© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen
Chapter 8: Influence of a Rebel
Robert drove Penny back to Adrian after Grandma’s funeral service was finished. He was not pleased to be the one to make this trip, but unless she called someone from her family to come for her, she had no other way to get there. They made arrangements to call each other after she got settled in El Paso. Of course, they would write, they told each other.
On the return trip, Robert decided that he would have to accept their friendship as a closed chapter of his life. It had been good; it had been pleasant; he had been hoping that something permanent would develop, but it did not happen. He must now go through whatever grieving period was needed and get on with his life. God had a plan for him, he was sure. The task now was to find God’s plan.
When he got back to the farm near St. Leon, Robert noticed that Ben and Chauncey were in the back yard. It was clear that Ben was declaring his strongest feelings about something. He was waving his arms and talking loudly to his father. Chauncey’s talk was nearly as animated as Ben’s, and the speech was punctuated with vulgarity, as usual.
Rather than getting involved, Robert went inside where Lila was standing at the kitchen window, watching her husband and youngest son in their attempts to communicate.
“What’s happening out there?” asked Robert. “Looks like they’re both kind of excited.”
“They are!” exclaimed Lila. “Ben’s getting out of hand anymore, I think.”
“What are they yelling about?”
“Ben wants to use the bedroom that Grandma had,” she answered.
“That sounds fair to me. After all, it was his room until Grandma moved in,” replied Robert. “So, what’s the problem with that?”
“He’s been talking about us letting Marty Jackson move in. It seems that his dad is moving away, and Marty wants to graduate from this high school,” she began. “He asked Ben if we could take him in for the rest of the school year, just until graduation, so he can finish here.”
“Doesn’t sound so good to me, Mom,” he offered. “This Marty guy doesn’t have a good reputation. He spends a lot of time at the store front, where Ben goes a lot.” He paused briefly, then continued. “It’s not my business, I guess, but I think he’s a bad influence on Ben.”
“I think something is influencing him wrongly,” Lila said. “He’s getting harder to live with. Sometimes, I just can’t reason with him at all.”
“Like I said, I think it’s those people at the store front, including Marty.” They watched the man and his son still arguing in the back yard for a while. “Do you think Dad will let Marty move in?”
“I can’t say, Son,” she responded. “Regardless of how tough your dad seems to be, he’s really soft-hearted. Maybe Ben will convince him. I really can’t outguess him.”
In less than a week, Marty was in the downstairs bedroom, the one which Sarah Sullivan had been using. He had offered to pay Chauncey twenty dollars a week and do his share of the chores around the farm in exchange for room and board. Ben kept the dark center bedroom upstairs as his sleeping quarters, but he spent a lot of time in the downstairs bedroom with Martin Jackson, their new boarder.
Soon after moving in, Marty began asking Robert for short term loans, promising to repay when his dad sent some money. Robert gave him two or three dollars at a time for lunches at school or whatever reason Marty gave for needing a little money. Within two weeks, Robert began avoiding Marty, not wanting to hear the requests for loans. Then, Marty started asking Kerry for a couple of dollars every few days, realizing that, although Kerry did not have a regular job, he always seemed to have money on him.
Since Lila and Chauncey both worked evenings at their respective factory jobs, they did not notice any difference in the social life of their youngest son. However, Robert was seeing problem areas becoming more serious. Ben was seldom at home, often saying he was going to the store front for the evening. However, when Robert drove past the store front, he often found it locked up with the lights off.
After a week of noticing this deception on Ben’s part, Robert decided to wait up until Lila got home from work to talk about it.
“You’re still up?” Lila queried. “Something wrong?”
“I think so, Mom,” Robert answered. “Ben’s almost never home. He and Marty leave, saying they’re going to the store front, and they sometimes don’t get back here till after eleven o’clock. I drove past the store front a few times, and it was locked up and dark. I don’t think this is for good. Who knows what they’re up to, out so late, and lying to me about where they are.”
