Before Sean knew it, the calendar said October. He’d turned nineteen that past spring, and he told Fulton, “Wow; next month is the first time I can vote in the national elections.”
Fulton jumped off his top bunk and turned to Sean. “K-Kennedy’s a Catholic. Don’t ya’ll know Catholics follow the pope? They w-worship the Virgin, and believe you receive s-salvation by your good works, Anyway, Kennedy’s a D-Democrat” (pronounced like a curse).
“Well, my parents didn’t talk politics much, although I know Dad usually voted Republican. The last presidential election, Mom told me, ‘Sean, I used to go to the polls to cancel your father’s vote, but with him gone, I wonder if I’ll even vote this year.’”
Fulton Buford said, “T-the deans moved a TV into Norbert Hall lounge so people can watch the K-Kennedy-Nixon debates.” So that evening Sean and Fulton entered the stuffy, packed-out lounge and stood leaning against the wall. Fulton wore his signature keychain—a bulky, silver affair that draped from his belt down into his pants pocket.
Most Fundamentalists distrusted Democrats even more than Catholics because they held liberal views on sex and marriage and supported the United Nations, an entity that would create a one-world government headed by the Antichrist himself. Both candidates had prepared well, but John Kennedy’s Boston accent riveted his audience with well-turned phrases.
After the debates all the people Sean talked to said they would vote for Richard Nixon—a Republican and a card-carrying Quaker. Sean told Fulton, “Nixon comes from Yorba Linda, just a few miles from my home. John Kennedy comes from the East. But he’s charismatic, inspiring, young and an excellent debater. I’m voting for Kennedy.”
Maybe voting for Kennedy would be part of Sean’s little rebellion against Fundamentalism. But he felt torn; he knew no one else who was voting Democrat. In chapel service the day before election day, Dr. Clearson told the students, “If Kennedy gets elected, he’ll honor the Pope more than our nation. And he’ll put little Catholic idols in the White House on the fireplace mantel.”
Sean considered this. He doubted Kennedy would let the Pope overwhelm his loyalty to America. But he couldn’t sleep that night. Idols on the White House mantel!
On November 8, Sean walked into the polling booth and voted for Richard Nixon.
A few days later, Sean and Alex sat at a Sweet Shop table over bowls of ice cream (Alex’s treat—Sean never had extra money to spend). They gazed out at the quad. “Look, Sean; there goes Greg Weiman. I can’t wait until I go to Mexico with him and his Spread the Light Mission. A lot of people see Greg as an apostle, a modern-day Joshua, who will lead a victorious assault on Mexico. He’s organizing students to pray for the world and for Mexico. He has no money; all he receives he plows into Spread the Light mission. He wears his pajamas under his clothes to give him more time for prayer in the morning.”
Alex also mentioned how Greg told TBI’s president, Dr. Clearson, that he should set an example of poverty and Christian commitment by moving out of his big house and into a tent. Clearson vacillated between showing Greg off as an exemplary student and reigning him in as a wild card.
Greg would tell his Spread the Light people, “Thanks for carrying apples out of the dining hall for Diana.” Sean had seen Greg’s fiancée on campus—glasses, no makeup, Goodwill clothes, buttoned sweater over a nondescript flowered dress and wearing scuffed Oxford shoes. He remembered her long hair pulled into a loose pony tail, radiating unadorned spiritual beauty. She’d graduated from TBI in May and had no job—how she subsisted was a mystery.
“What does she eat besides apples?” Sean asked Alex. “She doesn’t have any money.”
“She lives over at Clark Street Rescue Mission.” It was true. Each morning she would get up to serve coffee, juice and sweet rolls to disheveled, left-behind men, men beaten down and hopeless, the cast-off detritus of the capitalist industrial machine, men vomited up on modernity’s shores and left vacant-eyed and wandering. Diana spread her light over them as an epiphany of hope, sanity and normality, evoking memories of better times. She would circulate, pour coffee and talk with the men. She probably eats all her meals there, Sean thought.
Alex told him, “After breakfast they turn the men out, even in winter. They bed twenty men, and bus the overflow down to Pacific Garden Mission on South State Street. “Greg and Diana have dedicated their lives to Spread the Light mission. I’m going to Mexico with Greg; you should join us.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Alex. I don’t think I’m mission material, except maybe flying mission airplanes.”
“No, really; you should go—see Mexico City, speak a little Spanish.”
Mexico! In spite of growing up in California, Sean had never even set foot in Tijuana. The trip sounded exciting. But Sean felt himself an unlikely recruit, considering his prayerlessness, flagging faith, his dalliance with atheism.
Alex said, “At least come to one of the planning meetings.” So, the next evening, they went to listen to Greg Weiman giving a talk to prospective STL’ers. Weiman talked fiery-eyed about changing the world through literature distribution. When he said literature, the word pulsated like Holy Writ. Literature evoked Spirit-hurled missiles that would strike the guilty heart of the lost. Literature!¾the modern, God-given tool to evangelize the world.
