”
“And Emily isn’t right for you?” Lila questioned. “It’s because Penny began writing to you, isn’t it?”
“I’m interested in Penny, for sure,” he confessed. “I don’t know that she’s the one for me, but it could be the case. I don’t know yet.”
“So, it’s rather useless for Emily to think seriously about you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” Robert scolded. “Just let me direct my own life, OK?”
Lila realized that she had meddled too much. She kept her impressions to herself and refused to contact Emily. It was difficult, as she felt the Liming girl deserved a better explanation than she was receiving from Robert.
The next Sunday, Robert attended the St. Leon Friends Church for their morning service. It felt so good to him to sit with Brother and Sister Wibel again. He felt very much at home with this group of Quakers who had loved him into the Kingdom of God. Robert was strongly tempted to return to this Quaker meeting for his regular worship. However, it still bothered him that they only met once per week.
On Sunday evening, Robert was back at Buckingham, sitting with Emily, enjoying the spirited message with Emily’s mother delivered. He felt as much at home here as he did at the St. Leon Friends Meeting. It occurred to him, though, that Penny would not have approved of either church. He recalled her scolding tones when she advised him nearly two years earlier that the Friends’ doctrine was less than acceptable.
Just as the service was ending, as the Limings and their small group were bidding ‘good evening’ to each other, the electric power went out, not only in the church building but in all the houses in the little town.
“My, look at that stormy sky,” Mr. Liming said. “It looks bad over around St. Leon. Robert, you should be real careful as you drive home. This looks like tornado weather to me.”
“Yes, Brother Robert,” agreed the lady pastor. “Take it easy. I’ll be praying for you as you drive. God is in control. He has a plan for everything. Remember, ‘all things work together for good’.”
Robert felt uneasy as he began the five mile drive back toward the farm. It was a really dark evening, and rain was beginning to pelt his windshield with great force. The wind was picking up, enough so that it became difficult at times to keep the car on the road. None of the farmhouses along the way had any lights on. Darkness seemed to close in on the young man as he headed home.
As Robert neared St. Leon, he saw lights, but they were not electric lights. He noticed red flashing lights, but they were beyond the railroad tracks, so he knew he was not seeing the railroad flasher. He concluded that it was some type of emergency vehicles. Approaching slowing, he saw the figure of a man trying to flag him to a stop. It was his father.
“Oh, Robert, it’s you!” yelled Chauncey. “We wondered if the tornado missed you over at Buckingham. Our little town is hurtint pretty badly.”
Robert learned that the damage was still unknown as the enveloping darkness prevented rescuers, such as his father, from making much progress.
“You’ll have to take the half-mile road, Son,” advised Chauncey. “There are a lot of electric lines down here, and it’s not safe to come through. Tell Mom and Kerry that I’m OK. I’ll be home when we’re sure we’ve found everybody. Go on home, and keep Mom and Kerry inside. You never know what may have blown onto our farm. We’ll check tomorrow.”
“OK, Dad,” obeyed Robert. “Be careful, will you? I’ll be praying for you.”
Robert shared what news he had when he got home. Lila was worried; it was apparent. Kerry wanted to go out to help, but Robert told him that Dad had asked them to all stay inside until morning. In the daylight they could determine the damage to their farm as well as to the property of each of their neighbors.
They got ready for bed by the light of kerosene lamps and candles. No one slept, though, until they heard Chauncey come in through the back door. While Lila tried to prepare some food for her tired husband, the boys listened to his accounts of the damage.
“The Friends Church came down,” the weary man began. “The tornado twisted around something crazy. It didn’t hit Sam Cooper’s house, next door, but it hit two houses about a quarter mile away. It was crazy.”
“Two houses a quarter mile away, Dad?” repeated Kerry. “To the north or the south?”
Sadly, Chauncey answered, “To the north. That’s part of the really bad news, Honey,” he said as he looked at Lila. Tears formed in his eyes, but he held them back. “It took Jimmy’s wife and youngest girl. They’re dead.”