“I’ll talk to your dad about it when he gets home,” she offered. “Thanks for telling me.”
“OK I’ll go to bed now. See you, Mom,” said Robert as he started to leave the room. Then, pausing, he added, “Mom, have there been any phone calls for me in the daytime when I’m at work?”
“No, Robert, Did you expect a call?”
“Not necessarily,” he replied with some sadness showing on his young face. “I just thought maybe Penny would call. She’s been there nearly a month now. And, I don’t have a number to call her. It’s OK; I was just wondering, Mom.”
Two more months went by without any communication from Penny. She had promised to write or call Robert when she got settled in El Paso, as soon as she had an address and phone number to give him. Robert tried to hope she was just so busy with her first semester of nursing school that she had not had time to contact him. Yet, he was entertaining doubts about her interest in him.
Robert no longer made it a habit to attend Lester Chapel on first day evening services as he had been doing for a few months. Now, he found himself at Buckingham for most services. He was still faithful to the little Friends meeting on first day mornings.
He met his Uncle Bill one Saturday in the bank. They made small talk for a few seconds. Then, Bill asked, “Why aren’t we seeing you at church any more? Is it because your girl is no longer there?”
“That may be part of it, Uncle Bill,” the honest young man answered. “I was attending there before she was so you know I originally was there for the spiritual help I was getting. But, she provided a reason for me to attend there more often, that is, after we met.”
Bill, who often lacked a strong sense of propriety, could not resist speaking what was on his mind. “Penny said that you seemed a little shallow, not well grounded, she called it. Guess she may have been right. Think so?”
With an expression of shock on his face, Robert asked, “What did she mean by that? Did she really say such a thing?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you, but yep, she said that, a couple of times while she spent those days at my house,” confessed Bill.
Incredulous, the young man asked, “Do you know what she meant, I mean, about me being shallow and not grounded? I never expected to hear such a thing from her.”
“Well, think about it, Robert,” began Bill. “You still attend the Friends Church, don’t you? That’s part of it.”
“Yes, I was saved in that church, and I’ve done a lot of growing because of that church,” responded Robert. “I don’t know a thing about the church that’s not good. I do remember, though, that Penny said something just one time about something being wrong with the Quakers. I don’t know what it could be, though. I find them closer than some of my own family, at least, in some ways.”
“Just pray about it, kid,” advised his uncle. “God will show you the truth if you’ll seek it. Just study and pray, and of course, we’ll be pleased as everything to have you become part of Lester Chapel, that is, after you see your error and correct it.”
“Don’t you think I’m a Christian, Uncle Bill?”
“Yes, absolutely, Robert,” was the answer. “Still, I think you need to learn the way more perfectly. That’s all.”
“Sure, I’ll pray for God’s guidance. I’m not too proud to change. Still, I don’t know what needs to be changed in my life,” answered the young Christian.
That conversation remained uppermost in Robert’s mind for some time. How he wished he knew what needed changing.
As the weeks passed, Lila and Chauncey became more observant of their youngest son, and of their boarder as well. They occasionally queried Robert about Ben’s activities. Stress seemed to be building as they worried over Ben’s attitudes and his friendships. Clearly, their baby was going down a wrong path.
Ben was nearly sixteen years old. He had finished driver’s education class just before Christmas, but had no car. At times, Robert had allowed him to use his car to drive to the grocery store in St. Leon but not often. The last few days, Robert noticed that Ben asked to use his car more often, and the reasons he offered were not realistic. Robert did understand that his little brother wanted to use his driving talent now that he had a license; that was rather normal. Still, he did not trust Ben enough to trust his car to him, especially with Martin so ever-present.
On a Saturday, just before Easter, Ben asked Robert, “Hey, big Brother, how about me taking your car to Adrian this afternoon? There’s a big mall there, and I wanted to take in some shopping. Any chance?”
“Sorry, Kid,” replied Robert. “Maybe I could drive you there, and even let you drive on the way, but I can’t give up my car for the whole afternoon.”
