Pat Snodgrass conversion

told by Clifton E. Snodgrass

 

 

From the time of my father's conversion, I was continually exposed to a succession of miracles. Although poor by most standards, the riches that my spirit accumulated was indeed a large cache. I hardly remember ever having more than one pair of shoes and since I needed those for church and special occasions, I attended school barefooted until the first snowfall, lest I scuff and mar that one pair beyond repair and be left with none. My bibbed overalls had "patches on top of the patches," and when I lost the buttons which held the top straps to the bib, I managed to fasten them with a nail. I never knew the luxury of excessive pairs of underclothes, thus in the summertime, my overalls, minus a shirt, were sufficient. When I joined the gang of boys at the old swimming' hole all I had to do before jumping in was to "pull the nail," for even bathing suits were scarce in those days.

My father preached the gospel and lived the gospel. His faith was our example, and God kept our stomachs full, our backs warm, and a roof over our heads. Many times when a payment was needed or there was a lack of funds for the purchase of some necessary item, my father would go to his secret closet of prayer. Ultimately, a letter from some saintly soul would arrive, usually the day before the payment was due, stating, "Dear Brother Pat, the Lord has laid it upon my heart to send you the enclosed amount," and that check would be the exact sum sufficient for the need.

So, the inheritance that my father left me was not one of great material wealth, but of great spiritual wealth, gained through observing his ministry after his final yielding to the will of God. My father received his call to the ministry the night of his conversion.

It was the evening that "Blind Willy Thomas" stood in the midst of the small community church in West Norton, Virginia, his voice piercing through the exuberant praise of the people as they responded to the ministry of pioneer evangelist, Reverend Thomas Kidd. As "Blind Willy" spoke a divine utterance of God's judgment, fear fell upon all, both saint and sinner.

A strong sense of God's presence was felt by the congregation. The move of the Spirit of God brought a holy hush.

The only sounds heard were the muffled voices of excited neighbors on the outside as they exclaimed to one another, wondering at the mysterious light that was shining down on the roof of the church as brilliant as day. Just a few moments before, it had been so dark out that you couldn't see your hand before your face. Now, people were gathering around the building, and falling down on their knees to pray.

"Wonder what's going on in there?" someone was heard whispering.

Inside, the coal-oil lanterns shone forth as babes in arms and small children lay quietly on pallets at their parents' feet and watched their flickering lights cause strange shadows to play upon the walls and ceiling of the building. Then the silence inside was broken by choking sobs and a loud crash on the floor. Heads turned and the onlookers gasped in amazement.

Such fear had gripped my father's heart that his trembling legs had refused to carry him to the mourner's bench in front of the church. Sin's great weight of conviction forced him to the floor where he now lay sobbing and begging God for forgiveness. His buddies from the Odd Fellows Lodge, who had accompanied him for the purpose of disrupting the meeting, were awe-stricken.

My mother rushed back, giving praise to God, to kneel beside my father, and pray with him. She was beside herself with joy, not only was my father saved, but now she wouldn't have to face an angry husband on her return home from church.

Just before leaving for church that evening, she had withstood my father's angry threats.

"If you go down to that holy roller meeting," he had warned her in a voice filled with rage, "I'm gonna come in, drag you out, and beat you black and blue."

"I'm sorry, Pat, but I'm a-going and there ain't nothing you can do about it."

Quickly grasping her purse in one hand, swooping down and gathering Ruth in her other arm, she called to me, "Clifton, come here, it's time to leave."

She turned and faced my father's furious countenance. After exchanging determined glances, she rushed past him out the door and was soon on the way down the railroad track to the little country church two miles away.

As I trotted along behind her, we were soon joined by others on their way to the revival that gave birth to Pentecost in Southwest Virginia. What had started as a summer revival lasted nightly on through the winter into early spring, causing a great spiritual awakening in that area.

