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June 12, 2021

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A visit to Alma, Arkansas

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Stopping for gas at a full-service station in the small town of Alma, Arkansas, Roland asked me if I would run into the nearby restaurant and get some donuts for the road. It was 1981, six years before we became Christians, and we were on a long road trip. Our destination this day was a visit with Roland’s cousin, Scotty, whom I’d never met before.

I crossed the parking lot and entered the restaurant. The dining area was quiet and uninteresting. A couple of people sat at a table talking, but other than that, it was empty. I went to the glass counter to look for donuts. To my disappointment, there were no pastries. All that was in the glass case was a dismal display of audio cassettes and some 8-tracks. They all had the same picture on them – an uninteresting man and a woman standing close together. The woman was dressed in a long blue gown. A Gospel singing couple, whose names I forgot moments after I read them.

No food in the display. This was a restaurant, right?

A man approached, looking at me expectantly, and said, “Do you know Jesus?”

My whole body tensed. I don’t remember what exactly I said; something along the lines of, “Do you have any donuts? All I’d like is some donuts…”

Two more people joined the man. They, too, had an expectant look on their faces. “Would you like to know Jesus?” they asked. My heart began to race. I don’t think I wanted donuts anymore. They were telling me something, but because they were surrounding me, all I was thinking about was how to get out of there. “Get down on your knees and we’ll pray for you right now,” they told me.

This was a restaurant, right? I wanted out. Now.

I refused to kneel and they finally gave in and sold me two cinnamon rolls. They didn’t have any donuts. Even as I was at the register paying, they were still preaching.

Very scared, I hurried back across the parking lot to our station wagon as fast as I could. Reaching the car, I quickly climbed in. Closing the door, I turned to Roland and said, “You will not believe what just happened…” But he wasn’t listening. Some guy had his head in his window, telling Roland about Jesus. A car honked behind us. Someone wanted gas.

What a relief. Now maybe the man would go and we could leave.

But no. The man pulled his head out just long enough to wave at the other car to wait its turn. He was busy, his wave seemed to say, and he stuck his head back into our window.

Roland is polite and the one way conversation seemed endless. I don’t remember what it took to finally get out of there and back on the road, but eventually, our car was released. And what a relief. The rest of our trip to Scotty’s took only a couple more hours. Along the way, we let off tension by joking about the unbelievable event, and I ranted about Southern preachers with their phony rhetoric and flipped-back, poofy hair.

Hot and tired, we finally arrived at Scotty’s. He greeted us at the door…with flipped-back, poofy hair. Oh, yes, and did Roland tell me he was an evangelical preacher? Of course not.

Fortunately, despite the slick hair-do, he wasn’t anything like Tony Alamo or his followers in Alma, Arkansas. Did we become Christians at Scotty’s house? Not that trip and not that year. Not for another 6 years. But Scotty was the one that eventually brought us both to understand who Jesus Christ is and accept him in our hearts.

“Holy Alamo” Christian Church? I didn’t know the name of it then. I didn’t even really know what town I was in. But my gosh – reading the news about it now – I don’t understand how people were conned into submitting to that man. The town itself should have been a red flag for most people to run in the other direction. I realize there are liars and deceivers in the world; wolves masquerading as shepherds. But I’m continually amazed by the number of gullible sheep.

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