Ben was instantly agitated and began yelling at his brother. Martin heard the commotion and came running in. He quickly figured what initiated the loud outburst and joined Ben in verbally attacking Robert. This approach to dealing with Robert did not succeed. Robert became firm, letting his youngest brother know that his car was dedicated to wholesome activities and that Ben need never ask to use it again. “If you need to go somewhere, just ask me to take you there,” insisted Robert. “You do not get to take it without me being with you, never again!”
This incident rather polarized the relationship between Robert and Ben, and Robert felt sure that much of the bad attitude problem traced back to the presence of Martin Jackson. Robert doubted whether he and Ben could patch up their differences as long as Martin was around to influence the situation.
In the weeks which followed, Lila and Chauncey noticed more signs that their baby was slipping more deeply into a rebellious life style. Lile found a cigarette lighter in one of Ben’s shirt pockets when she did the family laundry. Chauncey found some empty beer bottles at the back of the farm, where he had pulled the latest car which had quit running and was ready to join the dozen or so others which would never run again. Ben’s attitude was becoming more bitter and hateful; he was secretive and displayed a spirit of resentment toward family activities, excusing himself from any plans which Lila tried to make for the family’s enjoyment.
A few weeks after finding the empty beer bottles at the back of the farm, Chauncey decided to walk back to look at his collection of non-functioning cars on a Sunday afternoon. When he returned to the house, his face showed as much anger as Lila had ever seen on it.
“Something’s wrong, Chauncey,” she guessed.
His response began with some vulgarity and arm waving. Then, he responded, “They’ve been back at my cars again. I’m going to put a stop to it. Where’s Ben and Marty?”
“Down at the store front, I think,” Lila answered. “What’s happened, Chauncey? Did you find more beer bottles?”
“More that that!” he replied. “They’ve got blankets down there in that old station wagon, and yes, more beer bottles, some not opened yet, but it’s worse than that. I found some women’s underwear and this.” He handed a small clutch purse to Lila.
Robert appeared apprehensive as his mother unsnapped the purse and pulled out a wallet, looking for identification in it. He felt he recognized the purse. Before looking at the identification card, Lila noticed what Robert expected her to find, a wallet-sized copy of his high school graduation picture.
A puzzled look clouded Lila’s face, and she looked up at Robert. “Have you been back there with someone, Robert?”
“Absolutely not!” he answered. “That stuff is not mine, but I think I know whose purse that is. It looks like Sandra’s, but I haven’t been back there with her. I’ve not been anywhere with her for many months, not since I met Penny at church.”
“It’s Sandra’s purse all right,” said Lila as she examined the ID card in the purse. “If Robert hasn’t been back there, what does this mean?”
“Looks like Ben or Martin have been seeing Robert’s old girl friend,” answered Chauncey, the blood vessels standing out strongly on his forehead. “I want to see them when they get back here.”
He did not see his youngest son, though, until after eleven o’clock that night. Ben and Martin were dropped off at the farmhouse by someone in an old pickup truck. Chauncey was waiting when they sneaked quietly in the back door of the old farmhouse.
“Son, I want to see you,” Chauncey announced as the back door closed. “Come on in here.”
“I gotta go upstairs first, Dad,” answered the sixteen-year-old. “Be back down in a minute.”
“No come in here now! You can go upstairs later,” replied the tired father. “And if Martin is with you, he should come in here, too.”
“He’s tired so he wants to go straight to bed,” said Ben. Chauncey could hear the two young men whispering in the darkness and suspected that they had reasons to not want him to see them.
“No, I expect to see both of you in here, now!” yelled Chauncey. “We have important things to discuss, all three of us. Get in here, now!”
Defiance showed clearly on the faces of both Martin and Ben as they entered the living room where Chauncey was waiting.
“Sit down, both of you,” demanded the head of the house. “We’re going to have the truth so don’t plan to try to fool me.”
