‘Conversion’ by Charles Eggerth

I was born in a farmhouse in southeastern Minnesota, no silver spoon in my mouth, the second child of a family that would eventually reach eight. I do not specifically remember, but I think I can safely say that the winter wind whistled through that house.

My dad was a farmer, and though an uncle on my mother’s side told me he was a good one, the Production Credit Association called his number after three years, and he was out of farming. He worked road construction for a while, drove taxi in Rochester, Minnesota for a year or so, and wound up the last six years of his life working at the Rochester Dairy.

From as early as I could remember we attended a Baptist church in Stewartville. They preached the law of God, and I heard it. I went down front at an altar call, either at the church or a Bible Camp, on three or four occasions, but the next morning the feeling was gone, and I thought no more about it.

My father became a believer after he got married, and though my aunt told me he brought New Testaments to men at work, he had some ways that he would have been better off without. In particular, he thought that if a vehicle had an engine, he could drive it.

In 1962, my Uncle Henry bought a two-seater Piper Cub, the kind, my brother-in-law says, that could be flown from either the front or the back seat. Though Henry had only a solo license, the two brothers flew merrily together all summer, pulling foolish stunts and generally creating a lot of fuss in the family. On September 16, 1962, less than a month before my tenth birthday, it finally caught up with them.

I am not sure, but I’ve always had this feeling that my father was flying when the accident occurred. Apparently, he (or Henry) put the wings into too steep of an incline, resulting in what is known as a power stall, in which the plane plunges to the ground with the engine still running. The resulting conflagration charred both bodies beyond recognition. My Aunt Beverly identified Henry by his wedding band. My Uncle Bob remembers seeing a scrap of shoe leather here, a bit of shirt sleeve that he recognized there.

No more Ed and Henry. Our only consolation was that the impact must have knocked them unconscious.

My mother was a month pregnant at the time, and we were living in another drafty farmhouse that we could not possibly live in another winter. But God had prepared us for this.

In February of 1962, my dad had a close call at the dairy and decided to take out an $8,000 life insurance policy, with a double indemnity rider if he died in an accident. The first 8,000 paid up all the family bills in town, almost to the penny, including some bills at the elevator which had been outstanding since 1953, and the second 8,000 bought a solid, square workmanlike house on the south side of Stewartville that could hold all nine of us.

Oh, and one last thing—my dad had owned a big old ’59 Plymouth Fury with an 8-cylinder engine, racing fins, and a push button transmission. It would go 119 MPH—I was in it when it did. But for some inexplicable reason, he traded it in on a 1961 dodge Seneca, a very sober vehicle with just a six-cylinder engine. And, he bought life insurance on it, so that when he died it was paid for.

“I thought at the time,” my mother recalled, “that it was a waste of money. Turns out it made the difference between farming some of you kids out to relatives, and keeping you all together.” Which she proceeded to do. I do not really know everything she went through. Looking back, I know it must have been monumental. I do remember hearing her cry in the living room, and I know there must have been many more tears where her kids could not hear. But she was a woman of God, and one of the reasons I am a believer today.

My father’s death blew my life to smithereens. There were times when a door would open and I would say “Oh, that’s Dad,” and then find someone else walking through it. I dreamed one night that he and I were walking together, in a snowy field, and then he just disappeared, vanished, leaving his frantic son alone. I would sit alone in my upstairs bedroom at night, watching the car headlights from Highway 63 flashing on the wall, and wonder why—why did he have to go?

I did some things in that period of life of which I am very, very ashamed. When my mom remarried a man from her old hometown, in June of 1967, I was glad to leave Stewartville.

Swea City was even smaller than Stewartville, if such a thing is possible. I soon fell into a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking. There wasn’t a whole lot of pleasure to be found out on the prairie in the late 1960’s, but whatever was there, I was after it.

In the spring of my junior year, a profoundly life-changing event occurred. Four “friends” of mine, three of whom were two years older, were riding around town. They were drinking—a large bottle each of orange vodka and cherry sloe gin. They invited me to ride around with them, which I did.

My goodness, I got drunk! The passenger in front, a guy two years older than me, was now dating the girl I had previously dated. What I said about her I don’t know to this day, but it must have been terrible. To top it all off, I puked all over the weather stripping on the back left side of the car. Two people were not at all happy.

The upshot of the whole thing was that I got beaten up, twice, without raising a hand to defend myself. Talk about your shame city!

But it was God’s way of getting me to start thinking about life.

I call the 1969-1970 school year my anti-establishment year. I tanked the Iowa tests of Scholastic Achievement and sat down to read The Bridge Over the River Kwai. Later on that year, I won semi-finalist status on the National Merit Test, but never bothered to fill out the paperwork to become a finalist. I did read a book called Johnny Come Jingle-O, about a man who was a hobo. That was my ambition also—to be a hobo.

I do remember a fit of depression in the fall of that year, where I wanted to run away from home. My cousin talked me out of it. I shudder to think what would have happened to me in, say, Minneapolis, or, worse yet, in Chicago.

Because my mother was a strong Christian, she wanted all eight of her children to go to a Christian college. The other seven went to Christian colleges either in Minnesota or Iowa; I picked a Christian College in Florida, out of the Moody Monthly Christian college directory, and sold her on it.

The ad for the Bible camp in eastern Wyoming, I am guessing, went up on my church bulletin board sometime in May. The camp was in the second week of June, and the ad said there was a lake.

Good. I’d go swim in the lake, blow off some firecrackers, and kiss a few girls. Our little youth group drove to Jackson, Minnesota, where we hopped a bus from a bigger youth group. Funny thing. The bus kept going slower and slower all the way across South Dakota, and by the time we got to Wyoming the pronghorn antelope were running faster than we were driving.

