The first time Patsy Ruth Allen came to conduct a Kid's Crusade at Waldron Assembly of God was sometime in the early 1960's. We were used to Vacation Bible School; we had that every summer. But this time our pastor (and my uncle) Sam Waganer had decided to try something different. All of us kids were gathered in the sanctuary when a small bundle of energy appeared before us in the form of Patsy Ruth Allen. Patsy Ruth was a middle-aged woman who went around conducting Kid's Crusades for churches around the Southwest. As she spoke to us, she would occasionally ask a question. When someone in the audience came up with the answer, she would fling a piece of candy toward the correct respondent from the big box of candy that she carried around with her.
On that first night of Kid's Crusade, she made this statement: "One of the most important passages in the Bible is Malachi 3:8,9, and 10. I want to encourage you to memorize that passage. In fact, on Friday night, anyone who can stand and recite Malachi 3:8,9, and 10 will be allowed to come up here and reach your hand into this candy box and draw out as much candy as you can hold." To the young, pudgy Billy Yates, this was the equivalent of saying "sic-em."
I worked diligently to memorize the passage. I would practice it over and over each day. Finally, I reached the point where I could recite it by memory. When Friday night arrived, I was ready.
Patsy Ruth asked who had memorized the scripture, and I and maybe one or two others stood up. She pointed at me, and I began to recite: "Will a man rob God? But ye have robbed me. But ye say wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, sayeth the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open up the windows of Heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." Proudly, I walked to the front of the church, thrust my hand into the box of candy, and withdrew as much as I could hold. Powerful stuff, that candy. That passage of scripture has been retained in my memory for about 45 years.
Three or four years later, Patsy Ruth came back to conduct another service at church. This time, however, it was not to be a Kid's Crusade, but rather a special one-time dramatic presentation. She met with us on a Saturday to prepare for the presentation the next night. We would be acting out a scene from the book of Revelation, specifically the Last Judgement, when those who had rejected Christ would face the punishment of the Lake of Fire. For dramatic purposes, the Lake of Fire was actually a box fan laid down flat, with orange streamers attached to the grill which, when turned on and lit with a red lamp, looked remarkably like an actual Lake of Fire. I was given the role of Jesus. Satan was to be portrayed by my friend David Yandell. Satan, in a somewhat more dramatic role than mine, would circulate among the audience, and periodically reach out an seize some hapless individual (actually someone with whom Patsy Ruth had prearranged their participation). The poor soul would of course resist as much as possible, but their screams would have no effect. They would be led forcibly up to the front where I, as Jesus, was standing. I would look at the poor wretch and sadly shake my head no, whereupon the sinner would again be led screaming and resisting over to the Lake of Fire, to be discarded like a used Kleenex.
It was all surprisingly effective. On the night of the performance, we had a house full. We were all in costume, the lights were off in the sanctuary, and the Lake of Fire, with it's oddly lit orange streamers, looked frightening. You could feel the tension as people were led off screaming to their fate. Perhaps part of the tension was due to the audience members who, not aware of the prearranged actors scattered among them, feared that they might be called upon to deliver a spontaneous performance. Anyway, during the altar call, several people came up to get saved.
This created a rather unusual dilemma for me. I, too, felt a tug that perhaps I needed to make things right with the Lord. I had always gone to church, but I had never actually surrendered my heart to Jesus. Unfortunately, at that moment, I was Jesus. I was dressed like Jesus, I had just been presented as Jesus, so how would it look, I reasoned, for Jesus to go up and get saved? Faced with the uncomfortable choice of Eternal Damnation versus Possible Ridicule, I, as the loyal reader of this blog might guess, chose avoidance of ridicule. I would, I determined, preserve the integrity of my role.
So, I didn't go up. Not that night. But I did, a few years later, on June 22, 1971 to be specific. And I don't guess we ever had Patsy Ruth Allen back for another Kid's Crusade, or if we did I was already past being a kid. But I'll never forget her!