“What’s this about, Mr. Lewis?” asked Martin, trying to not reveal the disdain he felt for him.
“Just wait for me to ask the questions, Martin,” said Chauncey. “I’m in charge here. I’ll ask, and you two are to provide answers. OK?”
“Sure, of course, Mr. Lewis,” replied Martin. Ben, too, had decided to appear pleasant toward his father, as Martin was trying to do. He nodded his concurrence with Martin’s attitude, at least for the time being.
Pulling out the female underwear he had found in the old station wagon, Chauncey asked, “What’s this all about, boys?”
Quickly becoming red-faced and finding it harder to swallow, Ben gulped, “What do you mean, Dad? It looks like girls’ unmentionables.”
“Where in the world did you get that stuff, Mr. Lewis?” asked Martin with a forced chuckle.
Giving the young men a piercing stare, Chauncey asked, “You mean you guys don’t know anything about this?” After a long pause, he continued, “I found them in my old Ford station wagon I pulled to the back of the farm a while back. And, that’s not all, either. I found beer bottles, some empty and some not yet opened. I found blankets out there, too. Looks as though someone’s been engaging in some hanky-panky with a girl.”
“You’re not serious, Mr. Lewis,” chuckled Martin as he glanced toward Ben. “Are you grilling us because you found that stuff out back? If so, you got the wrong person. Just ask Ben, here. We’ve seen somebody going back there, but you’d never believe who it was. Right, Ben?”
With a somewhat blank look, Benjamin nodded agreement with his older friend. “Yeah, Dad. If we told you, you’d have trouble believing who’s been spending time back there.”
“Give it a try, Son,” urged Chauncey. “I want to know who’s been back there in my car. Mind you, I know it wasn’t just one person. Ben, who were they?”
Before Ben could answer his father, Martin spoke up, “We really don’t want to tell you, Mr. Lewis. You’d be very upset.” As Ben nodded his agreement, Martin continued to take charge of the confessions. “If you insist, I’ll tell you, but I’d prefer to say nothing. Maybe it would be best if we just kind of reported to you if they go back there again. We’ll be your watchdogs.”
Having allowed the two teens to express their alibis, the older man interrupted, “There were three or more of you out there, boys.” He watched their faces, noticing that Ben was depending on Martin to provide a remedy for their predicament.
“Hey, don’t look at us,” tried Martin. “We saw one of your sons and his former girl friend out there, more than once.” Pausing to let Chauncey process this new information, he grinned at Ben as if to suggest that he had just rescued them from further interrogation.
Chauncey picked up part of what Martin had just said and added, “You’ve given me part of the truth, Mr. Jackson. But, you twisted it, didn’t you?”
Assuming an air of righteous indignation, Marty countered with, “Sir, I resent the implication. It’s the truth. Your oldest son has been taking his old girl friend back there. We’ve seen Robert and Sandra sneaking to the back of the farm, haven’t we Ben? At least two times.”
Ben was unable to hide the shock of what he had just heard. Still, he tried to vouch for Martin’s story, saying, “We didn’t want to tell you, Dad. You and Mom seem to think Robert’s an angel or something, but what Marty told you is the truth. He’s got a phony ID and has been buying beer and drinking it with Sandra while you and Mom are at work at night. That’s the honest truth, Dad.”
Incredulous, the tired old father replied, “That’s just not believable, boys. Robert is living a good life, and I can’t find any way to believe he’s drinking and living an immoral life with Sandra. He quit seeing her over six months ago.” Watching the young men’s faces, he added, “I’ll ask Robert about your claim, but I’m sure I’ll be talking to you two again about all this.”
“You don’t trust me at all, and neither does Mom,” an angry Ben yelled. “Robert gets treated the best of any of us, all the time, and I’m tired of it.” He stomped away with Marty following closely behind.
Chauncey allowed them to leave without any more discussion. He would check out their accusation of Robert and then, he would determine the reaction he should take.
