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Heaven or Hell?

Commentary by Roger Oakland
Understand The Times International: Roger Oakland Ministries

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I can recall the experience as if it happened yesterday. It was a sub-zero night in the winter of 1961. I was fourteen years old. A large number of people had gathered in a school auditorium to hear a high-powered evangelist from Ontario, Canada speak. His topic was about heaven and hell.

I had gone to the “Crusade” because my mother wanted me to go with her. Although I had attended church regularly as a child, this meeting was different than any I had been to before. All night, the evangelist paced back and forth on the platform yelling at the top of his voice. He vividly presented hell as a burning inferno in contrast with a beautiful heaven with streets paved in gold. At the end of the meeting, he asked if anyone who was there wanted to go to heaven to lift a hand. As “everyone’s head was bowed and eyes were closed,” I lifted my hand up cautiously above my head. Of course, I did not want to go to hell. Who did?

Then the evangelist said something that surprised me. He asked those who had lifted their hands to stand up and walk to the front of the auditorium. “You must make a public stand if you are going to follow Jesus,” he bellowed. “Get up out of your chairs and walk down to the front of this auditorium and get saved.”

My heart seemed to stop beating. Is he talking about me? How could I do that? There are classmates here who know me. They will think I’m completely crazy! These and other thoughts shot through my mind. The evangelist made two more emotional appeals, each time his words were more intimidating. Still I sat glued to my chair, my feet stuck to the floor and my heart thumping.

It was at that moment that something dramatic happened. An old lady who was seated immediately behind me tapped me on the shoulder and whispered hoarsely in my ear: “Sonny, I saw that you put your hand up,” she said. “God wants you to go to the front and get saved. You don’t want to burn in hell do you?”

I had already been in a state of trauma. Now I was in a fit of despair. Feelings of anger gripped me. I felt like I had been tricked and manipulated by the evangelist. Suddenly I jumped out of my chair leaving my mother behind. I bolted to the back of the auditorium, forced open the door and ran non-stop a mile-and-a-half home freezing my hands and feet.

Even now as I relive this experience, the same emotions replay in my mind. After running home from the evangelist’s plea to accept Christ, I continued to run, not from the evangelist, but from God and the Bible. I ran for another sixteen years. It was not until I was thirty years of age that I realized I had made a serious mistake. I discovered the Bible was true and then accepted the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the cross of Calvary.

Although the evangelist and the little old lady in the high school auditorium may have been wrong in the way they challenged and manipulated me, I discovered later in life what they had to say about making a personal choice of where to spend eternity was true. Although I have nothing against evangelists, my personal belief is that every believer should share the gospel with others without using pressure and manipulation.

That’s called being a witness for Jesus Christ. Have you given it a try?


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