The Long Journey Home

August 24, 2020

Conley had made a promise to his dying mother. Would he honor it?

By Conley Stephens

My family was in the right place at the right time. It was in a little Arizona mining town in about 1914 that God came down and changed some lives that had been ruined by sin. A paper came from the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon, that held a message of hope: that God could change trouble and despair to peace and victory.

My older sister read that paper, and God wonderfully saved her. Though just a child, she told my father, who was a drunken gambler, of what God had done for her. God touched his heart, and he fell on his face before Him and repented. When my father got to his feet, he was a changed man. Never again did he come home in a drunken condition.

Instead of our home ending in the divorce courts, my parents made a start for Heaven. In 1916, they moved their family to Portland where they could worship with the people of God, and two years later I was born into that home.

I was carried to the first camp meeting I attended. Through the years, being brought up in that Christian home, God worked on my heart. One time when I was about six years old, I remember my mother trying to get me to pray. She said I couldn’t go out to play until I had said my prayers. I prayed, but even then my little heart was hard. I said within myself, “She can’t force me to get saved.” I would pray just so I could go out to play.

My mother taught me from the Bible. We started at the very beginning of it. Of course, I had all kinds of reasons for wanting to busy myself with my own affairs instead, but Mother kept right at it. I told her, “Mother, I can’t read it; the words are too hard.” She said, “That’s all right; you read what you can, and when you get to the hard words I will help you.”

When we got over into the New Testament where Christ was put on the Cross, I remember how that story touched my heart. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I said, “Mother, why did Jesus have to die? Why did they do that to Him?” I felt real grief in my heart about that.

Just a short time later, Mother was taken from us to Heaven, but the truth had been planted in my heart, and I never really got away from it.

I thought I would take a little “side journey” into sin, and then return to the Lord when it was a more convenient season. What a tragic mistake!

I’m sorry to say I took those truths for granted. When I was just a teenager, I made my choice for the things of this world. I thought I would take a little “side journey” into sin, and then return to the Lord when it was a more convenient season. What a tragic mistake!

It became a long journey. The few sins that I started to try became habits, a routine that went on day after day, year after year. The shackles of sin clamped tightly onto my life. Soon bitterness was my portion, and I found no pleasure in sin. I squandered my youth and vitality in the haunts of the devil, and I was unable to change the way I was living.

From my outward appearance, you wouldn’t have been able to see the misery I was in. By the age of twenty-nine, I had settled down and in some respects, had become a good citizen. I was married and had a little business of my own. One day my older brother was visiting my home and he said, “Con, you have everything to be thankful for.” But he couldn’t see the misery that was down in my heart; he couldn’t feel the darkness that was there.

During World War II, I was lying in the hospital dying of a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer. I had lost much blood, and nothing more could be done for me. However, God hears and answers prayer.

God knew how to deal with me, however. During World War II, I was lying in the hospital dying of a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer. I had lost much blood, and nothing more could be done for me. However, God hears and answers prayer.

My sister stood by my bedside one night after the doctor had backed away, knowing he had done all he could. He went out into the hall and told my young wife, who was holding our seven-month-old daughter, that she probably wouldn’t have a husband by the time the sun came up. My sister had been praying, and she didn’t falter. She asked me if I wanted her to ask the Apostolic Faith people to pray for me, and when I nodded my head yes, she hurried right out to a telephone.

I desperately needed a transfusion that night. They didn’t have plasma in those days—a donor with the right blood type was needed. There wasn’t time to find one, but God made it possible. The donor turned out to be an old boyhood friend of mine from the church. Even before the doctors could get that blood into me, God began to take away some of the pain.

People were praying for me, and something began to happen in my heart. I turned over in my bed, tears coming down my cheeks, and said, “Oh God, I haven’t served You. I’ve been a sinner and have no right to ask any favors of You now. But if You would just someway, somehow come down and heal my body, I’ll serve You!”

God did it! He healed me. I didn’t get saved that night, but I couldn’t get away from the miracle God had worked for me. I went back to the same old life, but it became even more sickening to me. I hated the tobacco habit that bound me, but I couldn’t get away from it.

Though we were supposed to be celebrating, something down inside me said, “If this is all there is to life, I’ve missed it all.” God just let His hand rest on my shoulder that night, pointing me to Calvary.

One winter I thought it was the Portland rain that was making me miserable, so I took my family to Los Angeles, California, for a two-month vacation. We had plenty of money, and spent it taking in the sights as I tried to find happiness. One of the attractions was put on by a theater overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. It was a big panorama of world events from 1947. We went on New Year’s Eve, and though we were supposed to be celebrating, something down inside me said, “If this is all there is to life, I’ve missed it all.” God just let His hand rest on my shoulder that night, pointing me to Calvary. I promised Him if He would bring me back to Portland safely, I would serve Him.

After returning home, I began looking into my mother’s old Bible, and I thought about the promise I had made to her when she was on her deathbed, that I would meet her in Heaven. I thought of the many miracles I had seen in the church, in our family, and in my own life. I remembered the many times God had spared my soul from Hell when I could have been cut off in my sins. How thankful I am that God reasoned with me like that and held out the lifeline to me once more!

One night I went back to church, and I was there for business. I wanted God to do something for me. By now my heart was not tender; there were no tears on my cheeks. As I sat there, I felt cold inside and wondered if I would really get what I had come for or if I would go out into the night like I had come in. But the Spirit of God was pulling at my heart—pulling me toward honesty and action.

At the close of the service, I raised my hand for prayer—and everything seemed to change. My heart became tender. The tears rolled down my cheeks again. I made my way forward to an altar of prayer. It seemed I couldn’t get there fast enough! I wanted the people of God to pray for me. I wanted to give God my heart and life.

There at that altar, my sins passed before me just like a moving picture. I saw my rejection of God, I saw my guilt, and I was bitterly ashamed of it all. A sorrow came into my heart that just seemed to break it all to pieces. As I knelt there, people gathered around me and prayed. And, oh what a miracle! God came down and applied the balm of His Blood. The darkness disappeared. The guilt was gone. I knew that I had a new start in life. At last I had found the satisfaction I had been looking for!

I shook hands with those around me, and walked out of that church a new creature in Christ Jesus. I had the peace my soul had longed for, the rest I had wanted to know. I was sure down in my heart that at last I was living the way God intended me to live. The following evening, my wife prayed and received salvation as well. It was wonderful!

I didn’t waste any time before making the restitutions that the Lord showed me. I called up my drinking, card-playing friends and told them what had happened. A weakling had been made strong, a captive had been freed by God’s power, and I wanted them to know. There were items that I had stolen, restitutions that I needed to make to the government, and companies that I had defrauded—all of these things had to be taken care of. I remember sitting in an office building, scared to death, but writing those letters and confessing all, asking how I could pay it back. God helped me to make right those sinful things from my past.

The years have gone by, and I have had many opportunities to trust and prove the reality of the Gospel. God has never failed me. The peace and joy that He gave me that night on my knees is still in my soul. I thank the Lord for the hope He has given me of walking on those golden streets someday.

About the author

Conley Stephens was born in May of 1918 and was saved in 1948. He became a minister at the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon, and faithfully served the Lord until his passing in 2002.