It wasn’t until two days later that Chauncey found the opportunity to talk to his oldest son. Because they worked different shifts, Robert and his father seldom saw each other.
Robert took a day off work. It was something he seldom did, but he felt it was necessary. He planned to try a plan, an idea which had occurred to him. Telling no one the reason he took the day off work, he decided to drive to Adrian to the Navy recruitment office. Discouragement was his constant companion any more, it seemed. Because Penny had gone to Texas and not bothered to contact him in any way, he felt life held little for him. Perhaps by joining the Navy he would find more reason to exist.
As he was about to walk out of the old farmhouse to get into his car, he noticed Chauncey walking toward the kitchen.
“You’re up kind of early today, aren’t you, Dad?”
True to his nature, Chauncey had few words, “Yep, I am. But, you’re running sort of late for work, aren’t you?”
“Well,” began Robert, “I called in to take the day off. I’m going to Adrian--on business. I mean, I didn’t quit or anything, Dad.”
“I’d hope not,” answered the Scotchman, again true to his practical nature. “You can’t pay bills without a job.”
“Right, Dad,” smiled Robert. “See you later. Maybe I’ll be home before you and Mom leave for work.”
“Wait, Robert,” demanded the father. “Got a minute to answer a question for me?”
“Sure, I guess,” Robert replied. “What is it?”
“Son, somebody told me that you and Sandra are seeing each other again, now that Penny has left. Is it true?”
“No way in the world; that’ll never happen,” was the answer. “Who would say that?”
“You haven’t been back on the back of the farm with her at night?” pried Chauncey.
“Absolutely not!” Robert snapped. “What is this all about? I’m not interested in someone of her type. I thought you knew that. Now, Dad, tell me. Who’s spreading these stories about me?”
“Your brother and Martin both said it,” Chauncey said. “Now, give me the truth, Son.”
With a clear, open countenance, Robert answered his tired-looking father. “Dad, it’s not true, not at all. I have nothing to do with Sandra. Sure, I miss Penny, a lot, but I will never return to someone like Sandra. I’ll have a Christian girl or no girl at all. Believe me!”
“I do believe you, Robert,” the father replied with a rather warm smile. “I really have a lot of confidence in you. To be honest, the only reason I questioned you is because I told Ben and Martin that I would ask you. That’s all. I would have been disappointed if you were guilty of what they said.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Robert managed to say. How he wished it was considered proper in their home to hug each other once in a while. This would have been a perfect time for him to give his father a bear hug, but he knew that Chauncey would not reciprocate. Fearing rejection by his father, Robert restrained himself.
“Now, go on to do your business at Adrian, Robert,” commanded Chauncey. “I’ll not bring this subject up to you again. Oh, I’m not a praying man, as you know, but I might be grateful if you would pray for - - for how I should deal with Ben and Martin. I know it’s only a couple of weeks until graduation, and Martin will be gone from here, but I guess I have to do something about him staying here, even that long.”
“Sure, Dad,” answered Robert. “I’ve been praying about it a lot anyhow. See you later.”
Driving to Adrian, Robert did some thinking, followed by some praying. It was a common activity for him as he drove. He prayed about many things whenever he was driving, both trivial things and important ones. Once, he even prayed for a dove which had flown into his car as he drove. He watched it in the rearview mirror as it flopped before dying. He prayed for God to let it die quickly with little suffering.
Today, besides praying about the reason for this trip, to try to join the Navy, he prayed about Ben’s obvious rebellion. He also did some deep thinking and praying about his family’s hang-up about showing emotions toward each other. Why did their affection always need to be expressed only in non-verbal and non-tactile ways? Hugs were avoided as were loving words.
“It almost seems that emotions must be a gift from Satan, that God does not want people to have emotions. That’s how my family acts,” he thought.
All too soon, he arrived at the Armed Forces Recruiting Center in Adrian. He was apprehensive about actually entering the building to express his intention. Would they consider him silly? They were always advertising for men to join, but would they want someone with as many reservations about serving as he had?