Everyone remained silent for several seconds. “Susie’s gone?” said Lila sadly. “And their little girl? Oh, no!”
“Is Jimmy all right?” asked Robert, concerned for his unsaved cousin. Jimmy Lewis had been raised in church but had never yielded his life to God. Now, some of Jimmy’s dearest family members were in the presence of God’s judgment seat.
“Yes, he’s OK,” replied Chauncey. “It was hard for him to have to help us get the bodies out. They had run to the garage when they realized it was a tornado, but it was too late. Susie and her daughter died in each other’s arms.”
Before sleep overtook Robert, it occurred to him that he had been insistent that the Friends Meeting should be having Sunday evening services. IF they had listened to him, there would have been several people in the meeting house when the tornado hit. Now, he was glad that they had not heeded his advice.
The next morning Chauncey determined that his farm had not suffered much damage from the storm. Several neighbors, however, had lost many buildings and livestock. Chauncey returned to his farmhouse around noon, having been out to try to help his neighbors. He grabbed his rifle and a box of shells.
“I’ve got to go to Wendell Penrod’s and shoot all his Angus cattle,” he announced.
“They’re all damaged from the storm?” asked Lila.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Chauncey answered, “No, that stupid insurance adjuster came out and said that they won’t pay for just part of the herd. The only way Wendell can get insurance payment is to destroy all his cattle, even the healthy ones. Seems crazy to me!”
Cleanup from the storm took a long time. Chauncey and his two oldest sons volunteered many hours to the neighbors to help them get some semblance of order back into their lives.
Some church-going neighbors suggested to the Committee of Ministry and Oversight of the St. Leon Friends Meeting that they should not rebuild the church building. They cited the low attendance, the agedness of many of the members and the fact that there was still a church in town as reasons to not rebuild. However, the decision was made to replace the house of worship. Instead of the high ceilings and tall belfry, the new structure would be about the size of an average ranch style dwelling and would be built of brick. One of the members had a son would draw up the plans; he was an architect in Chicago.
Robert felt pleased that the church would be rebuilt. He felt a closeness to this assemblage of Christians. It was, after all, the group who had led him to Christ Jesus. He began entertaining thoughts of returning to worship with his Quaker friends at St. Leon, even before they could rebuild.
The rebuilding the of the Friends Meeting House was scheduled to be finished in October of 1957. In the meantime, the other church in St. Leon offered to let the Quakers worship in their sanctuary on Sunday afternoons. The Ministry and Oversight Committee thanked the neighboring church for its kindness and accepted the offer.
Robert continued to attend Buckingham on First Day mornings. HE was able to spend the First Day afternoons with Wibels and the other St. Leon Quakers in their worship.
One of the letters which Robert received from Penny contained her thoughts about the destruction of the St. Leon Friends meeting house. She stated that it could be a sign from God, that perhaps Robert should consider possible reasons that God may have for allowing the church building to be taken.
“Mom, Penny seems to be glad that the Friends Church was destroyed,” Robert finally shared. “Why is she against that church? Do you know? I can’t figure it out.”
“Robert,” Lila began. “I used to be a good Christian, before I got married. I attended the Church of God, there in Wilshire, Ohio. We were a very conservative group, and God blessed us.”
“Yes,” Robert wished she would get to the point, if there was a pint to get to.
“Well, when we moved to St. Leon, I was looking for a conservative church for you boys to go to for Sunday School. Your Grandma Lewis was a good Christian, and she was going to the Friends Church. That was the main reason I decided to send you boys there.”
Her story was taking too long, in Robert’s opinion. “So, that doesn’t tell me anything bad about the church, Mom. What are you driving at?”
“Well, Son, sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake in sending you there,” Lila confided.
“Don’t you think Grandma Lewis is a Christian?” asked Robert. “I have a lot of confidence in her experience.”
