Excerpt for Unashamed - a memoir of dangerous faith by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


UNASHAMED

A Memoir of Dangerous Faith

Sammy Tippit

With Jerry B. Jenkins


The words "Click for Video" throughout this book link to videos of interviews with or eyewitness accounts from the individuals involved in the incidents, and in many cases were filmed during the events. You can access these by clicking or tapping the link.

A publication of ST Books


Copyright © 2018 by Sammy Tippit
Jerry B. Jenkins.

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Please do not participate in or encourage the piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Cover design by The Dugan Group


To the glory of God,
and with appreciation to my wife, Tex,
who is and always will be the love of my life.

To our children, Dave and Renée,
and their spouses and children,
God’s special blessing to us.

In memory of my father,
David Thomas Tippit,
a great basketball player and a great dad.
And my mother, Lavada, who
influenced me in my foundational years.


CONTENTS

Introduction

Part One — The Calling

1.The Day the Curtain Fell

2. Never Ashamed

3. In the Casket

4. The Monroe Seven

5. Lessons

6. God’s Love in Action

7. At a Crossroads

8. The Wall

9. Tumultuous Assignments

10. Holy Land Preparation

11. Strategy

12. Attacked

13. Three Behind the Curtain

14. Opposition

15. The Choice

16. Narrow Escape

17. House Arrest

Part Two — The Breaking

18. A Restless Spirit

19. Deep Waters

20. The Breaking

21. Hiding From God

22. Danger

Part Three — The Using

23. Titus

24. Cloak and Dagger

25. Making the Break

26. My Glimpse of Mortality

27. Blacklisted

28. The World as My Parish

29. Harvest Time

30. Hard Places

31. Treacherous Places

32. Running As a Champion

Part Four — The Autumn of Life

33. ‘Be Still and Know…’

34. Light in the Darkness

35. Peril

36. Into the Lion’s Den

37. The Closed Countries

38. A Heavy Heart

39. Dark Clouds

40. Cancer

41. Running With Endurance

42. Hills

43. Finishing Well

44. The Corner of Smartphone and iPad

About the Authors


INTRODUCTION

Among the greatest thrills of my life were two trips to Eastern Europe with Sammy Tippit, twice venturing into Romania—once before the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and once after. How stark to see memorials to recently slain revolutionaries outside a hotel where we had stayed just a few years before—to realize that a historic revolution had occurred on the very streets we had walked.

Yet this book is not about only Romania or Eastern Europe. It is about a man who would rather speak of God than of himself. It may be the most unusual memoir you will ever read.

Have you ever wondered what God might do through a person wholly consecrated to Him? D. L. Moody was challenged by that idea in the nineteenth century, and the results of his ministry remain to this day.

Some people may see Sammy Tippit as a throwback to another era. Can anyone with ability and talent remain unaffected by fame, wealth, materialism? If not, how does he deal with the attendant pride?

God has packed into Sammy a lifetime of amazing events. He seems a lightning rod for outpourings from heaven, a dynamic preacher and bold personal witness whose hallmark is obedience.

The kinds of results Sammy has seen in his worldwide ministry have ruined many other ministers. They became enamored with success, began to see themselves—rather than God—as the key, and started the slow, sure slide to pride.

Sammy is not above sin, but God has done a deep work in his heart, breaking him, keeping him humble, keeping him in the Word and in prayer. God has shown him that humility is the trademark of the true man of God. The deepest desire of Sammy’s heart is to be an obedient and effective man of God.

He lives what he preaches, straight from the Bible. No doubt other Christian workers have the same burden, the same trust, the same zeal, the same talent to move people’s hearts. But few are so dead to self or so honored to be used.

You will praise God for Sammy Tippit, who wants only to glorify Christ. More important, you’ll learn that you can glorify God yourself by entrusting to Him every area of your life.

Jerry B. Jenkins


Black Forest, Colorado


Part One — The Calling


CHAPTER ONE

THE DAY THE CURTAIN FELL

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Summer, 1965

I had changed overnight, and friends and family had no idea what to make of me.

I may have looked like the same Louisiana State University-bound, happy-go-lucky athlete, student leader, and award-winning speaker who hadn’t met a girl or a beer he didn’t like, but it was obvious I was an entirely different person.

I had gone from Most Likely to Party All Night to a fearless follower of Jesus, eager to tell everybody what He had done for me—forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life—and that He could do the same for them.

Friends didn’t even believe me at first. I had to be kidding, or this had to be a phase. But I had come to faith and almost at the same instant felt called to preach. God so overwhelmed me with a burden for the souls of everyday people that I recruited a couple of friends and started preaching everywhere. I’m talking within just days of my transformation, and I mean everywhere.

I talked my way into bars and nightclubs, asking the managers if I could have a few minutes at the microphone when the band was on break. They’d ask me, “To do what?”

I’d say, “To talk about Jesus.”

I had to sound like the craziest kid they ever saw, but I hardly ever got turned down.

Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but from that time to this, my life has been a whirlwind. My bizarre compulsion to both preach and share Christ with people one on one has grown from the bars and streets of south Louisiana to mass meetings in stadiums all over the world.

I’ll tell you how that all came about, but let me start with a pivotal night in my life nearly a quarter century later.


Romania

July, 1988

For many years Romania had been the focus of my ministry in Eastern Europe. But one fateful night soldiers pulled me off a train at the border and held me under guard overnight. The next day they put me on a train to Vienna and told me, “You’ll never set foot on Romanian soil again as long as you live.”