He found the correct office and slowly entered. A man in a crisp uniform came to the counter to meet him. “Hello, I’m Sergeant Williams,” greeted the Navy recruiter, offering a handshake to Robert.
Responding by shaking the officer’s hand, Robert answered, “I’m Robert Lewis.”
“Well, Mr. Lewis, can I get you some coffee or something?” offered the Navy man.
“No, thanks,” Robert replied. “I just need to talk to someone about maybe joining the Navy.”
“Sure, we always need men to serve our country,” he said. “Do you happen to have your Selective Service card with you? I can look up your file and begin talking.”
Robert found the card in his wallet and handed it to the recruiter. “Here it is.”
“Oh, I see you’re a CO. Is that correct?”
Embarrassed at not knowing what “CO” means, Robert answered, “Am I a CO? I’m not sure what a CO is.”
Patiently, the recruiter explained, “I can’t take a CO into most areas of the Navy. If you ask to change your status, I can consider you for more things. I could possibly take you into some type of non-combat service, like perhaps a medic or a chaplain. Do you have church credentials or medical training, Robert?”
“No, I don’t have either,” answered Robert. “But, I don’t know what you mean by ‘CO’.”
With a touch of mockery in his voice, the recruiter replied, “You are one, and you don’t know it? I take it you are either a Jehovah’s Witness or a Quaker, am I right?”
“Yes, I’m a member of St. Leon Friends Meeting; that’s a Quaker.”
“Then, why are you trying to join the Navy? Most of the Quakers are conscientious objectors,” the Navy man queried. “Do you really feel this way, or is it just some teaching of your church? Not many religious people can get by with asking for CO status, but Quakers get it.”
“Oh, I really believe that way,” Robert answered when he finally realized what the ‘CO’ referred to. “I prayed about it a lot when I had to fill out the Selective Service forms on my eighteenth birthday. I know for sure that I could not ever use a weapon and kill anyone.”
“For any reason?” asked the recruiter. “How about for self defense or to defend your family?”
“I’ve never had to defend myself to that extent, or my family, either, so I can’t say for sure. But, I really doubt I could do it,” Robert explained. “I’d try to trust the Lord to take care of me. If not, I’m ready to go to Heaven at any time. I really think I’m a CO.”
“It doesn’t look like I can use you, Robert. Unless there’s a war we can’t take a CO except for religious duties, and sometimes, for some medic duties,” the Navy man said, displaying a sense of superiority. “If you change your mind, come and see me. Have a good day, Mr. Lewis.”
Robert’s thoughts, as he drove back to St. Leon, led to feelings of rejection. Penny, whom he had felt sure would be a major element in his future, rejected his love and moved to Texas. His youngest brother had begun spreading lies about him. Now, even the Armed Forces would not accept him and even made him feel foolish for believing the doctrines of the Friends Church. Disappointment and depression were gaining a firm hold on his heart.
Robert prayed most of the way back to St. Leon. The half-hour drive was not long enough for him to express the discouragement he was feeling. Still, as he prayed, some thoughts from Sister Liming’s latest message at Buckingham Church returned to Robert.
“Many people are foolishly bound to evil habits and evil associations,” Mrs. Liming had said. “Perhaps most of us seem foolishly bound to something in our lives. As for me, I’d rather be considered a fool for God than a fool for any other cause.” How encouraging it was for Robert to recall this message from the little Quaker preacher. Let people think of him as foolishly attached to the teachings of the Master of masters.
“I’ll be a fool for God,” Robert told himself audibly as he neared the old farmhouse which was home.
His parents had not yet left for work. Robert noticed that Chauncey had his pickup truck loaded with what was clearly Martin Jackson’s belongings. It was obvious that the young man who had been such a bad influence on Ben was being moved out.
As he approached the house, Robert could hear lively discussions.
