I’ll never forget when it first happened. I was working on an art project with my fellow third graders when the thought occurred to me that I was going to die. A sour feeling boiled in my tummy and my head swirled in dizziness. I told the teacher I wasn’t feeling well and she called my mom to pick me up. A few nights before the realization of my mortality, I had watched a TV movie about a person dying from a brain tumor. I witnessed death in a dramatic way.
I never spoke of my fear of dying to anyone. I just dealt with it in the only way a third grader knew how, silence.
Fear is a powerful enemy that captures our souls, binding us in invisible chains.
Every Sunday morning I woke early to turn on the TV to an evangelist named Dwayne Friend. He wasn’t a stereotypical evangelist with slicked back hair and a loud voice. He just played the electric guitar with a big grin on his face, loving every minute of it and then he would give a short sermon all in a half an hour. He was big in the Midwest so his bus often rolled into our area for a crusade and people would come from miles around to fill the auditoriums.
I made sure I sat in the front row because I couldn’t get enough of his infectious smile and happy attitude. You can’t hide a genuine heart from a child.
My fear of death consumed me, especially at night. I would lie awake and fight sleep thinking that I would die while I slept until exhaustion consumed me. Sleep would come in the classroom where I was supposed to be paying attention. My classmates and I always made fun of others falling to sleep but now the tables had turned.
Yet I had something to look forward to. Dwayne Friend was coming to a nearby town. I had gotten so I would clamor backstage to get close to him and if I was lucky give him a hug. He always spoke kindly to me and I felt God’s love radiate from his smile deep down into his heart. This time was going to be different. I had a present for him, a carefully wrapped dollar in some Kleenex, tucked it in a flat box. Before the service started I gave it to his son to bring to him and then took my place on the front row.
Wow! He loved to pick the guitar and I loved to watch him. He never missed a beat as he joyfully strummed out a song. I loved one ironically called “Goodbye World, Goodbye.” As I sat mesmerized by his talent, his twinkling eyes full of mischief met mine and I couldn’t help giggle. All I thought about was meeting him backstage afterward
This may sound like a little girl smitten with celebrity, but I assure you, it is not. I saw something in this man’s heart for God that I desired in my own. He truly loved Jesus and I wanted to be like that too. Someone who is known for loving Jesus with their whole heart so strongly that the joy of life can’t help but radiate from every pore in the body.
But, I was not free to be this way. I was chained to my fear of death.
When the final call to give your heart to Jesus was made, I ran out the side door anxious to meet my friend. Many people had gathered there already and I felt like a sprout among the Redwood trees. He wouldn’t notice me peeking between the legs of towering adults. But suddenly it was like the Red Sea in Moses’ story, the crowd parted and a hand extended to me. I ran into the arms of my friend. I hugged him so tightly I didn’t want to let go.
“I was digging through the Kleenex wondering what I would find and then I saw your gift. You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” he said holding me in his arms I saw his dimpled grin up close and it felt the same way as it did from far away or on the TV, genuine.
I shook my pony-tailed head in affirmation. I didn’t know what to say. All I knew was he had accepted my gift joyfully and I was being held in the arms of a man of God. But then something even cooler happened. He invited me to see his bus. It looked like a typical Greyhound bus that you ride from city to city, but that didn’t matter to me. I was inside my friend’s home on wheels. We sat down on the first seat and I nestled into his furry bear coat as my mom snapped a picture. I was in heaven.
Back at school I was shackled in a quiet hell by the fear of dying. No one knew of the silent killer within. It nagged at my body and I went home often with horrible headaches. My insomnia worsened. My parents had no clue of my sufferings.
Yet I continued to get up faithfully to view Mr. Friend on Sunday mornings. But this time as I listened to his sermon, the idea occurred to me that I should write him a letter and tell him about my secret. After all I felt loved by him and I trusted him. I knew I could tell him and he wouldn’t shame me for my struggle.
‘Dear Mr. Friend, It’s me the girl who sits in the front row at your crusades and the one who gave you the dollar wrapped in Kleenex. I have to tell you something that no one else knows about me. I am afraid to die. I try to stay awake as long as I can to keep from dying in my sleep. I don’t know what to do about it and thought maybe I’d ask you. Thank you for listening to me. Christy’
I put the letter in the mail the next morning and went off to school.
Less than two weeks later as I walked in the door after school, my mom handed me a letter from Dwayne Friend Ministries. It was in an official envelope and my heart skipped a beat. I hugged it to my chest and ran to my room, closing the door behind me.
Sitting on my bed, I took great care opening my treasure. I pulled out a plain white paper with a short note, handwritten in Mr. Friend’s stylish flair.
‘Dear Christy, You don’t have to be afraid of dying. If you have asked Jesus into your heart you will be instantly in His presence. Love, Dwayne Friend’
It was short but to the point. I had accepted Jesus as my savior when I was about 3 years old. What he said was true. His simple words of truth drove away my fear. That night I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow and never worried about dying again.
In my adulthood I have faced chain- shackling fears but the Grace of God has freed me from them. I often think of Mr. Friend and how much his influence on a young believer meant to me. I am grateful for his exuberant joy and love of playing the guitar- Mr. Gospel Guitar is what he was called by Nashville. But most of all, I am thankful he took the time to help a third grader, trapped by fear and in need of some spiritual guidance.
I have tried to contact him and thank him but only find his smiling face on You Tube doing what he loves, picking his guitar. If I don’t get to see him again on this earth, I will celebrate with him one day in Heaven and thank him there with a bear hug from this little girl.
Thank you Mr. Friend, I am eternally grateful.
“God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” – II Timothy 1:7
Here’s a link to him playing his guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiLYLnzqEzE