A Testimony Worth Sharing

Doug Mastrianno autographs copies of his new book, Alvin York: a New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne, while wife Reb and son Josiah join him at Bill Rudge Ministries.

Doug Mastrianno autographs copies of his new book, Alvin York: a New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne, while wife Reb and son Josiah join him at Bill Rudge Ministries.

by Doug Mastrianno

Revelation 12:11 says the “They overcame him (Satan), by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” A testimony is a powerful thing, even enough to destroy Satan’s work. The incredible thing is that all Christians have a testimony, and with that in mind, it is incredible how God chooses to use us in powerful ways to change this world for his kingdom.

Thus is the incredible story of Sgt. Alvin York, Medal of Honor 1918. I first saw the well-known Sgt. York movie back in 1972 and remember being troubled by this tale. York was portrayed as someone not looking to be a hero, and believed it was against his Christian faith to serve in the Army. This stood against the image I had of a hero, being a sort of go get-em John Wayne type. But, despite being everything that I thought a hero should be, York was the real deal and he proved during the October 1918 Battle for the Argonne Forest, France, that indeed he was a man of iron and honor. It is precisely this that I have tried to capture in my book, Alvin York: A new biography of the hero of the Argonne.

York was America’s greatest hero in World War One with his fearless courage being displayed on the 8th of October 1918. During one of the fiercest battles of the war, York’s unit found itself in a crossfire from four battle-hardened German regiments. As the casualties mounted, all hope seemed lost for the beleaguered Americans. Yet, in the midst of this, Alvin York rose to the occasion. During the melee, with great daring, he charged a machine gun, fought off a bayonet attack and captured 132 German soldiers. His actions saved the day for the Americans, and forced the Germans to withdraw.

We see in the story of York’s life that character is like a muscle; the more it is exercised, the stronger it becomes and suggests that every time we choose to do what is right, we build character and moral courage. York consistently chose to follow the Lord’s Way and as a result, he was able to accomplish unimaginable feats later in the heat of battle. York was a hero in battle because he was morally brave in his heart. York had strengthened his character muscle before the time of battle and the courage displayed that fateful day in France was merely an outward manifestation of the internally brave man he had become.

In Alvin York: a New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne, we see that York was a man of character, the sort of hero we need today in America. My prayer is that this book will inspire the next generation to strive to emulate the moral character of York and to make the difference in whatever God has called them to achieve. Indeed, in this book you will see that we overcome… by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony! 

The Alvin York book may be ordered online at http://www.kentuckypress.com or call 1-800-537-5487. Use code FSYD at checkout. 

From Atheist to Creationist to Christian

By Spike Psarris

The following was excerpted from “Creation Conversion: The Turning Point” in Acts & Facts, June 2014. Mr. Psarris has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, and was formerly an engineer in the United States military space program.

I was an atheist and an evolutionist well into my adult years, working as an engineer in the military space program. One day a Christian co-worker challenged me on my atheism: “You believe in the laws of physics, don’t you?”

“Yes, we use them here every day,” I replied.

“Then how do you reconcile them with the Big Bang?” He didn’t explain what he meant, but he didn’t have to—I suddenly realized that fundamental physics and the Big Bang model don’t get along very well. This was a mental version of scales falling off my eyes as I realized I believed mutually incompatible things. I was surprised, and wondered: Why couldn’t I see this problem before?

This started a long process of re-examining my belief system. I went through a large pile of secular books and textbooks on origins-related science. I was already familiar with much of this material, but this time I was looking to see how many of the claims were based on actual data, versus how many were based on assumptions, flawed reasoning, or wishful thinking. My co-worker also lent me numerous creation and apologetics materials.

I started to see that science as seen from the Christian/creation perspective made a lot more sense than it did from my evolution perspective.

Meanwhile, I was taking some graduate-level physics classes. I started to notice more and more incompatibilities between physics and my evolutionary beliefs. For example, in an astrodynamics class we modeled orbital insertions (where one object gets gravitationally captured and goes into orbit around another). This requires precise maneuvering and the shedding of a lot of energy—our spacecraft can enter orbits around other planets only because they have thrusters, and thus can steer and brake. But objects like asteroids lack this ability, so they’re extremely unlikely to be captured gravitationally into stable orbits around other objects.