“I don’t want that bedroom again!” It was Ben’s voice, clearly filled with anger. “Just keep it! I’ll sleep in the dungeon that you forced me into when Grandma moved in, at least, until I move away.”
“Take whichever you prefer,” the older voice of the head of the home responded. “The better room is yours if you want it. If you don’t want it, maybe one of your brothers will take it, and you can have their room. But, it’s settled, and you can’t change my decision. Martin is not to return to this house for any reason, ever!”
“I’m out of here!” Again, it was Ben’s excited voice. “I’m not sure I’ll ever come back. Why was I born? It’s sure that you didn’t want me! Why was I even born?”
As Ben stomped out the back door, he nearly collided with Robert, who was about to go in.
`”You!” shouted Ben upon seeing his oldest brother. “I hate you! Get out of my way, and out of my life!”
“Wait! What have I done, Ben?” returned Robert.
“Never mind!” returned the sixteen-year-old. “Just leave me alone, all of you. I’m getting out of this family, just as soon as I can.”
Needless to say, the next few days were tension-filled in the Lewis home. Ben did come back home as he had nowhere else to go. Martin had decided to have Chauncey drive him to the home of another guy who spent a lot of time at the store front. He would finish the last two weeks of his senior year there and then move back in with his father.
With summer upon them, Ben decided to work for every farmer in the area who would take him on. He helped with late planting, then with cultivating and making hay. He was bringing in more money than he had ever dreamed he could. He told no one how much he made nor what he was doing with it. He didn’t seem to be spending much of his earnings.
With school over until September, Robert added some overtime to his work schedule. He spent weekends and many evenings at camp meetings within driving distance of home. He decided to be as spiritual as possible, and attendance at the summer camp meetings seemed the most natural route to the spirituality he sought.
He not only attended the annual Buckingham Community Church Tent meeting; he worked in it as well. Usually, Mrs. Liming’s three daughters and one son were the featured musicians at the Buckingham tent meeting. This year was no exception. The Liming Quartet provided special music while a minister from Colorado served as evangelist. Mrs. Liming asked Robert to provide short devotional lessons during the half-hour prayer time before each evening service.
It seemed natural for special friendships to develop between the workers during this two week period of working closely together to try to evangelize the Buckingham community. Even Sister Liming did not seem surprised that her oldest daughter, Emily, was spending a lot of time near Robert. They were both burdened for the success of the tent services; they were both considered part of the evangelization team this year. Before the two weeks were over, they were inseparable, sitting together during the preaching time, watching each other prepare for their respective duties in the services, even working together to pick up litter or straighten song books before and after services. It was a wholesome picture, two young people working together to further the work of God’s Kingdom.
Although she did not attend the services at Buckingham, Lila became aware of Robert’s new interest during those services. Although she, too, had hoped for a long-term development between Robert and Penny, she felt that his interest in Emily was a good second choice for him.
During those two weeks at the Buckingham tent services, Robert did a lot of secret praying, praying at home late at night, and even praying during the night if he awakened. He felt it was his lot to intercede for his lost brothers, especially for Ben, who made it clear that he wanted nothing more than to find a way to leave the Lewis home. Robert felt that he was the one God depended on to pray for Ben.
When Robert suggested to Ben that he attend the Buckingham tent services, Ben mocked. “What do you think I am, the Prodigal Son or something?” he sneered. “I haven’t left my father’s house, yet. I’m not the Prodigal until I go away so leave me alone until then, OK?”
Robert tried to reason with his little brother, “You have two fathers who care a lot about you, Ben. Our dad cares about you. That’s why he sent Marty away, to protect you from a bad influence. But, you have a Father in Heaven who cares much more than Dad does.”
“Listen, big preacher-man brother of mine,” said Ben. “I don’t think Dad cares, nor Mom, nor you. You hear me? And, as for God, He’s for weaklings who go to a church that believes you shouldn’t fight. You’ll all find out soon enough that I don’t go for that stuff. I’m part Irish and part Indian, and I’ll fight, and I’ll win, without a god to do it for me. Now, leave me alone.”
