Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
It’s been raining off and on today, but I’m not concerned about it. I have a small three-bedroom house to myself where I can stay rent free for the remainder of the 40 days. It has a small sitting room in the front that makes a perfect place to teach the Principle. I also have a pickup truck to drive, a pantry full of food, and plenty of clean clothes to wear.
The day after I turned down Maria’s offer to stay at her place and slept instead on the hill, I grabbed a shower at the campus and then began walking along the giant crescent-shaped bike path by the river until it hit Union Street out on the west end of town. There was a large white structure by the river called White’s Mill. I walked along Union Street until I came to a place that led down to the river. There were some large rocks and I went and laid down on them. They were warm from the sun and it felt good because sleeping out last night got a little cold.
The warmth of the rock must have made me doze off, although I didn’t think I was asleep. I opened my eyes and saw some movement above my head. I tilted my head back and there was a giant blood-red moth on the side of the rock behind my head. It scurried out of sight. I jumped up. I had never seen such an amazing moth before, and I wanted to get a closer look. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. It drove me crazy because it couldn’t have gone anywhere. I searched and searched and searched, but never found it. There was nothing dreamlike about it. I felt certain I had seen it, but when I couldn’t find it, I could only conclude it must have been a dream. The sensation was so real it stayed with me as I walked back into town. It bothered me, but not in a bad way. It made me think something was going to happen.
I went over to the green and ran into Mooney. He was eating a whole pizza and invited me to have some, which I did. We didn’t talk about the Principle any more. We just ate and made small talk and then I said goodbye and resumed my exploration of the campus. I had been all over town, but I hadn’t explored too many of the OU buildings. Eventually, late in the afternoon, I ended up in the Baker Center watching TV because I just didn’t know what else to do.
As I mentioned, everybody was watching the “The Great Santini,” which I didn’t really like but was watching anyway. There was a scene of Ben and Mary Anne going into their new high school.
Mary Anne: They're staring at us like we're freaks or something.
Ben: No they're not. Look, just pick someone out. Go on up to them and say, "Hi my name's Mary Anne Meechum. I'm new in town, I’d like you for a friend." Just like that.
I could totally relate to Mary Anne’s predicament. I felt like a freak here in Athens. I wanted to follow Ben’s advice too, but I was afraid. It just wasn’t that simple to walk up to people and say, “Hi! I want to be friends so I can teach you Divine Principle and take you with me back to Indianapolis. How does that sound?”
A loud voice came through the open window from the green. I looked outside. It was a young Christian guy with long hair and a beard street preaching. I surveyed the lawn and saw there were others, pairs making their rounds of the students gathered on the green, witnessing to them about Jesus.
For some reason, perhaps because I was bored or tired of not meeting anyone I could witness to, I decided to have some fun. I went outside and positioned myself where I knew they’d come eventually. I pretended to pay no attention to them or to know what they were doing. It was only a few minutes before one of the pairs came over to me.
“Hello,” the girl said. “We’d like to tell you about our lord, Jesus Christ.”
“Praise the lord,” I said.
“Oh! You’re a Christian?”
“Bathed in the blood.”
They were delighted by my response. I’d been around born again Christians a lot and knew exactly how they talked and what they believed. I could easily fool them, and really that’s all I intended to do. I wanted to show them I could outdo them in the saying-all-the-right-things department, maybe push a few buttons.
“Are you a student?”
“No. I’m from Indianapolis. I’m here on a heavenly mission.”
The pair exchanged glances, not sure what to make of what I had said. “What sort of mission?”
“The lord sent me here to meet someone, but I don’t know who just yet.”
Now they were really perplexed. “What do you mean ‘the lord sent you’?”
“Exactly that. The lord told me to come here.”
“How did the lord tell you?”
“He spoke to me directly. He said, ‘I want you to go to Athens for 40 days and 40 nights and find someone I have prepared for you to save.’” I said this like it was the most natural, matter-of-fact thing in the world, that surely they too had had similar experiences many times themselves, and therefore would understand what I was saying without further explanation.
The look on their faces was priceless. I really shouldn’t have been mocking them like this, but I had been persecuted so many times by these people over the years that I didn’t really feel bad about one-upping them. I was enjoying it immensely.