Nevertheless, secular scientists invoke gravitational captures over and over again to explain away numerous solar system “anomalies”—objects that don’t match their origin models. I had known this for years and accepted it uncritically. Now that I understood the physics behind captures, I realized how contrived the secular story was. This realization occurred repeatedly as I continued to re-examine my beliefs.

My research wasn’t limited to astronomy—I also investigated other origins-related sciences, as well as history and archaeology. Of these, the things that made the largest impression were the evidence of a global flood, the historicity and reliability of the biblical text, and the overwhelming historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

After almost a year of doing this, eventually I had to admit that the evidence (scientific, historical, etc.) did not agree with my atheism. Instead, the biblical account of history was true. I didn’t like this, though. If the Bible were true, then I was a sinner who deserved judgment. But I had to admit that this is where the evidence led.

After struggling with this for a while, I finally realized that yes, I am a sinner. And God knows my sin better than I do. But He also loves me enough to have sent His Son to pay for it in my place. I realized that, truly, the gospel is Good News. What better news could there be? At that point, I accepted the Lord and became a Christian.

There are many people who believe in creation because they are Christians. I am one for whom the opposite sequence is true—I became a creationist first, and a Christian afterward.

Gilbert West and Lord Lyttelton

Two professors at Oxford, the eminent Gilbert West and Lord Lyttelton, the famous English jurist, were determined to destroy Christianity. But to do so, both of these avowed skeptics agreed that two things were necessary. They must disprove the resurrection, and they must dispose of the conversion of the apostle Paul. They divided the task between them, West assuming responsibility for proving the fallacy of the resurrection and Lyttelton disproving Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. They were to give themselves plenty of time—a year or more if necessary. When they met again to compare notes, they both had become strong and devoted Christians, each testifying to the remarkable change in his life through contact with the risen Christ.

Excerpted from “Who is this Jesus?” by Bill Rudge. 

 

 

It Was a Smoke Screen

by Bill Rudge

I had 101 excuses for not becoming a Christian. As I talked with Pastor Guy BonGiovanni following a service I attended with Karen, I told him, “Before I accept Christ, I want you to prove God exists. Prove evolution is not true. Explain where dinosaurs came from. Tell me why a supposedly loving God allows suffering and evil. And explain why Jesus Christ is unique in comparison to other religious leaders.”

Although he gave me some convincing explanations, I was not ready to accept Christ at that time. My questions were merely excuses –– a smoke screen to conceal my pride and bias –– to absolve me from having to surrender my life to Jesus Christ.

I wanted to continue in my delusion that I was god and continue to live my self-centered and pleasure-oriented lifestyle. But Pastor Guy’s words impacted me as the Holy Spirit began dealing in a powerful way.

I had been searching for meaning and purpose in life –– trying everything imaginable to find lasting happiness and peace. I just returned from hitchhiking across the country and knew that what I was looking for would not be found –– no matter where I went or what I did –– except through giving my life to Jesus Christ.

So at the age of 18, I got on my knees and cried out to God, “If You prove Yourself real to me tonight, I will live my life for You.” God did, and I have never been the same. I have never looked back, except occasionally to remember what I was, where He brought me from, and what He has done in my life –– so I will never forget His amazing mercy and grace.

Trusting God With Unanswered Prayer

by Tabitha Rudge Smith

Is there a situation in your life that you have been praying about and feel God is not answering? All of us have felt this way one time or another. There have been many in the Bible who have felt this way too. John chapter 11 (concerning Lazarus, Mary, and Martha) deals with this issue and has much to say regarding God’s timing and answers to our requests. This chapter encouraged me in the middle of a trial my husband and I were facing.

My husband and I had been praying and crying out to God to have another child. After one year of trying, I found out that I had a tumor in my stomach the size of a seven month fetus and they thought it was cancerous. After a four hour surgery in San Diego, the tumor was removed and, thank the Lord, there was no cancer. The surgery raised my chances for infertility, but I kept praying and trusting God. Four years later I was pregnant and ecstatic. Then at 10 weeks I miscarried.