I had developed such a love for the country and my fellow believers that I was brokenhearted. Soon, friends found a way to smuggle a note to me: “Sammy, remember, the glory of God comes only through much suffering. Keep praying. Don’t give up.”

Click for Video Deported

The message had come from one of my dearest friends in the world, a compatriot, a prayer warrior, and my translator in Romania, Titus Coltea. A young medical doctor who risked everything to serve Christ against the wishes of the Communists, Titus—along with his wife, Gabi—always buoyed me with his deep, warm, affectionate, bold faith!

Despite his encouragement, I found it hard to imagine things could change in Romania. The ruthless Securitate, the dreaded secret police, helped dictator Nicolae Ceausescu rule with an iron fist. Many believed that one of every three people in the nation was somehow linked to the Securitate. There was no such thing as peaceful protest in Romania. Whenever I had visited, friends and I were followed and threatened.

And now the Securitate had made good on its threats.


Nigeria

Late 1989

My pattern had become to emphasize two priorities wherever I was invited to preach: evangelistic meetings, of course (because that was my calling), but also the inspiring and training of national Christian pastors and leaders. I called them to prayer and personal revival, and then I would conduct a major evangelistic outreach to the city.

That’s what I had been doing in Africa when I awoke one night in a remote, dilapidated hotel, dehydrated and doubled over in pain.

The phone system was down, but somehow word got to a local pastor who rushed me to a hospital. There they pumped liquids into me, despite my fear of used needles in a nation where AIDS was a growing concern.

It seemed only one person was on duty in the entire hospital, and no one on my floor. Whenever my IV ran low, I had to get up and carry it with me, calling out for someone to come and help me.

When my stomach began to bloat, I was scared and so sympathetic to my wife, Tex, who had twice been pregnant. I thought I was going to burst. I prayed earnestly, “Lord, if what they’re doing to me is wrong, don’t let my stomach deflate. If it’s right, let the swelling reduce.”

If my stomach was still swollen twelve hours later, I was going to take out the needle, dress, catch a taxi, and pay whatever it cost to get to Lagos (about a three-hour drive). From there I would fly to London and find a hospital where they could help me. I didn’t want to offend the people of Nigeria, but I was so sick I would have no choice.

The swelling subsided, but I was still very sick. The local pastor visited me occasionally and kept telling me, “You’ll be okay, Brother Sammy. God has given us assurance. He will take care of you.”

I appreciated that, but with Tex back home in San Antonio, I wanted help in the form of people who would stay with me and look after me.

Finally finding a working phone, I brought Tex up to date and said, “Sweetheart, pray for me, and get your friends to pray for me.”

She assured me she would and then asked if I had heard about the Berlin Wall. I hadn’t. “It’s come down,” she said.

I couldn’t have heard her right. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

“I’m not, Sammy. People are dancing in the streets.”

Sick as I was, I hardly slept. So much of my life and ministry revolved around the Eastern bloc that everything in me yearned to be there. I’d had the indescribable privilege of preaching all over the world, but my international ministry had begun in Europe early years before.

I had prayed since my college years for the downfall of Communism, the greatest enemy of the Gospel in Eastern Europe. Since my first ministry trip there in the 1970s, I had prayed for an end to oppression of the brothers and sisters in Christ I had grown so close to. I had heard great elderly saints cry out to God for this day, yet I can’t say I truly had the faith to believe it would happen in my lifetime. So I was as shocked and thrilled as anyone when the news came.

I knew how important the Berlin Wall news was when I realized that despite my pain and loneliness in that hospital bed, I was also overcome with joy.

The antibiotics gradually began to work, and my pain and discomfort slowly lifted. I was able to preach the last couple of days of the Nigerian crusade, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the States to see about getting back into the Eastern bloc.

As soon as I arrived in San Antonio, it seemed everyone wanted to know if I thought Romania would be the next country to break free of totalitarianism.

“Not without a bloodbath,” I said. “The Securitate is too strong. With transportation and communication so limited, no one could pull off a coup without violence.”

Just a few weeks later my family and I visited my widowed mother in Louisiana for the Christmas holidays. The adults were chatting in the kitchen when my son, Dave, came in. “Dad, come and watch the news. There’s been a massacre in Timisoara.”

I rushed to the TV just as CNN reported on that Romanian city that had become so dear to me. People had been killed. Multitudes had taken to the streets. I prayed I wouldn’t hear the names of any of our many brothers and sisters in Christ in Timisoara. They were brave soldiers of the cross who had for so long lived out their faith under the tyranny of Ceausescu.

Reporters had never been allowed into the country, so news was sketchy. The borders were closed, and truck drivers were the only ones allowed out. I called Sam Friend, a former associate in Washington State, and asked what he knew. He told me the Securitate had come to arrest a pastor named Laszlo Tokes, who had spearheaded a demonstration. Government forces found people surrounding his home to protect him. The Securitate fired into the crowd, killing dozens.

I became obsessed with the people of Romania and believed the United States needed to take a stand. Romanians were always low on food. They had no weapons, no money. We needed to come to their aid.

I told Tex, “I know it’s Christmas, but I have to do something.”

“I’m with you,” she said. “But what are you going to do?”

Early in my ministry I might have done something noisy, like chaining myself to a cross in front of the United Nations, or going to the great Romanian population in Chicago and calling for a big rally in the civic center.