“Yes, Robert,” Lila replied. “I think your grandma will be in Heaven. She’s a good woman.”
Robert could discern that his mother was having a hard time trying to express what was on her mind.
After quite a long pause, an uncomfortable, quiet time, Lila asked, “Robert, have you been baptized?”
“Not in water, no,” he answered. “But we believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
“Do you ever take communion, Son? That’s the Lord’s Supper.”
“You mean the bread and wine?” asked the young man. “No, but I have great communion with god. I spend lots of hours reading, praying, really worshipping in my bedroom. I see that as communion.”
Continuing, Lila asked, “Does the Friends Church in St. Leon ever have foot washing services?”
“No, I’ve never heard of such a thing,” confessed Robert. “Why all these questions, Mom? Is this what Penny and Uncle Bill and some other people are trying to say to me?”
Nodding, Lila said, “I think it is, Robert. It looks to me as though the Friends don’t do any of those things that most churches do regularly. They’re really different. Can’t you see that?”
“This is all new to me, Mom,” Robert confessed. “I’ve never heard any of this at the Friends Church, or at Buckingham either, for that matter. And I feel these are among the best people on Earth.”
“I wasn’t raised that way, Robert,” Lila countered. “I see all of those activities as Biblical expectations. Jesus was baptized, wasn’t He? And, didn’t He have communion at the Last Supper? I don’t remember all the things I learned as a youngster, Robert, but I’ve been doing a little studying, just in case you and I would ever have this discussion.” After a moment of silence, Lila went on, “I think these people are not living by the Bible.”
Robert took a couple of minutes to organize his thoughts before asking his mother some questions. He was trying to be honest, not defensive. He wanted his life to be pleasing to his Savior.
“Mom, could an unsaved person pretend to be a Christian and have a preacher baptize him? You think so?”
“No doubt, it has happened,” Lila responded.
“And, is there any reason why unsaved people cannot pretend to be Christians to they can take the bread and wine?”
“That has probably happened, too,” she answered.
“And how about going through some type of ceremony to wash people’s feet? No doubt, non-Christians have done that, too. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes, that happens, I’m sure,” she conceded. “Still, Son, that doesn’t excuse real Christians from doing those things.”
Robert realized that the pause which followed added a dramatic flair to his next question.
Slowly, he asked, “Mom, if I were to die tonight, do you think I would go to Heaven?”
Her eyes filling with tears, Lila answered, “I know you would, Robert. I have no doubts at all. I can honestly say that I do not know anyone who lives a more careful life than you do. You’re a real Christian; you’re genuine.”
Lila never again brought up the subject. Neither did Robert. However, he continued to think about it.
On the second Sunday in October of 1957, Robert attended the St. Leon Friends service. Their new meeting house was nearly completed. However, they were still worshipping at the neighboring church on Sunday afternoons. Dedication of the new brick Friends Church was scheduled for the last Sunday of October.
Robert sat between L.G. Wibel and his wife during the afternoon service. After the service, he drove to the new building and waited for them to meet him there. He wanted to walk through the nearly-finished structure with his dear friends before they drove the eight miles to their home. This was a precious experience, both for young Robert and for the aged couple who claimed him as a spiritual son.
Two hours later, the phone rang in the Lewis home. Lila heard Robert talking to the caller and sensed that there was some serious conversation taking place.
She was standing at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room by the time Robert hung up. “It’s some kind of bad news, isn’t it, Robert?”
“In a way, yes, it’s bad news,” Robert said.
“What is it?”
“Wibels were in an accident, on the way home from church this afternoon,” said Robert. There was some degree of sadness in his countenance. Yet, he did not seem especially upset. “They are home now, in Heaven.”
Lila wanted to comfort her son, but he did not seem to need much comforting. He appeared content, as if he knew they were happy.
“I’m so glad we stopped at the new church house before they started home,” Robert shared. “But, they’re in a much more wonderful temple now. I’m happy for them.”
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