Here is what the Lord showed me using John, chapter 11. Lazarus is very sick and his family sends word to Jesus telling him, “Lord, the one You love is sick.” Jesus loves Lazarus and loves this family deeply. When Jesus hears these words, He chooses not to go directly to them like they requested. Jesus instead chose not to honor their request and waited a few days to go and see them. By this time Lazarus has passed away.

The family knew if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died. When Jesus arrived He found them weeping. Verse 33 says that when Jesus saw their sadness, He was deeply moved in Spirit and troubled and He wept. Jesus was moved by their sorrow. Jesus was moved by my sorrow and every tear I cried for years when I would find out I was not pregnant again. He is moved to tears and deeply troubled by your sorrows too: a failing marriage, the job you desperately need, an unsaved loved one, or your sick child. He is weeping for you too because He loves you as much as He loved Lazarus.

So why, if He wept, did He wait? Verse 45 of John, chapter 11, gives the answer. It says, “Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, saw what Jesus had done (raised Lazarus back to life), and put their faith in Him.” Jesus knew if He waited the faith of many would grow stronger and others would put their faith in Him. I realized at this point that I had to surrender everything to God and I prayed, “Lord whatever Your will –– to have more children or not –– I pray you are glorified.”

You may feel like Martha and wonder, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” But if you know He loves you as much as He loved this family, you have to allow your faith to be strengthened and know you are serving a God who answers prayers according to His perfect timing so that He may be glorified and His purpose accomplished.

We do not serve a God who does not care, but One who weeps with us and will give us strength to wait for His timing and answer. Hold onto your faith and He will strengthen you. 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17 states, “Therefore we do not lose heart. … For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” One day Our God will come in all His majesty and He promises to wipe away every tear and there will be no more mourning or crying or death. This is the God we serve and to whom we pour out our hearts.

Even now that memory is painful but the Lord is our Refuge. He will be glorified in our lives and the trials we go through. We just have to let Him do the work He needs to do and cling to Him with all our might, while keeping a thankful heart in the midst of the trial.

The Most Priceless Gift

God had us wait six years to answer our prayer, but, even though we waited for Him to answer, we never had to wait for Him. He was with us the whole time holding my hand during surgery, collecting my tears in a bottle when I found out the baby’s heart in my belly stopped beating. He never left me. I thank Him for strengthening my husband’s, children’s, and my faith through those situations. Without those trials, the family we are and our faith in Him would not be what it is today.

And because God’s ways and timing are better than ours, He gave my family the most priceless gift at the most perfect time. He also gave me the best birthday gift ever. I found out I was pregnant with Reghan Mae on my birthday.

While writing this article I came across a note, which along with roses, was delivered anonymously the day after I was informed the ten-week-old baby in my womb had died. I cried. I later discovered this note and flowers were from my husband Clayton:

To Mom: I wish I could have met you, but I’m told that I have to wait. I know it’s worth it; I love you.

To my sisters: The names you came up with seemed fine to me, but my Father in Heaven has given me a great one. I won’t tell you what it is until you come; now it is you who will have to wait.

To my brother: I know you would have taught me many things and you would have worked hard to keep me safe. You may be worried about me even now, but if you knew the size of the angels in Heaven, you wouldn’t worry any longer. And now, when we finally meet, it is I who will be teaching you since the school I’m going to is much better than yours.

I’ll see you when you’re finished.

Yours

The Taming of ‘Godzilla’

Testimony of Bill Rudge

Bill and Karen preparing to go to a Sadie Hawkins dance, before knowing Jesus.

Bill before knowing Jesus

My unbelieving eyes stared down at the lifeless form in the casket. In a flash, my little brother was gone. He dashed into the path of a car and breathed no more. It was as if someone cut open my chest and squeezed my heart. Oh, how I wanted to talk with him again. Surely there had to be a God; we didn’t just die and turn to dust. There had to be life after death. As a 10-year-old, I didn’t know God personally, but that day I believed He existed.