But times had changed, and techniques that had once been effective could now make me a laughingstock. I called my media contacts and encouraged them to get the word out that the Securitate would march through and massacre more people while the world press was focusing on controversy in Panama.

One thing the Communists hated was adverse publicity. So every chance I got I accepted interviews as a Romania watcher who had spent years in ministry there. I called for the American people, particularly the Christian community, to raise a loud cry against the atrocities. “We need to protest every killing. We must stand for the Romanian people.”

Within days the stunning news came that the army had pulled out of Timisoara. The Communists had been booted, and a transitional government had taken control. From what he knew of the passion of the resistance and his years as a Romania expert, Josif Tson, head of the Romanian Missionary Society and former pastor of the great Second Baptist Church in Oradea, predicted that Ceausescu would be deposed within forty-eight hours.

I might have dismissed that from anyone else, but Josif was a knowledgeable Romanian expatriate.

Still, I was only cautiously optimistic. I had spent enough time in Romania to know how powerful Ceausescu was, how he had surrounded himself with security and staged elaborate parades in honor of himself.

“It will happen, Sammy,” Josif said. “We need to prepare.”

I was so excited about the possibility of returning to Romania that I could hardly think of anything else. After years of ministering there, it had been seventeen continuous months since I had been to that precious country.

I helped arrange for a colleague, evangelist Steve Wingfield, to preach in Timisoara the next month, and for Dr. Joe Ford, chairman of the board of our ministry, to go. “It’s dangerous,” I said, “and I can’t tell you what you should do. But, I’m making plans. I don’t know when, but at the right moment, I’m going.”

Steve and Joe both agreed to go.

While Ceausescu was making a speech in Bucharest, he staged another demonstration to show how the people loved him. But some university students, who had heard over Radio Free Europe what had happened in Timisoara, began hollering from the back of the crowd, “Jos cu Ceausescu! [Down with Ceausescu!] Jos cu Ceausescu!

The crowd picked up the chant, and perhaps for the first time since he had taken power in 1974, Ceausescu realized he didn’t have the support of the people.

He was the cruelest of dictators. He spent elaborately on himself, even built himself an obscenely opulent palace (one of the largest buildings in Europe), despite the fact his people lived in squalor. They couldn’t get bread or meat, and they camped out in lines for gasoline. All while Ceausescu lived as a king.

So much of the population had been compromised by the Securitate that family members would turn in each other for various offenses to gain favor with the guards. Yet, all over the country signs read, “Long live Ceausescu!” “The People for Ceausescu!” “Ceausescu Peace!” It was Orwellian.

Of course, Titus and Gabi Coltea were on my mind every minute. Steve Wingfield told me a friend of his had used a phone with an automatic re-dialer finally to reach Titus after thirty hours of continuous calling. “It was strange,” Steve reported. “My friend kept asking Titus how he was doing and was he safe and how was his family, but all Titus could say was, ‘The glory of God has come to my country. The glory of God has come to my country. Tell Sammy that what we have prayed for so long has come. Tell him he must come immediately.’”

The next day I talked to Titus by phone, and he told me to get a vehicle, put a red cross on it, and drive to the border. “They’ll let you in if you bring medical supplies, no questions asked.”

I arranged for a vehicle through a friend in Germany and planned to go. That Sunday morning my pastor, David Walker, asked me to update the congregation on the situation in Romania. After I shared our plans, David added: “Sammy will not ask for money, but I will. If you want to help, just give it directly to him.”

It reminded me of how God had met our needs early in my ministry. One man asked how much my flight would cost, then wrote a check to cover it. By the time I left church that morning, I had been given more than four thousand dollars!

On Christmas Day I heard the stunning news that Josif Tson had predicted: Ceausescu had not only been deposed but also had been put to death by firing squad. It was time to go.


New Year’s Day, 1990

I flew into Vienna where I met Don Shelton, pastor of a church I had pastored years before in West Germany, and a few laymen with a van and medical supplies.

We were an eight-hour drive from the Romanian border at Oradea, and I was eager to get going. Titus had told me there would be a church service at Second Baptist in Oradea that night, and though he wouldn’t tell anyone I was coming, I wanted more than anything to get there in time for that.

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was on my heart as I was reminded that when all else fails, God is faithful. No government, no dictator could keep me out of Romania if God wanted me in.

We drove as fast as we dared across Austria and Hungary. About an hour outside the border between Hungary and Romania, we started praying. Both Don Shelton and I had been blacklisted, but who would be in charge of the border now?

Before we could move on to the Romanian border, the Hungarians insisted we enjoy a lengthy meal. We kept trying to beg off, but they wouldn’t hear of it.

When we finally got to the eerily silent Romania side, snow was falling. We knew that inside the nation the revolution was in full pitch. Many may have been trying to get out of the country, but we were desperate to get in.

I was hardly new to that border crossing, where I had always faced delays, searches, and harassment. Many considered it lunacy to try to get back into Romania during the height of the revolution, especially after having been banished. And maybe it was.

My heart hammered as armed soldiers approached our car. If they remained loyal to the deposed Ceausescu, our very lives would be in danger.

“Get out!”

I knew that what happened next would change my life, for good or for bad. All these years later, I still see it in my mind as though it were yesterday.

In the past, the guards’ first question had always been whether we had Bibles. The old regime believed Christianity was an illness. While there was no law against afflicted people meeting together, trying to bring a Bible in was akin to pushing drugs. I didn’t try to smuggle in even my own Bible, let alone any for others. I always used one from someone inside the country.

But this time the guard said, “Are you a Christian?”

My breath came short. I always made it a practice to tell the truth and trust God with the outcome. I had seen friends turned away because they had been “in-country with Sammy Tippit,” only to be routinely processed through under my own name a few minutes later.

“Yes,” I said, “we are Christians.”

The guard smiled, threw open his arms, and said, “Welcome to Romania!” He added, “Someone is here waiting for Christians to arrive.”

Click For Video

---

Revolution

Here came Titus and Gabi running to embrace us. What a joyous reunion! We knelt and praised God in the very spot where I had been told I could never return.

Titus said, “We must get you to the church.”

I had become so endeared to the people of that great congregation that they even had a greeting just for me. Whenever I showed up, whoever was leading the service would say, “Tonight we have with us…,” and the people would say in unison, “Sommy Teepeet.”

We arrived at the end of the service, and a stir arose. Titus’s brother-in-law Peter was at the microphone. Although they had been about to close, he said, “Tonight we have with us…”

How sweet to hear that congregation of more than two thousand say my name in unison in their unique accents.

Titus and I mounted the platform, and my heart burst with love and joy as I looked into the beaming faces of newly freed people. I opened the Word of God, and Titus and I could only weep as we spoke.


From the Soviet Union came rumors of demonstrations, threats of secession, and Kremlin strong-arm tactics. Clearly we were on the front lines of history. The mammoth Iron Curtain had been rent, and the world would never be the same.

Neither would our ministry.


CHAPTER TWO

NEVER ASHAMED

No one predicted I would grow up to become an evangelist.

I was a stranger to spiritual things until junior high when I heard that an all-American and all-pro football player was going to speak at a church. Football players were my idols.

I hung on his every word and was intrigued when he said, “All my awards don’t amount to a cup of coffee compared to what Jesus Christ means to me.” When the great star invited us to “Come and receive Christ,” I hurried down the aisle.

But the counselor assigned to me seemed more interested in getting me baptized so I could join the church. I filled out a card and got wet, but I didn’t come to know Christ. It wouldn’t be until the summer before my senior year in high school that I even considered God again.

Meanwhile, I took speech courses every year and loved every minute of them. I enjoyed wide success and traveled to several cities to speak about world peace. That summer of 1964 I was chosen as one of thirty students from Louisiana to study at the United Nations in New York. Our group stopped at the famous Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania and sang patriotic songs and spirituals. As I gazed at the eternal torch, I began to wonder if there really was an eternal God.

I gained a global perspective at the UN, won an oratorical contest for the southern states, and was named outstanding high school speaker for North America. Only later did I recognize that God was at work in me even before I knew Him, preparing me for what I do today. I’m also sure that’s why much of my preparation and delivery seemed to come naturally.

I returned to Baton Rouge that fall with the world by the tail. My senior year was a good one for parties, girls, alcohol, you name it. I graduated near the top of my class, excelled in college testing exams, and finished in the top three percent in the nation in math. I was recruited by several big schools, and I accepted two scholarships to Louisiana State.

My future seemed set, at least for the next four years. I had success, popularity, a serious girlfriend, and I was rushed by LSU fraternities during the summer. But something was missing. I could speak of global peace, but I had no inner peace. I felt empty and at times even wondered if life was worth living.

One night my girlfriend’s father, a deacon in a big local church, told us we couldn’t go out unless we went to church first. That was a laugh. I had gotten drunk at a party the night before. But her dad stood firm. No problem—I just wouldn’t pay attention.

I didn’t like the preliminaries at all, but when a young evangelist named James Robison stood to speak, my plan went out the window. I couldn’t ignore him. He bounded all over the platform, smiling and shouting, excited about life. I didn’t have half what this guy had. Even with all my success and popularity, I sensed I had nothing without Christ.

I had walked forward years before, and it made no difference. But I was ready to give God another try. I didn’t care what my friends or even my girlfriend would think. I went forward, talked with Robison, and prayed, “Jesus, if You’re real, be real to me tonight. I’ll give up anything, I’ll do anything, but come into my heart and be my Lord.”

For the first time I knew Jesus Christ was in my life. He forgave my sins, and my emptiness was gone. I knew immediately that God wanted me to use for Him whatever abilities I had.

I told James Robison I felt called to the ministry, and he said, “Sam, Jesus didn’t have to leave heaven to die for you. He chose to. He suffered and bled and was ridiculed and tortured. He gave His life for you. If He’s called you to preach, you must be willing to give Him everything, no matter what the cost. Even if it means going to jail or losing your friends, you must be willing to pay the price.”

I had no idea, of course, that I would eventually be called to suffer those very things. I didn’t know either that though I was willing to pay those prices, I would be blind to my own ego and pride. The day would come when God would have to search me and break me and mold me if I truly wanted to continue to grow and be of service to Him.

As brand new as I was in Christ, I was thrilled with my Lord. I wanted to tell everyone. There were meetings every night that week at church, and a few nights later one of my buddies was there—Fred, a real boozer. During the invitation, I told him, “I want you to know Jesus.”

He laughed. “I’ve tried religion, Tippit. It’ll wear off in a few weeks. This weekend we’re goin’ down to Grand Isle where there’ll be all the girls you want and plenty of booze.”