They called over the guy who was street preaching. He apparently was in charge of this witnessing campaign. He introduced himself as Martin. They told him what I had said, and he pretty much asked me the same questions, to which I gave the same replies. I was mildly astonished they were taking so much interest in me. I honestly expected they’d move on soon and that would be the end of it. After all, I clearly did not need to be saved. It would have been a waste of time for them to keep talking to me when there were so many lost souls who needed them more. I was simply indulging in a little diversion, and then we'd would go our separate ways.
“We’re having a potluck dinner at our house,” Martin said. “Why don’t you join us?”
I was not expecting an invitation. “I couldn’t do that,” I said. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“We’d like for you to join us, unless you have other plans.”
“I don’t have any other plans, but I wouldn’t feel right about it. You don’t know me and it wouldn’t be fair for me to break bread with you without you knowing who I am. I have a little money if I get hungry.”
Martin became a little more insistent. “Please, come with us. You’ll enjoy it. We can get to know you better over a hot meal. What do you say?”
I was beginning to regret I had played my part so well, or having played it at all. I really, truly did not want to join these people under false pretenses. I had no intention of deceiving them like this. I was simply having a little fun at their expense, and now it was turning into a minor drama.
Of course, I could have come clean right then, and I almost did, but then they would know I was a Moonie and spread the word around the campus and that would ruin it for me. So I decided to keep up the charade a while longer. I’d go to dinner with them, get a nice hot meal, bullshit my way through the next hour or so, and then leave. It wasn’t honest, but I saw no great harm in it either.
“Okay. I’ll come.”
We walked a short distance to a pleasant looking home. A handful of young people were hanging out on the porch, and more were inside. I could tell at a glance they were all Christians, probably a church youth group. The potluck dinner seemed to be a regular event.
Martin introduced me to everyone. To my annoyance, he erroneously explained I was “just passing through,” but he correctly stated that I had accepted their invitation to dinner.
The air in the house was warm and pungent with grease and yeast. After five days of little to eat, it was the most heavenly odor I’d ever smelled.
“Come on in,” said a young pregnant woman, hurrying from the kitchen with a plate of fried chicken. “We’re just about to say grace. Come gather round.”
The place felt exactly like a church center, though it was definitely a home, not a center. It was clean and uncluttered, though not as sparse as the Indianapolis center.
Sixteen people, not counting myself, surrounded the dining room table, laden with steaming casseroles and fresh food. We were all holding hands, waiting to say grace. Everyone else seemed to know each other. All eyes seemed to be on me. I appeared to be the only guest.
One girl in particular caught my eye, easily the cutest girl in a room full of attractive young women. Her name was Desiree, and she never took her eyes off me. Every time I looked in her direction, she flashed a lovely smile.
There was also a guy named Kevin. I sensed he was the leader of this youth group, though nobody actually said anything. He kept watching Desiree watching me, and I think he was not too pleased about it. If he was jealous, and I think he might have been, he was required by the circumstances not to show it. He had to be nice to me because I was an invited guest and being rude to me would have been un-Christ-like.
By all rights I should have blurted out who I was and why I was in Athens, but I knew what would happen. They’d politely throw me out and then be on the lookout for me around town for the next few weeks and probably find some way to interfere. It would become their sacred duty, like Carson St. John. At least this way I could get a hot meal and remain anonymous. I didn’t want to mislead these people, or take their food under false pretenses, but I didn’t want to allow them to hurt my mission either. I had to let this play out.
So I decided to be truthful, but use terminology I knew was familiar to them. I wouldn’t mention the Unification Church by name, of course, and I’d refer to Father as the lord, because to me that was literally true. I knew they’d think I was talking about Jesus, but to me the meaning was exactly the same. I could just as easily be referring to Jesus, so to me it wasn’t a lie. I couldn’t help it if their understanding of scripture was so narrow. I would do my best not to mislead them any further, but I wasn’t going to volunteer too much information either. Of course, if they were to ask me directly about Father or the church, I will tell them the truth.
Kevin looked at me. “Would you ask the blessing?”
I knew what he was thinking. He was testing me. He wanted to see if I could really do it. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. Instantly I got that vision I had my first night on the hill overlooking Athens, of a group of people praying in a circle. This time the image wasn’t vague. It was very strong and clear.
“Heavenly Father,” I began in a reverent whisper. “Thank you for guiding me to this place of Christ’s love, to fellowship with my brothers and sisters, your beloved sons and daughters. Bless the hands that prepared this meal, so that it may give us the strength to magnify your glorious Son to this world. Amen.”
