In keeping with our theme for the year: Why the Novel Matters, for my first post of 2012 I'd like to share a story about how a novel contributed to the journey of faith of a young U.S. Marine.
In April 1971, my fiance Rick and I were 18 and crazy in love. He was a Marine; I was a recovering hippie. It was with many tears I sent him off to the Philippines for a 15-month tour of duty. He'd had orders to Viet Nam, which were canceled at the last minute when President Nixon began a major troop reduction. So it could have been worse, though it didn't feel like it.
Life in the Philippines was a different world for Rick, particularly off base. But even on base, drug use was rampant, and Rick began to see many of his friends turning to hard drugs. While he was a heavy drinker, even at 18, he had no interest in drugs, but the peer pressure was intense. One night while on guard duty in the jungle Rick prayed his first-ever spontaneous prayer. He promised God that he wouldn't go into town on liberty again, where every kind of temptation and trouble could be found, if God would get him back home. One week later, early in the morning, he and 7 other Marines were headed down a windy mountain road on their way to the shooting range when the truck they were in lost its brakes and steering. Both lines had been cut by rebel guerillas known as Huks. The truck rolled and very nearly went off the mountain. All 8 Marines were injured. Rick suffered a broken back, and was eventually medi-vacced home -- the only one in the accident who was. He ultimately received a medical discharge from the Marine Corps as a result of his injuries. Rick believed then, and now, that through those circumstances God answered his first genuine prayer.
But while he was in the hospital in the Philippines, a Red Cross volunteer came to his room one day with a cart of books. Rick selected The Robe, written in 1942 by Lloyd C. Douglas, from the stack of books because he remembered seeing the movie when he was a kid. As he read that novel, the Gospel became real to him for the first time in his life. Even now, more than 40 years later, he still gets emotional when he talks about the impact that novel had on him, because it's really what began his journey of faith.
We were married soon after he returned to California. He and I had very different backgrounds and upbringings, very different religious experiences that shaped us, and they were worlds apart. But the impact that novel had on him put us both on a path that ultimately brought us together in our commitment to Christ. Within a few years of our marriage, Rick became an ordained minister within our denomination. Since the mid-80s, he has traveled the world building churches, Bible schools, orphanages, and helping ministries reach their full potential. But he credits a novel about the garment for which Roman soldiers gambled while Christ hung on the cross, for starting him on a journey he never could have imagined.