“No,” I said, “I’ve changed.”

“I’m not listening,” he said.

I was hurt and discouraged. I had failed.

Monday morning Fred called. “I got loaded at Grand Isle last night, but all I could think about was what you said. Can you come over and pray with me?”

I was so thrilled to lead someone to Christ that I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Another friend, Don, also received Christ at one of the meetings, and the three of us started getting together to pray and go to church. The pastor took us under his wing and helped us grow.

I got my first opportunity to preach at a nursing home where the young people put on a service every Sunday. The only thing I knew to preach was my own testimony. I preached it each week in a different way.

Fred and Don and I went into nightclubs and bars to share our faith. We were scared to death, especially at first. We recognized a lot of people, and our mouths seemed glued shut. We held a private prayer meeting in the bathroom, but when we came out, we still just stood there unnoticed.

Suddenly Fred shouted, “I can’t hold it any longer! I’ve got to tell you what Jesus has done for me!” The place fell dead silent, and two bouncers ushered Fred out. So Don and I started quietly sharing Christ with anyone who would listen.

That gave the three of us the confidence to overcome our fear and just go to those places and witness one-on-one, without causing a scene that would get us thrown out. Soon we were doing that several nights a week.

While it was rare to see someone come to Christ, the exercise was a great experience for us as new Christians. We learned the value of boldly, and often not so boldly, obeying the Lord when He led us to share His Gospel.

One night Fred told me he felt led of God that I should go and witness for Christ in the nightclub across the river. That place had been the scene of stabbings and even bombings. I said, “Well, if you feel led, maybe you should go.”

He asked me to pray about it, and I like to joke that I made the mistake of agreeing to. Prayer can be dangerous. Sure enough, God told me to go. Fred and Don and another friend, Charlie, went along. I carried my little red Bible and asked the bartender who I needed to talk to about permission to preach.

He pointed me to a dark cubbyhole in the back. Don, Fred, and Charlie stayed in the hall praying while I knocked hard. The door flew open to reveal six glaring eyes. The manager, flanked by two bouncers, sat counting a pile of cash.

I said, “Sir, my friends and I want to tell people about Jesus.”

The manager’s eyes darted between my Bible and my eyes. “All right,” he said.

I gasped. “All right?”

He shrugged and resumed his counting. “You can have the stage when the band takes its next break.”

I walked out grinning, but as I passed my friends in the dingy, dim hallway, they didn’t even see me. They still had their heads bowed, one fervently praying, ‘‘Lord, please be with Sam.”

A few minutes later, when the band members unstrapped their instruments and wandered from the little platform, I knew if I hesitated I’d lose my nerve. I hurried to the microphone.

“Listen,” I began, “I don’t know what y’all think about Jesus Christ…” and a hush fell over the place. “But let me tell you what He’s done for me.”

After I told my story, the four of us split up to share Christ with people individually. Several gave their hearts to Jesus. We were thrilled, but we didn’t tell anyone because we didn’t want to become egotistical about it.

That week in church the pastor said he had heard that some young people had shared their faith in the nightclub. One of the deacons had been approached by a man who’d been there and heard us and wanted to know how to receive Christ. That was as exciting as the night I had received Christ myself. I thought of Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” As I looked forward to college, I prayed, Lord, help me never to be ashamed.

Near the Louisiana State Capitol building I found a little hill where I often prayed and studied my Bible. I found it beautiful to spend time alone with Jesus, and God convicted me about many things. One was my girlfriend. I knew I had to get away from the kind of lifestyle we had enjoyed, and that meant I couldn’t continue dating her.

“Sammy, I’ll change,” she promised. “I’ll give my life to God.”

I said, “If you mean that, let’s not see each other for two months.” I knew if she truly gave her life to God, she wouldn’t want the party life any more than I did.

Being apart from her for two months was going to be tough on me too. But just two weeks later, I was convinced God wanted me to break off the relationship.

Although I knew it was the right thing, still I was lonely. Like most young men, I longed for a loving relationship. But it wasn’t just breaking up that made me lonely. My own mom didn’t understand what had happened to me, and she didn’t hide her displeasure.

Mom grew up in a family so poor that she and her sisters had to stay out of school one year because they had little to eat and had to work menial jobs to survive. Her older sister got a job after high school and bought Mom a pair of shoes to wear to her graduation. None of the sisters could afford to go to college.

I believe Mom felt her dreams would be fulfilled in me. Because I had won academic scholarships, she was infuriated when I told her I felt God wanted me to go into the ministry. One evening she beat me over the head with a belt, yelling at me to get out and never come back.

I’d seen many South Louisiana torrential rainstorms, but I doubt there had ever been a downpour to match my tears that night. I wandered the streets, sobbing.

My aunt later talked Mom into allowing me back, but the wound she inflicted that night festered for decades.

In my loneliness I developed a hunger really to dig into Scripture and increase my Bible knowledge. I knew no one would understand, but I felt God wanted me to leave LSU after the first semester and transfer to a denominational Bible school.

Mom raged that I was giving up a scholarship at a prestigious university for “religious” training—and she was not alone.

I had no idea how I was going to finance my education now, but I was excited about studying the Bible and knew God was in my decision. That kept me going at the new school when some classmates and I were told that our witnessing on the streets embarrassed other students, who considered us Holy Joes.

I couldn’t believe that happened at a Christian school. Sure, at LSU we would have been laughed off the campus, but here?