I had been raised in church, but to me God was a vague, mystic somebody who watched us from afar. My respect for the church faded and I changed from a youth who revered it, to a rebellious teen who actually broke into a church and stole from it.

I had great parents and a good home life, but within me was a desperate desire to be “part of the crowd.” Perhaps I had an inner rebellion against God for never giving my brother back.

I had always been skinny and began lifting weights to be like my older brother. During my junior-high days, I was proud to be a part of the Buhl Club’s “Whiz Kids.” I was a member of this gymnastic team as we performed before audiences and finally on the Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.

Eventually I drifted from the Buhl Club and a good, moral life because of peer pressure. In spite of warnings from my sister and others, I began hanging around with the hoods and the rough kids from the West Hill. We had a shack known as “Rudge’s Shack.” It was the highlight of the junior-high years. We held smoking and drinking parties, stealing contests, orgies, and gambling.

Near the shack was a huge abandoned mansion. One day, while down by the mansion, someone threw a rock through a window. This was the start of a long and destructive caper. We smashed most of the windows, tore down the banister, ruined a piano, demolished three huge stained glass windows, and did thousands of dollars in damage.

This went on for weeks and I wondered why the police never caught us. One Sunday afternoon I knew things were getting hot. A friend of mine from the East Hill, whose father was a doctor, wanted to go to the mansion. I stayed back and watched as he yelled, “Hey, Rudge, watch this!” Just as he was preparing to throw a brick through a large front window, a police cruiser came flying up the drive. Not knowing what to do with the brick, he threw it through the window. They arrested him along with a few others who gave the names of everyone involved. They rounded up more than 50 youth, but only 13 of us were prosecuted. I was 12 years old at the time. We received a year’s probation and had to pay a fine. The officer who questioned me was a lieutenant. He took a quick disliking to me, and I did to him as well.

When I started high school, I was still hanging around with the hoods and so-called “bad” kids. Still being skinny, I decided I would become the strongest kid in the high school in order to change my self-image and to stop being pushed around. I would often lift weights three hours a day and was gradually getting over my weak image. I had many guys on my list on whom I was going to get revenge from past incidents.

I became involved with a gang in nearby Ohio. We were always looking for some trouble or some place to break into. I had a desire to do every crazy and dangerous thing imaginable. It was nothing for me to get high and race down the highway at speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour. At times, I felt that I was invincible and that nothing could kill me.

I did not really acknowledge God, but through all the crazy things I attempted He must have had His hand on my life. It is interesting that while in that gang I had a girl use cigarette ashes and a needle to put a tattoo of a cross and the word “God” on my arm.

My older brother, who was the muscular one, was now in Korea with the Army. He and his friends had always considered me a punk. But now one of the strongest guys in their group was just out of the Marines and a little crazy. When he realized my interest in weights and the strength and reputation I had acquired, he asked me to start lifting with him. He would pick me up and we would go work out at the Buhl Club for about three hours and then go out drinking or with some girls.

My dream of being accepted and a part of this really rough group of older guys was now a reality. Nobody could call me a punk or push me around. Although I was too young to drink in Pennsylvania, they took me with them and would always stick up for me if any trouble would arise about my age. We did things that could have hurt or killed others, things that could have put us in prison, but thank God that He was protecting me.

Bill before knowing Christ

Many of my friends were killed in car wrecks after getting high on drugs or alcohol. One was shot and killed while robbing a place. Many others were busted for drugs or put in prison for violent and destructive acts.

While still hanging around with the older guys’ gang, I got into karate so that I would have even more ability for getting revenge.

I was only 18 and just out of high school when a new health spa opened in our area. Many applied for the job, but the owner from California quickly hired me. I loved being paid for something I enjoyed so much and did anyway. My physique was very impressive and caused me to be very well known. We would go to the beach and do pull-ups and push-ups to pump up our muscles and then strut around. We would even do back flips in the sand to get attention. I was able to get almost any girl and was involved with quite a few. One girl really impressed me. And not to lose her, after dropping her off, I would sneak out with others until all hours of the night.

