A Seafaring Man Finds Salvation
April 25, 2017
Plagued by disease and bound by alcohol, this desperate young man reached out to God.
y grandparents were immigrants from Ireland, fishermen who settled on a small island in Lake Michigan. There my parents raised me in a good home, where I was the youngest of eleven children. Although we went to church, we did not have a Bible in our house. Neither my mother nor father could read or write, so they would not have been able to do much with it if there had been one.
Life was hard. I remember seeing my mother look out across the water, her mind far away. One time I asked her, “What is going to happen when we go down in that old box?” As an altar boy, many times I stood alongside a grave and held the hyssop or the holy water while the minister sprinkled the coffin before it was lowered into the ground. I saw many an old fisherman or farmer who had lost his mate stand there and cry, without a hope in the world. Sometimes they would try to jump into the grave, and others had to hold them back. What was life all about? My mother had no answer for me.
Growing up, I went to a religious school. The first question of the catechism I learned was, “Why did God make me?” The answer was: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him in this world; and to be forever with Him in the next.” Well, we tried to serve God and be happy, but we didn’t know how.
When I was thirteen years old, I heard that my thirty-four-year-old brother had died aboard a Coast Guard ship. He had come out of the mess hall where he’d had his breakfast, and walked up by the pilot house. There he sat down on the railing, lit up a cigarette, and dropped dead. I was never the same after that. It caused me to realize that people could die young.
One day when I was in the eighth grade and had gotten into trouble, a teacher told me, “You are doing nothing but soaking up heat. It would be better for all of us if you left.” So I went to sea.
One day when I was in the eighth grade and had gotten into trouble, a teacher told me, “You are doing nothing but soaking up heat. It would be better for all of us if you left.” So I went to sea, and for the next eleven years I sailed on tramp steamers around the world. I remember being up in the crow’s nest on the ship at night, and looking at the stars. Tears would come to my eyes, but I couldn’t find what I needed. There was something in my heart that was crying out for reality, but I didn’t know how to reach God.
While I was a seafaring man, I visited skid rows in large cities around the world. I was in and out of jail for drunkenness. When I was nineteen years old, I took my first treatment for alcoholism. Before I was discharged, the doctor showed me around the alcoholic ward and pointed out the different ones he knew who had been there often. He told me there was no cure for them. I was still young, but already I was being discharged as a chronic alcoholic. I tried to get out of that kind of life, but was helpless.
I heard something I never forgot. A group of people came to the jail from the Apostolic Faith Church to hold a meeting. A few words the minister spoke at the close gave me hope.
Finally, my wanderings took me to Eureka, California, where I was picked up again and put into jail for drunkenness. There I heard something I never forgot. A group of people came to the jail from the Apostolic Faith Church to hold a meeting. A few words the minister spoke at the close gave me hope. He knew he was talking to a group of drunken loggers who could not get into the woods because it was the rainy season. I was there among them. He said, “You don’t have to be in church to pray. It doesn’t make any difference where you are—by the side of an old log in the woods, or in the rigging, the conditions are the same. If you get honest with the Lord, He will hear you. If you don’t, you won’t get anything.” I liked that. I had always liked straight talk.
Soon after that jail meeting, I sailed from San Francisco to South America on a Norwegian ship. I was not yet thirty years old, but my nerves were shot. Just the click of the gyro as I tried to keep the ship on course during a night watch would almost drive me crazy. I kept a bottle of liquor in my pocket to see me through, and to keep me from jumping overboard. Also, I had a blood disease I had picked up in South Africa. After being in three marine hospitals, I was still no better.
After returning to San Francisco, in a flop house on Market Street and Embarcadero, I got out of bed and prayed. I felt I was going to die, and I wanted to try once more to see if there was a God, and if He would hear me. At three o’clock in the morning, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer. That was all I knew. Then I prayed, “God, do for me what You did for those people I heard testify in Eureka.” In the twinkling of an eye, the power of God came down into that hotel room. All Heaven broke loose and God set me free. I didn’t know what it meant to be born again, but the Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart, “Your disease-wracked body is clean. Your sins are forgiven. Go forth and do right or you will spend eternity in condemnation.”
The next day I walked out of that hotel a man free from sin, a new creature in Christ Jesus. Some of the old gang called out to me, “Come get an eyeopener.” I answered, “I’ve had my eyes opened. I’m through with the old life.”
I didn’t know a thing about restitution, but God led me and helped me to make my past right. I didn’t have a trade, or even a change of clothes. I had nothing, but I got a job at a railroad camp, and kept it until the Lord led me back to Eureka.
One thing I knew—prayer had saved me, and if I prayed, God would take care of me.
In Eureka, I obtained a job as a longshoreman running winches on the ships which were being loaded with lumber. I was single with no family nearby so I stayed in an old workman’s hotel. I didn’t know where to attend church, but one thing I knew—prayer had saved me, and if I prayed, God would take care of me. One night, alongside my bed in that hotel, I prayed and prayed. Then something started happening. I felt an impression on my ears, and in the background I heard a song, “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.” It felt as if a suction cup was pulled off my heart. There was victory and joy. Later when I came among the Apostolic Faith people and described that experience to them, someone told me, “God sanctified you.” At the time I didn’t know what to call it, but God had done something in my life, something to hold me.
Even though I had heard the Apostolic Faith people years before when they held the meeting in the jail, I didn’t know what church they were from. One day down on the waterfront, I met a man I had been in jail with before my salvation. He asked me for a cigarette, and I said, “I don’t smoke anymore. It was taken away from me.” He asked what happened and I told him that I’d prayed. He said, “I know what you mean. My father is a pastor in a church over on F Street. Do you want to go there and see?” I went. It was the Apostolic Faith Church, and as soon as the first testimony was given, I knew it was where I was going to stay.
There I heard about the baptism of the Holy Ghost and began to seek for that experience. Somehow it seemed that I could not get through. Years went by, and I was about ready to give up. By then I was married, and there was an old trailer out by our house where I went to pray. That night I stayed and prayed, until finally my wife came out. When she got there, she heard me speaking in another language, one I did not know. God had helped me connect with Him and had baptized me with the Holy Ghost.
It is good to walk with Jesus. Many years have passed since God saved me, and He has kept me. Today the peace of God reigns in my heart. Surely God delights in mercy. I am thankful for the old-time religion.