On the upside, one of the guys in our young preachers group read a passage of Scripture one night that burned in my soul. It was the Old Testament passage where God puts His call on Jeremiah:

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Then said I: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.” But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant. ... I am ready to perform My word… Therefore … speak to them all that I command you” (Jeremiah 1:4-10, 12, 17).

That Scripture worked on my heart for days, and it still does decades later. No matter where I go or what I encounter, I claim those promises. Even if I hadn’t felt called of God to preach all over the world, I would take great comfort in knowing that God is ready to perform His word.

Even to those who are not preachers, Jesus’ Great Commission remains in force. He has commanded us to make disciples. As scary as that can be, God promises to go before us and to prepare hearts.

Soon some student stole some of my clothes just to bother me. It worked. I talked myself out of being so radical and quit witnessing on the street. I justified that by accepting invitations to speak at youth rallies and evangelistic meetings, but I felt no power. Nothing of much value happened at my meetings. My faith grew lukewarm, and I was miserable.

My father had suffered for years with Lupus, and when he took a turn for the worse, I jumped at the opportunity to again transfer to another school. I switched to Southeastern Louisiana College (now University), just forty miles from home.

At Southeastern I fell in with a bunch of Christians who emphasized the grace of God over any other doctrine. To them this meant that believers are free to live as they choose. Frankly, in my youth and naïveté, this grace-of-God business sounded pretty good. I used it as an excuse to go back to social drinking and partying, and I even took to smoking a pipe—sort of the ultimate symbol of my freedom.

I didn’t realize I’d fallen into a trap. I’m a believer in eternal security, and God’s grace is inexpressibly deep and merciful. But it is not a license for sin, and deep down I knew I was kidding myself, thinking I could stay close to God in spite of my lifestyle.

I was still a Christian, of course, and I truly wanted to serve God, but I was conflicted and disappointed in myself. In the midst of all that personal turmoil caused by my spiritual lapse, I met someone who would become the most important human in my life from that time till now.

Because of student elections and campaign posters everywhere, one of the more publicized names on campus was Tex, nickname of Debe Ann Sirman, a Texas girl running for office. She also came to our Bible studies. I was the first person to explain to her what it meant to receive Jesus Christ. With my inconsistent spiritual life at the time, it was a wonder she even listened.

Thank God, some girls in her dorm were genuine examples of what I had talked about, and one night Tex gave her heart to Christ. The next day I saw in her the newness of life I had experienced when I became a believer. It shook me. I envied her and realized how far I had strayed from my first love of Jesus.

Tex was excited about her new faith and often cried over all the girlfriends with whom she wanted to share Christ. I missed that kind of passion for the lost. I had really blown it. I knew I had to ditch all the habits I had regained.

Tex was magnetic and fascinating, and I was drawn to her exuberant faith. Soon she and I started to date, and I gave up drinking, partying, and even my pipe—not for her, but because I knew they were barriers to the kind of fellowship with God I longed for.

Tex and I were in love by March of 1968 when I got word that my father was dying. I didn’t even have time to tell her I was leaving for Baton Rouge. God gave me peace as I drove home, consumed with thoughts about life and death and how I had failed Dad so many times. I wished we had talked more. There was much about him I didn’t know. Whereas Mom was still angry with me about my direction in life, Dad gave me my first Bible and encouraged me. He had rededicated himself to God not many months before, so I didn’t worry about where he would spend eternity.

We talked a while, and he told me to be sure to stay in school and get my degree. I was holding his hand at four in the morning when I saw life leave his body. It hurt to see my family go through such heartache, but I knew my father was with Christ and that God was with me.

Back at school, Tex and I began to talk about marriage. God had forgiven me for my stagnant season and instilled in me a burden for souls—and not for just a few. I wanted to reach the world for Him.

After hearing about mission efforts in Eastern Europe, my mind returned to that region often. For some reason I felt I would one day preach the claims of Christ behind the Iron Curtain.

My desire grew to further God’s kingdom throughout the world, but what could I do as a student? I sent a little money to evangelistic concerns in Communist countries, but that didn’t lift my burden.

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Marriage

Like any groom, I could only hope I knew what I was getting into when Tex and I married on June 8, 1968. I was deeply in love, and I knew Tex to be a spiritual woman with a loving, compassionate heart for me and for God. Neither of us was aware of what would be required of us in the future, and only with hindsight can I say that God provided me the perfect mate.

Although I had more to learn than I could imagine and areas of my life needed a deep work from the Lord, He had blessed me with a woman of character who cared about lost souls and would go with me anywhere to see them come to Christ. Unaware that Tex was often more victim than partner during the early years, I plunged into ministry. She could see I had the right motives, but eventually God would use her to minister to me in painful but necessary ways.

A few months after Tex and I were married, God spoke to me in a way He never had before. No one else saw what I saw in a restaurant in Baton Rouge that warm evening. As we sat eating, I gazed out the big glass windows, and my mind carried me far beyond the borders of Louisiana.

Strangely shivering despite the weather, I stared straight ahead. Chairs scraped the floor, mothers scolded children, and Tex brushed her lips with a napkin. But in my mind it was as if the restaurant had been transported across the ocean. My soda had become some sort of a hot drink. The people around me spoke a language I didn’t understand.

Somehow in my mind I was behind the Iron Curtain, surrounded by people in a godless vacuum. My heart bled for them, and I burned to tell them the forbidden news. The experience felt so real that it stayed with me for days, and I felt God was calling me to minister behind the Iron Curtain.