He also talked about self-discipline, strict sexual control—he acted as if girls did not exist. Greg spoke about his own sexual immorality and how God had delivered him from it. Strict control of thoughts and actions. Don’t yield to temptation. Sean knew this was code language for masturbating. He resonated with the challenge of this high morality but knew he could never achieve it.
“If you need clothes,” Greg said, “get them from another STL member; don’t buy them. And don’t go to restaurants.” Sean was pretty good at this. Unlike some other students, Sean rarely went downtown to Pizzeria Uno, and never ate out at other restaurants. He usually shunned the lascivious vending machines near the campus post office. But the dining hall rarely served ice cream, so he would sometimes drop a quarter on an ice cream sandwich, hoping no STL person would see him.
Greg preached frugal living, which included “limit your toothpaste.” That night an STL guy was in the bathroom admiring Sean brushing his teeth. “Wow; I always use more toothpaste than that!” the guy said.
A week later, Greg called an all-night prayer meeting in Norbert Hall lounge for the STL men, and Alex persuaded Sean to go along. George told them to fast all day. (Fasting wasn’t core Fundamentalism but Greg was all for it.) So everybody arrived hungry. Fifteen or twenty guys sat in the dark-paneled room listening to Greg, then they broke up into smaller groups to pray earnestly for revival at TBI (considered in a deficient spiritual state) prayed against disingenuity, backsliding. Prayers also went up for the trip to Mexico, for support funds, for open hearts and minds in Mexico.
After the meeting, Sean reluctantly gave in and told Alex he would go on the Mexico trip.
TBI didn’t charge tuition but Sean needed money to pay his room and board and he needed money for the long trips home to California and back. He’d saved about $1100 during high school packing oranges at the Sunkist Packing House. He grew concerned that he was trusting too much in his savings, so one night after an STL meeting, he went forward and gave Greg a check donating his whole bank account to STL.
But his donation didn’t count toward “prayed-in money.” “Prayed in” meant you asked God for the money and you couldn’t mention it to any friends or relatives. Sean had begun doubting his atheism but his faith still felt small. Did he have enough faith to pray in anything? Departure loomed in three weeks and he felt the pressure.
After his big donation, Greg told him, “Let’s go to the prayer room and ask God to give you the money you need.” Perhaps Greg was partly motivated by Sean’s huge gift; perhaps he felt obligated to add his major league prayers to Sean’s. At any rate, they went to the prayer room and found it unoccupied.
STL guys customarily prayed on their knees, head on the floor. So Greg and Sean knelt down. “You go first,” Greg said.
“Dear Lord, thank you for Spread the Light and the great literature mission to Mexico. Lord, please move the right people to send in the money I need for going on this trip, because I think it is your will.” He wondered if God heard the prayers of an atheist.
Then Greg prayed a mighty prayer, with much crying out, moaning, sweating, and tearful petitions. “Move, Lord, Mighty God, move. You know Sean’s heart, his passion, his holy desire to go on this, your mission. Vindicate him, Lord, show him your mighty power by bringing in what he needs from your vast storehouse of treasures . . .” And such like. If heaven has gates and windows, Greg forced them all open that night.
After a long hour they walked out. Sean thought, Greg trusts my purpose and passion more than I do. The other guys are more committed than I am. Actually, I have misgivings, not just about the trip but about prayer itself. These passionate prayers have upped the ante. If God doesn’t come through, it’ll be further proof he doesn’t exist. He walked back to his room, troubled.
In the morning Sean walked down to the P.O.’s, twirled the little brass combination dial and peered into the small box. Nothing. Last week his mom had airmailed him some homemade cookies and had slipped in a letter of encouragement, “So proud of you… happy you’re at TBI. Miss you.”
But no letters today and no money for Mexico. Now Christmas was almost here, and just two weeks until the trip. Apparently, God doesn’t want me to go, he thought. Or God doesn’t care. Or doesn’t exist. Sean ground his teeth and felt his stomach knot. He told Alex, “I’m not sure I can go; I don’t have the ‘prayed-in’ money.”
The next week he walked to the P.O. box and peeked through the little window to see a solitary letter. He twirled the brass knob, pulled the letter out, and was disappointed when he saw the Amarillo, Texas address. A letter from his Uncle Jack. It read, “Hello, Sean. Hope the weather’s not too cold in Chicago. Use the enclosed to take friends to a restaurant and have a great time.” Attached was a check for $50. This was a huge amount of money to Sean but, more importantly, Sean could count this as “prayed-in money.” He was going to Mexico!
That evening Sean thanked God for providing his needs. He walked over, knocked on Greg’s door, and turned over the money. He’d cleared the last hurdle for his trip. Of course, he’d violated Uncle Jack’s purpose for the money but this great answer to prayer encouraged him. He hoped this trip would dispel his doubts and increase his faith.