The next hour was devilishly tricky as I hewed to a treacherous middle ground between the truth and a lie. Everyone around me was quoting scripture left and right. I was certain they didn’t talk this way normally. Even born again Christians were not that rigid when they were by themselves. They must have been doing it for my benefit, trying to impress me with their knowledge of the Bible or their piousness or something.
I was sitting on the front porch step, plowing a deep furrow through my plate, a large plastic cup of sweetened ice tea next to me. A girl named Boo sat down next to me with a couple other people. Even though I’d clearly established my credentials as a saved soul, they were still not satisfied I was really saved. They wanted to know if I had been baptized or had experienced speaking in tongues.
To me these kinds of questions were nonsense. Even Christians couldn't agree on how significant these things were. I had no trouble telling the truth because I knew it wouldn’t matter. They wouldn’t throw me out. Yes, I told them, I was baptized as a baby. No, I had not experienced speaking in tongues. I knew that if my answers disappointed anyone, they would get over it.
I soon learned they were charismatic renewal, which placed great emphasis on experiencing the Holy Spirit. It was not unlike the Pentecostals, though I’m sure there would be heated debate if I were to bring it up. So I didn’t. But it was an encouraging sign to me. It meant they were more attuned to the Last Days, and that meant we had something important in common.
Getting through dinner without revealing too much wasn’t as hard as I thought. I was required to repeat several times what I had said earlier to Martin, and everyone seemed satisfied. As far as they were concerned, I was just a solitary guy doing a weird, though plausible thing. If anyone suspected who I really was, they didn’t say anything. I don’t think anyone did.
The meal was winding down and the table was being cleared. There was no hidden agenda, no elephant lecture or pitch to go away for a weekend workshop. Everyone was just relaxed and happy. I went into the kitchen to help clean up but was shooed back out into the living room. “You’re our guest,” said the pregnant woman. “No way am I going to let you wash dishes. Now git.”
I was thinking now would be a good time to leave. I wanted to make a proper exit, express my sincere gratitude for the meal and the fellowship and then disappear before anything bad happened.
“That was a beautiful blessing.”
It was Desiree. Her face was delicately freckled and framed by shiny strawberry-blonde hair that fell just past her shoulders. My first impression was her nose was too small for her face. It looked like a giant finger had pushed her little button nose into her face. But the more I looked at her, the more it all started coming together into an extremely pleasant picture. Desiree wore no makeup, nor did she need to. She was a natural beauty.
“Come sit with me,” she said, leading me over to the porch swing. We sat and began gently swinging back and forth in the cooling warmth of the dying light. Desiree was wearing shorts, and her bare legs were stretched out to the porch, smooth and muscular like a dancer. She had a slim waist and full round breasts with nipples on high beam. I could have stared at her all night, traveling from eyes to toes and back again and never gotten tired of the view.
I asked her how she had found Jesus, and her reply occupied a good chunk of the evening. I was no longer eager to leave, even though it was starting to get late and I needed to find someplace to crash.
“Now your turn. Tell my how you got saved,” she said.
“It’s a very long story,” I said truthfully. “I didn’t have the clear-cut experience you describe. Instead I’ve had many spiritual experiences through my life that ultimately brought me to a deeper understanding of Jesus.”
“It’s getting kind of late. I really don’t want to bore you with my little episodes.”
“It's not boring. How about just a little bit? You can tell me the rest another day.”
“What makes you think we’ll meet again?”
“You said you’ll be in town a few weeks, right?”
“And you’ll come to our church, right?”
“If I’m invited, I suppose so.”
“Then I’ll see you again.” The triumphant finality of her reasoning made her smile, and that lit up my insides like a Christmas tree.
Her body language left little doubt in my mind she found me attractive, and not just on a physical level. She was intrigued. I was an enigma that she wanted to crack. I felt funny inside. I was very happy about her attention, and very much wanted to spend more time with her, but I knew it was futile. She’d reject me as soon as I told her who I was. I’d rather just disappear and not have to disappoint her, leave while I was still a mystery and let her just wonder instead of her learning the truth and hating me. Tonight, I figured, would have to be the last time we meet.