I read about the persecution of believers in Eastern Europe, and God constantly prompted me to pray for them. I wanted to go, but how could I? I was just twenty-one, and our home in Walker, Louisiana, was a long way from Europe. Besides, we were practically penniless.

Having not shared the vision with anyone but Tex for several months, I told a group of young people at the Walker Baptist Church about it, and they were thrilled. They even held a car wash to raise money to send us overseas. They presented us with seventy-two dollars, which I cherished as an expression of their love.

But after about a year I put the money away and dismissed the idea. When I discovered what it would cost to go, I began to wonder whether my vision had really been a vision after all.

I badly wanted to reach people for Christ, but I wasn’t producing any spiritual fruit. Regardless of how I preached or witnessed, I again found myself in a spiritual desert. I had no power, and nothing was happening.

It took a fiery redhead with a heart full of love to turn me around.


CHAPTER THREE

IN THE CASKET

Leo Humphrey was a muscular, stocky man in his mid-thirties, a rough-and-tumble guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. A student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he shared his faith in the famed French Quarter. This fireball didn’t pass anybody without saying, “Jesus loves you!” He was happy and joyful and seemed to live by the power of God. Most impressive was that his witness was fruitful. I was determined to find out what made him tick.

I started going down to the French Quarter in my spare time to work with Leo. One of his ploys was to tell nightclub owners he was praying they wouldn’t sleep until they gave their hearts to Jesus. Then he would write their names in his little prayer book and walk out. I told him, “You can’t witness that way. You’ll turn those guys off.”

But more than one came to Leo pleading with him to quit praying for them, saying, “I haven’t slept for days.”

“Receive the Lord and you’ll sleep like a baby,” he’d tell them. And some did. I was learning that even techniques that border on the extreme could work.

The French Quarter shocked me. I saw public immorality, people high on drugs, and knife fights. Kids talked about death the way you and I talk about the weather. That only intensified my burden for a dying world. I was a college senior doing well academically, but my heart was heavy. The sin of the French Quarter haunted me daily. I prayed that God would let me help people find Jesus.

Finally the burden became so strong that I couldn’t concentrate. Every minute I sat in class seemed like time I should use to spread the word about Christ. School had become an impossible distraction from what I believed I should be doing. So I dropped out—no small decision, given my father’s last request.

My whole extended family was distraught. Mom shouted, called Tex and me names, and even had people call and remind me of Dad’s last wish. Friends warned that without a degree I would never preach in a large church or gain any kind of ministerial reputation. Where would I go? What would I do? I had no source of income.

Somehow I knew God had put this restlessness in my heart and that He would take care of Tex and me. My reputation wasn’t as important to me as it had once been. (Although I have since preached in some of the world’s largest churches and in stadiums all over the globe, I would have been satisfied simply to share Christ on the street with one person at a time.)

Tex was beautiful about it. “Sammy, wherever God calls you, I’ll be with you.” She has kept that spirit for decades, even though she was learning that the young man God was calling had as many blind spots and weaknesses as he had strengths.

The first thing I did was call Leo and tell him I wasn’t waiting for some mysterious door to open. “I’m coming down to witness with you in the French Quarter.” Tex and I loaded all our furniture into a truck we borrowed from her dad and drove to Leo’s office.

While we were talking with him, someone ransacked the truck. Suddenly there we were, two kids with nothing but an empty borrowed truck, a burden, and the clothes on our backs. We didn’t know where we’d sleep or when we’d eat, but we knew we were in God’s will. He just wanted us to start from scratch.

Leo signed me up at an evangelism conference and got us a room at the seminary. Pastors and evangelists had come from all over the country. I didn’t have a razor or even a change of clothes, but I was eager to learn more about sharing Christ.

I heard a lot of ideas—some good and some not--and suddenly I felt the urge to speak up. I fought it, not sure I wanted to draw attention to myself. Already I stood out as one of very few people there without a tie and coat. Certainly I was the only one with a couple of days’ growth on his chin.

Men who wanted to address the group simply raised their hands. Finally, I couldn’t contain myself. I stood and told the nearly three hundred pastors and evangelists that we have to take Jesus to the people and not expect them to come to us. We must get out on the streets and present the claims of Christ to anyone who will listen. While I had the floor, I got a little carried away and began sharing my burden for the sin and degradation of the French Quarter.

After the session several pastors sought me out and invited me to come and speak at their churches. I was floored. Here I had stepped out in faith only a few days before, and God had opened the door for me to preach in churches all over.

Those speaking engagements helped meet our financial needs, and it became exciting just to trust God when we needed money. Tex and I moved into a house in Hammond, Louisiana, for eighty dollars a month.

I was scheduled to speak at a church one night, but we didn’t have enough money for the gas to get there. The rent was due, and I needed clean clothes and a haircut. We didn’t know what to do except to pray. We knelt in our little living room and claimed Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

We rose believing God would take care of us. I went to the post office to pick up the mail, and there was a gift, a check for one hundred dollars. That paid the rent, cleaned our clothes, cut my hair, put gas in the car, and even paid for a few groceries. The speaking engagement gave us enough money to live on for a while. God has met our needs many times just like that.

My burden grew, and I began to minister in many cities. We witnessed on the street, and I preached in churches, but still I wasn’t satisfied I was doing all I could. I was bold, but I was still bearing little fruit. Again it would take Leo to point me in the right direction.