My father's anger demanded revenge against the preacher who he felt was responsible for creating a division in his home. At the meeting of the Odd Fellows Lodge that night, he saw an opportunity to recruit others who would join him in his vindictive actions.

"Boys, we're gonna go down there and tear up that church, whip that (blank-blank) preacher and run him out of town. Now all of you that are with me, we're gonna go in and sit in the back row. Wait for me to give the signal. When I say "NOW" we're really gonna give those fanatics something to carry on about. Just make sure you save the preacher for me."

By the time my father and his lodge brothers had arrived, the service was well under way. The enthusiastic singing was accompanied by guitar music, a couple of tambourines, and a whole lot of vigorous hand clapping as the people responded to the rhythm.

As the song came to an end and praises were scattered throughout the audience, my mother, sitting toward the front with Ruth and me, was one of the first to hear the commotion in the rear. Hard-soled work shoes rumbled on the floor as the men filed in to take their seats near the aisle. Now my mother, her heart heavy with dread, bowed her head and prayed quietly for God's protection.

The service continued, crescendoing in a roar of praise as hands were lifted and tears streamed down upturned faces. It was then that it happened. The heavenly message from 'Blind Willy" broke through the din.

Realizing that the message was directed toward him and his accomplices, my father rose to make his way to the wooden bench in front of the pulpit which faced the congregation and served as an altar. But God had other ideas. He now lay prostrate in the aisle with his buddies looking on, and all he could say was, "God, have mercy on me. I'm a sinner. Oh, God, save me, save me now."

It was while he was in this position of surrender, that he heard God speak audibly to his heart, "I've called you to preach My gospel. "

Some of his friends also knelt that night and gave their hearts to God. But two of them, Uncle Lee, my father's youngest brother and Lee's brother-in-law, Clint Sloan, sat there in resistance. They felt the message was for them also, but each waited for the other to make the first move. This was typical of them as they did everything together, even to marrying twin sisters, working at the same jobs in the mines, and living in the same house.

It was after midnight when the final amen dismissed the congregation from the little building; but it did not dismiss the spirit of worship. Joy-filled saints, now including my father, and sleepy-eyed children trudged along darkened roads, passed occasionally by a horse-drawn vehicle carrying exhaltant saints, lost in worship. The radiance of their faces competed with the glow of hand-carried lanterns that bobbed alongside. An occasional shout of praise would echo down through the sleeping valley and bring a fresh awareness of the reality of God's visitation.

It was then, as they walked along, that my Uncle Lee confessed to my father, "Pat, I know that Clint and me should have been down there beside you praying, too, but I promised God that if I live until tomorrow night to get back to church, I'm gonna get saved."

My father slept little that night because of his new found joy and peace with God.

Before the sun rose the next day, he had already made his way into the mines through the drift-mouth, the main mine opening. The pony-drawn coal car which carried him and the other miners shuffled its way down the main heading to the room where his tools lay ready for a new day. There, from a kneeling position, he began to work the vein of 3-foot coal.

The work day was still young when a muted rumble was heard from a nearby "room" which sent icy chills through every miner who heard it. Soon thick coal dust filled the stagnant air like a black fog in the low room where my father worked. The small bare flame of the carbide light attached to his miner's cap barely penetrated the darkness as he made his way groping and choking toward the confusion of excited voices. There beneath the crumbled debris of fallen slate and rock lay the crushed bodies of Clint and Uncle Lee. As they had been together in life, so now they were together in death to face a God they had rejected less than twelve hours before.

Before leaving home that morning Uncle Lee had had a foreboding of an impending disaster. Not knowing it involved him, his last words as he left his wife, were, "Honey, I feel like somethin' bad's gonna happen today!"

This incident only served to warn my father of the danger of resisting God's will, although it wasn't until death had taken my sister Ruth that he finally yielded to the call to the ministry.

 

From: THE MIRACLE OF MURLIN HEIGHTS by Clifton E. Snodgrass, pag. 13-20, Whitaker House 1976, Springdale Pa, USA.

 

 

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