November 1, 2006 - One June evening in 1957, I was making supper for my children when my throat became so raw from screaming at them that I could hardly swallow, much less taste the food cooking on the stove.
by Nancy Bowman
Ever since the baby was born in April, my 5- and 3-year-olds had been driving me frantic. I was terrified, the occasional headline of an out-of-control mother killing her child creeping into my mind.
I had always dismissed such horror. My children had brought me only joy, until recently. Why had things suddenly become so unstrung that the thought of harming them would occur to me? After tucking them in bed, I sat down to think about my dilemma and was sobbing miserably when the phone rang.
“Hello, Nancy,” came my father’s voice. “Your mother and I are coming to New York and we want you to join us at a very special event.”
I gulped. My parents had retired to a small town in rural Virginia and practically nothing except a flower show or cattle-judging event would bring them to New York City.
“What’s going on in New York, Dad?” I asked.
“You must have read about it, dear,” he said. “It’s the Billy Graham Crusade at Madison Square Garden. It’s important for you and Lew and any friends you’d care to invite to hear the world’s greatest evangelist. We will take you to dinner beforehand and then go together to this important occasion.”
I had, of course, heard of the tremendous crowds attending the Crusade led by this famous evangelist. But Dad was adamant about keeping personal things private, especially his faith. Hearing a great evangelist in such a public venue seemed unlikely to appeal to him, but maybe he thought I needed converting! I wiped my still-teary eyes and giggled. Me, the good girl of the family, needing a conversion? My rebellious younger sister, perhaps, but not me. Dad had always told me what a good girl I was. But then, he hadn’t seen me since Doug was born. Perhaps I’d get some help at this meeting. I surely needed it.
So the next week, my parents; my husband, Lew, and I; and a couple we had invited merged with the crowd entering the Garden and took seats high enough so that the banner over the podium was at our eye level. As the huge choir led us, our voices joined thousands of others across the Garden, and the deep voice of George Beverly Shea stirred our hearts.
Thousands of total strangers were standing together, singing, praying and listening—the solidarity was almost palpable. For the first time, the hypocrisy, judgment and competition so prevalent in my life faded, and a longing I had experienced periodically since my teen years swept over me. I desperately longed for a daily dose of this amazing connectedness with people who moments before had been virtual strangers but had become linked cohesively in a matter of minutes. I wanted intimacy with the God I had known about since childhood.
Despite having attended church with my father every Sunday and two chapel services each day for four years of boarding school, I had never heard how anyone could be close and acceptable to God Himself. Nor had I heard that God loved me just the way I was—a rather anxious, fearful young woman.
Suddenly the words on the banner above the podium seemed to light up. There before me was the answer to my question! “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Cf. John 14:6). Jesus, the Son of God, about whom I had never had any doubts, had spoken those words. I felt weak with joy and gratitude. Mr. Graham’s sermon fleshed out these stunning new words, and he asked all those who had decided to trust Christ to be their Savior to come forward. I was desperate to leave my seat.
I turned to see how Mom, Dad, Lew and the others were reacting to this momentous news. Dad was looking judgmental as all over the stadium people rose and walked to the podium where Billy Graham waited. So I stayed miserably in my seat, afraid of offending Dad’s ideas of appropriate public behavior. But two weeks later, I returned to Madison Square Garden, and that night my friend who went with me said that I ran forward.
I longed to be loved and guided and taught by someone who would be totally faithful. I felt as if I were jumping off an Olympic high-dive platform. The only trouble was that I wasn’t sure if the pool had been filled, and I was terrified of making the leap. What a joy to discover that once I made the leap, once I asked God for forgiveness and made that commitment to Christ, He immediately became present and active in my life.
After that life-changing evening at the 1957 Crusade, I never again feared that I might physically harm my children. Instead, I began to pray for them and to teach them about Jesus and the Bible. I began learning in Bible studies with other new Christians how to share my faith, and did so—sometimes too aggressively, sometimes too generically.
Becoming a Christian changed my life so that I could, as the Book of James advises, “count it all joy,” the good, the not-so-good and the indifferent. Throughout my Christian walk, I have counted on Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (KJV). And Jesus has never failed me.
Since coming to Christ, I have written Sunday school curriculum materials and taught Sunday school at Stanwich Congregational Church in Greenwich, Conn., where I have attended since 1963. I also served as church secretary and editor of the church newsletter for 12 years before retiring.
I am 77 years old now and widowed. Our four children and six grandchildren all know the Lord. Our oldest son is an ordained minister and a son-in-law is in seminary. I praise God for His mercy, provision and guidance over so many years and for the 1957 Crusade, where I first trusted Jesus.