He and I were invited to speak at a youth crusade in Gulf Shores, Alabama, so we had some time to talk. I confided in him that I felt a lack of power, a void in my ministry.

“Sam, do you really want the power of God in your life?”

“I sure do.”

“Let’s go to the shore and pray about it.”

I had a feeling of great anticipation as we headed for the Gulf of Mexico that evening. But before we prayed, I knew I had to admit I’d had misgivings about Leo when we first met. He laughed. “To tell you the truth, Sam, I thought you were in this whole thing for yourself.”

“Sometimes I think I am,” I said. “But I want to get right with God.”

We prayed that the Lord would empower me and multiply my ministry. Then I wandered the beach by myself. I laid in the sand and gazed at the stars, listening to the waves, awed by God’s handiwork.

I poured out my heart to Him, and He brought unconfessed sin to my mind, exposing some bad attitudes. I begged His forgiveness.

I see Your magnificent power before me, but I’m not experiencing it. I want so badly to bear fruit in my ministry. I need Your power.

I could feel His cleansing, and when I began to thank Him, I couldn’t praise Him enough. I worshiped and lost all track of time. I didn’t have what some call a charismatic experience, but I felt the Holy Spirit doing a deep work in my life.

Hours later Leo came to me. “It’s almost dawn, brother. Let’s go.”

I grinned. “Praise God,” I said. “Praise God.” Jesus had taken control of my life. I couldn’t even sleep. I just kept praising Him.

Tex was thrilled for me and knew I earnestly sought to serve God. But without realizing it, I was treating her as an accessory. I was in charge. I guided her. When we disagreed, I won her over. When we argued, I showed her I was right and she was wrong. I was so overly confident, I didn’t even have a clue what I was doing to her.

Before the first youth crusade meeting in a tent on the beach, the weather was so bad it was about to blow the tent over. Leo said, “Guys, we won’t be able to hold the meeting if this doesn’t let up. Let’s ask God to stop the rain.”

A few of us formed a circle inside the tent and knelt to pray. I asked God to stop the rain, but to be honest, my faith was weak. Meddling in the weather was new for me, and I was skeptical. Somebody in that group must have had more faith than I did, because God stopped the rain.

Kelly, a seventeen-year-old girl from Louisiana, had overheard us praying, and she thought we were crazy. She was a biker who prostituted herself for a guy in the American Breed cycle gang from New Orleans. Leo had witnessed to her in the French Quarter and had invited her to the meetings. She also had a friend in the choir.

Kelly had been selling her body since her father had kicked her out of the house at thirteen. She saw him kill her brother with a knife.

Kelly had come only to get away from New Orleans for a while and to score some drugs on the beach. She sat listening to me preach that night with a lot on her mind. I spoke on the second coming of Christ, which was new to her. She thought about Leo witnessing to her and also the girlfriend in the choir who had shared Christ with her. And she thought about the rain stopping.

After the meeting I saw her in the parking lot. “Kelly,” I said, “Jesus loves you.”

“Don’t give me that, man,” she spat. “If Jesus loves me, why am I strung out on dope and running with a cycle gang?”

“All I know is that Jesus wants to give you a new life.”

She turned and ran toward the beach, calling over her shoulder, “Just leave me alone!”

Later Leo and I found her on the shore and sat on opposite sides of her. We talked and prayed for hours. Finally, at three o’clock in the morning, Kelly asked Jesus to forgive her sins and come into her life. She wept and softly repeated again and again, “He’s real.”

The next day she went to church in the only clothes she owned. That night before I spoke I asked her to tell the people what had happened to her. After she did, she walked out of the tent and approached two young men across the street. I wondered if anything was wrong, but when she came back, she told me she had gone to share Christ with them.

During that week of meetings we saw more than 130 saved, mostly through personal witnessing. God had once again blessed me with His power.

Kelly didn’t have a home to go to, so for the next three months she traveled with Tex and me. I saw her personally lead more than 150 people to Christ. When she went to church with us, she would stand at the door afterward and ask people—even deacons and elders and pastors, “Are you saved?”

When she finally returned to New Orleans to finish high school, her biker man told her, “Forget about religion. You’re ridin’ with me tonight.” She refused.

The next day she had a black eye.

“I got beat up for Jesus,” she said.

God’s power changes lives.


When I got back to Hammond, Louisiana, I told an old college buddy, Ramsey Gilchrist, what God had been doing in my life. He was especially intrigued by what I told him Leo had said about a man named Arthur Blessitt. Arthur ministered to dopers and hippies at His Place on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. Ramsey and I decided that the best way to learn from Arthur would be to go and see him. Our wives agreed, so we pooled our money, made sandwiches, and made it to California in thirty hours.

After telling Arthur about ourselves, we asked him to tell us some of his experiences, but he just looked at me and said, “You’ve got to get right with God.”

I told him I already had, but he said, “You need to die daily. What you say you experienced that night on the beach you can experience continually if you die daily.”

He showed me Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Right there in Arthur’s living room I again prayed for the power of God, but this time I figuratively placed my desires in a casket. I placed my wife in that casket, along with my car and my few belongings, and yes, even my secret desire to be another Billy Graham. I placed everything I could think of in that casket, and then I climbed in, telling God I was willing to die to self. Deep in my heart I knew I had Christ’s control and the Holy Spirit’s power to go along with my burden for souls.


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