One day the girl I really liked told me she was going to a concert. I said, “Fine.” When she got back at midnight she called and said, “Guess what Bill? I have become a Christian!” I said, “That’s fine, I am a Christian too; I go to church.” But she said, “No, I found Jesus in a real and personal way.”

I thought it would pass and we would still be able to party and have fun together. But it didn’t. In the weeks following, there was a tremendous change in Karen. She would not drink or party. I began to hate this Jesus and would literally sit at the health spa and plan ways to destroy her faith in Him.

Karen and her friends would tell me about Christ. I resented it and thought Christians were weirdos, yet I was not about to give Karen up for any religious nonsense. All her friends knew my reputation and knew that if I could become a Christian, anybody could.

I really had everything going for me. I was young and popular. I had a good job and although I weighed only 165 pounds I was bench-pressing over 330 pounds. Although I was an 18-year-old punk, many rich businessmen would see me on the street, and proudly say to their wives, “Hey, there is my fitness instructor.” I was planning to enter some physique contests. I was also excelling at karate and entering many tournaments. Everything should have been going well, and it was. Yet the change in Karen’s life and the things she said were affecting me. I knew deep down I was really a fake and did not have it all together. I thought I would find what was missing in my life in some other part of the country.

A friend and I decided to hitchhike across the country and pick up a “hot” motorcycle in Albuquerque and ride it to California. So, I went on a search, and later learned I had really gone on a search for God –– until He found me.

You can imagine all the things two teenagers could experience on such a trip, and I think we experienced them all. As we left Sharon, Pennsylvania, I remember my parents trying to talk me out of the trip and Karen crying, but I was determined to go.

We received rides from all types of people. One was a businessman and before I knew it, he was talking to me about that Jesus I did not want to hear about. Another guy picked us up and hauled out a Bible. I thought, “Here we go again. I can’t get away from it.” But when he opened his Bible, there was a hole cut out of the center of the pages. A stash of marijuana was hidden there. Who would ever think of looking inside a Bible if picked up by the cops? We thought that was really cool so we all shared a joint together.

After several exciting days and nights on the road, we finally reached the hippie commune in Albuquerque, New Mexico where my oldest brother was staying. When I inquired as to his whereabouts, they told me he was not there, but had left the day before to go swimming at some springs a hundred miles away, somewhere in the mountains. They had no idea when he would be back.

Bill before knowing Christ

Bill at age 18

We decided to head to Santa Fe which was about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. After walking about three miles, we hitched a ride that took us right into Santa Fe. As we listened to the radio, we heard that the temperature was going to reach an all time low for this time of year of about 25 degrees. We had anticipated warm weather out West. It was the month of May so all we had were short-sleeved shirts and light jackets.

Our ride dropped us off and we walked the cobble-stoned streets of Santa Fe to find a place to spend the night. It was getting dark and the whole town seemed to be closed down. Finally, we found an open bar, but were turned away because we were not of age. We asked again if we could just go inside long enough to find someone to put us up for the night. The person running the bar did not care and assured us that without proper I.D. we would not be allowed in the bar. Fear gripped our hearts as we faced the reality of a very cold evening with no apparent hope.

As it was getting colder and later, the bar seemed to be closing and no one wanted to help. Not knowing where to turn, our hopes once again came alive. Down that narrow street came four guys with long hair in a yellow car. A German Shepherd dog was sticking its head out the window. We began to wave and yell hoping they would stop. All of a sudden one of them started yelling, “That’s my brother, that’s my brother!”

Somehow, some way, when he did not even know I was in New Mexico and was supposed to be a hundred miles away, my brother saved our lives. Say what you like; even though I did not acknowledge Him then, a loving God had responded to our need. In His infinite wisdom, He knew that someday I would know Him and His love and forgiveness.

We all scrunched into that car and went to where they were staying. I completely forgot about God then, as we all smoked some marijuana and talked. My brother said that after getting back from the mountains they decided to return a car they had borrowed from someone in Santa Fe. He explained that he could not get us a motorcycle, so the next day we headed back to Pennsylvania.