“I’ll tell you one quick story, then I have to leave,” I said. “It wasn’t a definitive moment, but it was significant. When I was eighteen, right out of high school, I hitchhiked across the country. I was an atheist at the time, or so I thought. Agnostic anyway. Anyway, my first night away from home I got stuck somewhere around Richmond, Virginia. It was getting dark. The road was being repaired, so it was hard for people to see me or even pull over. I was starting to look around for a place to sleep. And, figuring I had nothing to lose, I sort of said a little prayer. I said, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re there, but if you are, I could really use a ride right now.’ And about 10 minutes later, just as I was about to give up for the night, this beat up old station wagon stopped. There wasn’t even a place to pull over. They just stopped right in the middle of the road. Luckily, no one else was coming. Now these two old guys were drunk -- ”
The memory of that moment, which I had not recalled until now, suddenly put me back in Indianapolis at the plasma center last January. The two old hillbillies who were eyeballing me. My God. I never realized how much they looked like those two guys in the station wagon. Was it possible? It couldn’t be. And yet…
“What happened?” Desiree asked, snapping me back to the present.
“They said, ‘Hop in, kid. We passed ya a while ago and all of the sudden we got the idea we should turn around and pick ya up.’ And they drove me for several hours through the night, finally dropping me off deep inside North Carolina, within easy distance of my destination. They were both just as nice as could be. I knew God had sent them.”
Desiree was wide-eyed. “That’s incredible. Where’d you sleep?”
“In the underpass, lying in the space beneath the girders. I remember there was a lot of truck traffic. The entire structure shook every time one passed, just a foot over my head.”
“Wow. That’s some adventure.”
I laughed. If she liked that, she’d love the rest of my testimony. Too bad I’d never get a chance to tell it to her.
Kevin stepped out of the house onto the porch. Immediately on his heels was a very beefy, middle-aged man I had not seen before.
“I’m Phil,” said the big man, sticking out a hand as brown and round as a small ham. “I couldn’t come over earlier. Had a roofer at the house giving me a bid. But Kev wanted me to come over to meet you, before you left town. I’m the associate pastor of this little flock.”
He crushed my right hand in his meaty paw. It was thick and tough from many years of manual labor, yet his nails were perfectly manicured. He had money. He rocked back slightly on the heels of his work boots, as though shootin’ the shit with the boys.
“Desiree, sweetheart, would you give us a few moments with our guest?” Desiree slipped inside without saying a word. I suddenly got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Phil didn’t look like the kind of guy who would be satisfied with my glib answers about myself. I braced for what I expected would be a thorough grilling until he had exposed me.
“Kevin tells me you’re just passing through. He said you’re a Christian on a spiritual journey of some sort.”
“Yes, sir. But I’m not passing through. I came to Athens for 40 days, and at the end of August I’ll be returning home to Indianapolis.”
“Where do you live in Indianapolis?”
I almost started to give the address of the center, but I thought better of it. So I said, “Broad Ripple.” If he asked me for an address, I’d give him Sylvia and Elwood’s.
Kevin, all red hair and beard, was beaming. I assumed he was taking great delight in seeing me about to get crushed like a bug under Phil’s verbal boot.
“How did this revelation come to you?”
I think they already guessed who I was and were trying to flush me out. Two males, older, naturally suspicious of outsiders, protecting their flock.
“Many ways. I’ve had dreams,” I said truthfully. “And I’ve prayed a lot about it. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the message came to me clearly that I should come to Athens for 40 days and 40 nights. So I did. I very much appreciate the hospitality and the hot meal -- I have not had a decent meal in a week -- but I don’t want to impose any further, so I should be going before it gets much later.”
“You’re not on the run from the law, or from something else, are you?”
“Oh no!” I said. For the first time I laughed. “What I told you is the truth, as God is my witness. Nobody’s looking for me. I’m here of my own free will.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I don’t have a place to stay. I’ve slept outside a couple times. The lord provides.”
“The important thing is you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” Phil said with deep earnestness.
“I do.” It was a truthful reply, though my understanding of the salvation Jesus provided was far different from what these Christians believed. Or to put it another way, I accepted what they believed, but they would not accept what I believed.
I suddenly realized that Phil and Kevin were witnessing to me sure as shit. They weren’t trying to expose me. They were trying to save me. They believed I was teetering on the edge of salvation as they understood it, and I only needed a tiny nudge to fall safely into their flock. This revelation eased my mind considerably.
“Have you been baptized?” Phil asked, more earnest than ever. “Have you been reborn in the spirit?”