Finally, about 60 miles from the camp, the bus broke down completely. A call was made to the camp, which sent out three or four pickup trucks with camper shells. And so, we began our final assault on the camp, which lay three-quarters of the way up a good-sized mountain.

Just about the time we got there, a hailstorm broke out, and when I finally jumped onto the porch of a building Daniel Boone had apparently built, the ground was covered with hail. I looked off into the distance and saw…a slime-covered frog pond.

A sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach.

“Is that the lake?”

“Yes indeedy, it is.”

So, there I was. And they wouldn’t let me blow off any firecrackers or kiss any girls either. What a wasted week it was going to be!

But it wasn’t wasted. On Wednesday, June 10, an evangelist named Glenn Sykes preached a sermon about Belshazzar and the handwriting on the wall.

You see, Belshazzar had taken it into his head to hold a drunken orgy using the vessels filched from the Jerusalem temple by his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar, seventy years earlier. And then, out of nowhere, a disembodied hand showed up and started writing on the wall. None of Belshazzar’s wise men could read it, but the queen knew who could.

“Don’t look so pale,” she said. “There is this old guy, named Daniel, who is really good with dreams and riddles. Call him.”

So, Daniel was called in. And he read it.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. Belshazzar, you have been weighed in God’s scales and found wanting.”

The Holy Spirit was doing a number on my heart. I knew that, were I weighed on God’s scales that very night, I would be found wanting. I also knew that if I died that night, I would not be with Jesus, and that was a fact. And I desperately wanted to be with Jesus.

I had hold of the pew in front of me. Satan said, “You can’t let go of this,” to which I replied, “Then I’ll take it with me.

I talked with a woman at the altar, whose name I fervently wish I could remember, and she laid it out straight.

“Chuck, II Corinthians 5:17 says you are in Christ, which means you are a new creature—a brand new creature. You’ve got a powerful load of emotion right now; in the morning that emotion will be gone. But Christ will still be in your heart.” Oh, how I wanted her to be right!

And she was! The next morning, though the emotion was gone, I knew, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that Christ was still in my heart. And that was amazing.

Had I known what was to come, I might have done some things differently. The “Christian” college I went to in Florida was a legalistic enterprise that condemned people for, among other things, not wearing a coat and tie to church. The first Christian school I taught at was led by a selfish old woman who was only out to make a name for herself. The second Christian school we worked at, in Maine, was so riven by dissension that it dissolved within three years of our arrival. The third one, a small school of which I was the principal and halftime 5th and 6th grade teacher, possessed an elementary teacher who literally cursed me out (Christian cursing of course, but cursing nonetheless) and then refused to talk about it. She’d had her say on the matter and that was that. And because her husband was on the board, she got away with it. The fourth Christian school we taught at was undoubtedly the best of the lot, but it was run by a church that was both lethargic and racially prejudiced. When I started working at the post office in 1986, we began attending another lethargic church.

A year later, in June 1987, I had the first of two brain tumors removed. The way it was diagnosed was nothing short of miraculous.

I was driving my Ford Ranger pickup down Hickory Tree Road south of Winston-Salem, and had just stopped at the only traffic light for miles in any direction. I hadn’t been there a second when I had a massive seizure. My foot slipped off the clutch and the Ranger jerked to a halt. Fortunately, my wife was in back of me in our Escort, which we were taking to be serviced. And in back of her? An off-duty EMT person.

People said, “Chuck, you were mighty lucky.” To which I replied “Luck had nothing to do with it. That was Jesus Christ, plain and simple.”

It was determined that I had an egg-sized tumor which was removable. Surgery was scheduled. At that point, I was afraid of dying on the operating table (The doctor later smiled at that suggestion, but I thought it was possible.)

But I’d had two dreams in the previous year, in both of which I was dying. And both times I felt incredibly relaxed, like a baby in a mother’s arms, and the mother was Jesus.

However, though I knew I’d be with Jesus when I died, I knew I wouldn’t have much fruit to show him for my time on earth. I’d always had an urge to do prison ministry, and a couple of years later, I saw some mail directed to Richard Payne, then head of Prison Fellowship in High Point, where I later carried mail. So, I went over to visit him, and the result was seven years of prison ministry, then 23 years of jail ministry, which only stopped in March of 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

It wasn’t till the fall of 1996 that we found a church that actually worshipped God, and where you didn’t have to don a persona before you walked in the door.

My second brain tumor was removed in September of 2008. Because we adopted our daughter from Korea, we had started attending a Korean Presbyterian church a year earlier, and at the time of my tumor’s removal, our Korean-English pastor had only been working at the church a little over two weeks. His name was David Lee, and he challenged me.

“Chuck, are you having your devotions in the morning?”

“No,” I said, “I always fall asleep.”

“Why don’t you try it? For me, it’s a time when no other thoughts can intrude.”

“Okay,” I said, and since I was getting radiation and wouldn’t be back to work for four months, I tried it. And it stuck. From that time to this, my devotional life has grown considerably.

Ever since 1996, I have been learning about God’s incredible love for me even as I have been learning more about my own sinfulness. Today, we attend a church which actually reaches out to help people, in both physical and spiritual ways, and I am involved in, among other things, a ministry that reaches into the inner city with the love of Christ. Along with writing, it’s what I was born to do.

All those years at the post office for this, and it was worth it.

Like a black-eyed Susan, I am blooming in the autumn of my life.

Charles Eggerth is a follower of Jesus Christ, often failing but always relying on grace. He believes that Christians are called to reach into other socio-economic strata, seeking to minister to physical needs so that God will open doors to deeper spiritual needs.

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