We encountered many more incidents along the way, but were really happy to be back home. The first thing I did was call Karen and then went over to see her. Her response after our reunion was, “Bill, why don’t you come with me tonight? There is going to be a fantastic evangelist speaking in Youngstown, Ohio.”

The last thing I wanted to do was spend my first night back in church hearing about Jesus. “Karen,” I told her in no uncertain terms, “you can take your religion and shove it!” “But Bill,” she pleaded, “this guy is really good!” I wanted nothing to do with her Jesus, but she looked so beautiful that I finally agreed to go.

Bill before knowing Christ

Bill and Karen preparing to go to a Sadie Hawkins dance, before knowing Jesus.

I expected to hear the usual pitch about Jesus Christ. I would sit there and watch the stupid Christians walk down the aisle and pray. Who would ever want or enjoy that kind of lifestyle? Surely not I; that was only for the weak and the foolish –– not for me.

That night was different. He spoke on Bible prophecy and how we could know God in a real and personal way. The Holy Spirit was dealing with me in a way I had never known before. I had been searching for meaning and purpose in life for 18 years. How well I knew the futility of looking to alcohol, drugs, sex, or anything else for lasting happiness and peace. I had tried to change my self-image through lifting weights and karate. I knew that no self-development, or patterning my life after anyone else, could change or fulfill me.

Suddenly I realized the ultimate truth and reality of Jesus Christ. The words seemed to pierce my very heart and reveal to me that this was what I had in reality always been searching for –– to be restored to the God who created me through His only Son, Jesus Christ. Instead of being begged or dragged as many tried in the past, I willingly stood and made the long walk down to the altar. On the way I said, “God, if You prove Yourself real to me today, I will live my life for You.” I got down on my knees and was totally sincere for the first time in my life and said, “Lord, I am sorry for all my sins. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son and that He died on the cross for me. I want to give my life to You. Please forgive me.”

I am not an emotional person, but for 15 minutes I lay there and cried. I was really sorry for the horrible wrongs I had done and the people I had hurt. Many of the things then forgiven are known to no one but the Lord and myself, and according to His Word, He has not only forgiven but also forgotten. Those tears were the greatest cleansing I ever had . . . That was May 23, 1971.

During the service the following night the evangelist said to me, “Young man, last night there was a battle between heaven and hell. Hell wanted to keep you, but God won.” My whole life changed. Karen and I found a new kind of love –– a bond in Jesus that cemented our lives together in a way that I cannot explain. Now that I accepted Christ I had to grow in this new relationship with God. I was baptized and began changing from someone who only cared about himself and used people, to someone who really cared for others.

A few days later, when Karen was 17 and I was 18, we ran away and got married. Although we might have acted wrongly in this situation, God used it to prepare our future life and ministry together for Him. Karen took me to meet her family and I was shocked to discover that one of her uncles was the police lieutenant who so despised me when he questioned me for the ‘mansion incident’. Although it had been six years ago, he still remembered me. I do not know who was more shocked, him or me, but he did not have to worry. I was not the same person that he remembered. Jesus had changed my life.

No one could believe the change. Many who had before been concerned about me did not want me to go so far as Jesus. Many friends thought I was crazy and had finally flipped out. But they all had to admit and respect what had happened, especially the change God made in giving me the courage to live this new life in Christ, which I had previously mocked and ridiculed. Many of them came to me alone and asked more about Christ. Some responded, but they all admitted they wished they had the guts to accept Him.

The next week I went back to my old karate class and to an instructor I respected very much. He always liked me for my determination and animalistic sparring. They used to call me “Godzilla” because of my strength and size from weightlifting and my purposeful lack of control when sparring an opponent. The instructor remembered the times I hit or kicked a little too hard and the time I caved in the rib cage of a higher ranked student. He knew of my innate desire to hurt others and my strong desire to be the best. Whenever they needed someone to beat on or demonstrate with, I was often chosen because of my ability to withstand it.

One night he looked around the class and said to each of us, “I know you, I have been with you for two years now, and I know what you think and what you will do.” But when he came to me, he said, “Bill, you are different. I do not know you anymore; you have changed.” He was right. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Bill & Karen start their ministry..