“No and yes. I was baptized as an infant, but I understand what you mean, and the answer is no, I have not. But I have been reborn in the spirit.” I said this with bored finality. I expected to walk away from this at any moment.
“How long have you been in town?”
“And you’ve been sleeping outside?”
“Sometimes. As I said, the lord provides.”
Phil laughed. “I wouldn’t put myself on par with the lord, but I’ve got a small place you can stay through August. After that I need to rent it out to students. It’s yours if you want it. I’ve got some work I need done around my place. I can pay you too. Wadda ya say?”
“That’s very kind of you. But I couldn't. I don’t think that would be fair to you. You don’t know me.”
It was so ironic. The first time someone offered me a long-term place to stay, and I was trying to figure out how to turn it down because accepting it would mean doing so under false pretenses. I could tell them the truth and kill the deal, which would probably have long-term negative consequences for me anyway, or I could try to keep a lid on my identity and not get too involved with these people.
But they saw it much differently. I was on the verge of being saved, and they were not about to let me walk away if they could help it. The more I resisted, saying I couldn’t take advantage of their generosity, the more determined Phil was that I should take it.
It was like being with a girl who wanted to have sex. The more I said no, the more she wanted it. Saying no was like throwing down the gauntlet. It was a challenge. They wanted to prove they could overcome my resistance. Perhaps the most powerful aphrodisiac of all is the word “no.” It certainly seemed to be having that effect on Phil.
This time, because it wasn’t sex but something lesser, Phil won. He wore me down until I finally agreed to come check it out. I told him that maybe I could stay a couple nights and do a little work and make a little money. I didn’t say this to Phil, but pretty soon I hoped to meet the person or persons I had come to find in Athens, and then I’d move on.
As we walked over to Phil’s place on Mill Street, he said, “I want to tell you a story.”
It was the same one I’d heard a million times about the man caught in a flood. When the flood waters were up almost up to the steps, a truck came by and offered to rescue the man. “No, thanks,” he said. “The lord will provide.” When the flood was up to the second floor, a boat came by. “No, thanks. The lord will provide.” And finally, when he was trapped on top of the roof with the waters still rising, a helicopter came by. “No, thanks. The lord will provide.”
The man drowned and went to heaven. He said, “Lord, why did you let me drown? You were supposed to provide for me.”
And the lord said: “I did. I sent a truck. I sent a boat. I sent a helicopter...”
“Message received, loud and clear,” I said, a little ticked off at being patronized. I could tell Phil a thing or two if he'd let me, but naturally this was not the time or place to get into an argument. Phil, after all, was trying to be generous, and I wouldn’t be helping him much if I started bitching.
Phil unlocked the door and switched on the hall light. My heart wanted to fly. It was huge.
“It ain’t much,” Phil says. “You’ve got a little kitchen here with a gas stove and a refrigerator. Plates and glasses and silverware are in the cupboards and drawers. Across the hall is a little sitting room and there’s three bedrooms and a bath down the hall. It’s yours through the end of August. After that I’ve got students renting it out.”
Phil said we’d talk more in the morning. He gave me a spare key off his key ring, said good night and walked up the short path to the back porch of a large brick house. I didn’t know what to think, except that if something seemed too good to be true, it probably was. I started looking for a catch.
I walked into the first bedroom. Nothing remarkable. Fairly small. I peeked into the bathroom. All seemed in order. Not a great deal of mildew. The second bedroom likewise was small and nondescript. But when I walked into the last bedroom, my jaw dropped.
On the wall was a cheap print of “Starry Night” tacked onto the wood paneling. It was just like I had envisioned my first night on the hill, overlooking Athens.
I opened the drawers of the dresser. They were full of clothes. Jeans, shorts, underwear, socks, T-shirts, even a jacket. Everything was my size. There was even a pair of work boots, also my size.
I sat on the bed for a long time in utter astonishment. For the first time, it crossed my mind these were the people I had come to Athens to meet. I really did not believe it could be true. These were born again Christians. Without a doubt they would turn on me as soon as they found out who I was.
On the other hand, no one was better prepared for what I had to say than a Christian who believed the world was in the Last Days. It was the ultimate irony. The people who could best accept Father, were the most likely to persecute him. And his followers.
I finally decided it was really out of my hands. I could not have orchestrated this series of unlikely events if I had tried. I would pray about it and take it one day at a time, always hoping for the best but expecting the worst.