Robert had done all that he knew to do for his brother. He prayed, he invited, and he tried to show love to one who did not seem to want any love. What more could he do?
The tent meeting ended with no new converts from Robert’s household. He had been praying diligently for the salvation of his parents and brothers. He had even fasted a couple of meals during the last week of the campaign but saw no fruits for his efforts.
Sister Liming became aware of Robert’s disappointment concerning his unsaved family. She did what she could to encourage him to continually trust God to intervene in the lives of members of the Lewis family. “Who knows what God has planned for the future?” she encouraged. “He has ways of dealing with people which we could never think of. Just trust Him, Robert.”
Because of his involvement in the tent campaign, Robert began to feel more involved in the ministries of Buckingham Church. He began to spend more time in attendance there. He was also a more frequent guest in the Liming home. By the time school started again, Robert had decided that God wanted him to give up his position at the St. Leon Friends Meeting and attend exclusively at the Buckingham Community Church. When the St. Leon Friends people inquired, Robert advised them that he had not forsaken the Quaker church since Buckingham was largely a Quaker meeting. He reminded them that he had asked them to have more services per week and that they had refused. He now chose to attend Buckingham since they had three services each week, regardless of low attendance. He felt this was commendable.
Robert received intense spiritual support from Mrs. Liming and her small congregation. He shared his burdens for his family, especially for Ben. The name of Benjamin Lewis was lifted in nearly every service at Buckingham. Robert felt they were, in effect, building a great hedge around his youngest brother, a hedge of God’s awareness of the young man and of God’s interest in him.
However, Ben was still going to the store front every night. Kerry and Robert kept their parents informed of the activities, of the young people who patronized the store front, and the lateness of Ben’s return home each night. His attitudes had shown no improvement. Although he spent much time doing odd jobs for neighboring farmers, he spent little money. Most of his earnings went into the bank.
On Halloween night, Ben told Kerry and Robert that he was going to ‘trick or treat’ in the neighborhood. He wore some of his dad’s old bib overalls and carried a large bag when he left. No one knew what he had in the bag.
When Lila got home around midnight, Robert and Kerry were still up, waiting for their parents to get home.
“Why are you guys still up?” she asked. “Something wrong?”
“It’s Ben,” said Kerry. “He didn’t come home from his Halloween ‘trick or treating’. We’ve looked all over for him and can’t find him.”
“He took a big bag full of something when he left,” Robert added. “I and Kerry just got done looking in his room, and most of his clothes are gone.”
Beginning to cry, Lila said, “I’ve been expecting to hear something like this. We’ve not been able to reach him, to convince him that we care for him.”
“We’ve all tried, Mom,” said Robert, placing an arm over his mother’s shoulders. “He just rejects us, all of us, every time we approach him.”
When Chauncey entered the house a few minutes later, he knew the news was not good. “Something’s happened to my boy, hasn’t it?” he asked.
Kerry nodded without looking up at his father.
Calls to the police, calls to area hospitals, calls to Ben’s friends turned up no news as to the whereabouts of the youngest Lewis boy.
They all went to bed around five o’clock in the morning, but none slept much. No one admitted to the rest of the family that they had spent some tearful hours, but each one had wrestled with his heartbreak in his own way.
Two weeks later, a card arrived with a Chicago postmark. When Lila returned from the mailbox, she handed the card to Chauncey. “It’s from our son.”
His voice broke as he read it aloud. “It says, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’m OK. Just forget me. Ben’.”
Through her tears Lila said, “It reminds me of what a preacher said many, many years ago about Judas. ‘He went out, and it was night’.” She cried bitterly.
“Yes,” said Robert. “I heard that verse a few weeks ago at camp meeting and marked it in my Bible.” Looking in the concordance of his Thompson Chain Reference Bible, he added, “Yes, here it is, in John, chapter thirteen. It says, ‘He went out, and immediately, it was night’.”
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