Bill & Karen start their ministry.

Jesus Christ had changed my life; I was a new person in Him. He had done instantly, when I sincerely asked Him, what no one or anything else ever did or could have done. Although I was not perfect, I began to grow. Through Him, I found meaning and purpose. Only through Christ could I begin to conquer all the problems I had throughout my life and my teen years. Through Him, I have found that all things are possible. He truly is the Ultimate and Only Truth. Those who knew me before cannot believe that I am now a minister, and those who meet me now, who do not know my past, cannot believe what I once was like.

Miracle On A California Highway

by Rich Miller

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Officer Clay Smith (right) examines the remains of Todd’s Pontiac Sunbird.

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Remains of Todd’s Pontiac Sunbird.

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Todd Renzema, Rich Miller and Clayton Smith

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Todd, Little Josh, and wife, Lynn, in hospital.

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Rich Miller served as web master for the Bill Rudge Ministries for two years. He is the nephew of Bill and Karen, and a good friend of Clayton Smith who is Tabitha’s husband. In fact, Tabitha and Clay met when Bill performed the wedding of Rich and Sunday (Todd Renzema’s sister). 

God often confirms His love and demonstrates His power through miracles so that our faith in Him will be strengthened, and we will have a deeper understanding of His relationship with us. Through these miracles we have proof that Christ is alive and that He is Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The Bible has many eyewitness accounts where God demonstrates His power and His love through a miraculous sign or wonder. As He takes impossible situations and makes them possible, we get a better understanding of the love and compassion that He has for His children.

A situation happened on Halloween night 2003 in southern California that dramatically touched my family, strengthened our faith and demonstrated the amazing mercy and love that God has for us. My sister-in-law, Lynn Renzema, eagerly awaited the arrival of her husband, Todd, from work. It was 7:30 p.m. and Todd was an hour late. She sensed that something might be wrong and asked her mother, Diana, to come to their home. Lynn repeatedly tried to contact Todd on his cell phone without response.

Assuming that his car had broken down, Lynn prepared to search for him along the side of the freeway. A half-hour search yielded no clues to Todd’s whereabouts, so Lynn returned home hoping to find his car parked in the driveway. She grew increasingly worried when she arrived home and learned that her mother, Diana, still had not heard from Todd.

Soon I received a phone call from Lynn’s mother. As she explained the situation, I thought there must be a logical explanation for Todd’s late arrival since it was uncharacteristic of him to be an hour late and not call home.

My friend, Casey, and I drove by Todd’s workplace. Upon discovering that he was not there, we decided to start looking for him along the freeway en route to Lynn and Todd’s house. We were confronted with an eight-mile stretch of unlighted highway that consists of many deep ravines and large hills.

A few days before, one of the California fires had burned through this location consuming almost all of the brush and blackening much of the area. The scorched earth made it even more difficult to see in the darkness. As we unsuccessfully searched the freeway, our imaginations began to paint a picture of likely scenarios such as Todd driving off the freeway into a ravine, being a victim of a carjacking or being kidnapped.

Still No Clues

It was 9:15 p.m. when we arrived at Todd and Lynn’s house. It was almost three hours since anyone had heard from him, so we decided to contact the local law enforcement agencies to determine if they had any information about him. The sheriff’s department and the California Highway Patrol were contacted but they reported having no record of Todd being involved in an accident, being transferred to a hospital or being taken to jail. We did learn that there had been an accident – a car fire earlier in the evening – but none of the vehicles or persons matched the description.

As time passed we could not help but imagine the worst-case scenario –– that Todd was severely injured or perhaps dead. We prayed for Todd’s safety and that if he was hurt, the Lord would protect him. As we closed in prayer, Lynn mentioned that the Lord spoke to her heart that Todd was not dead but that he was just sleeping. Encouraged by Lynn’s revelation, Casey and I decided to search the freeway one more time, but the dark of night made an effective search impossible.

Casey and I arrived home around 11:30 p.m. –– nearly five hours after Todd was found to be missing. With each passing moment we grew increasingly concerned about his safety and again prayed for God’s protection. We realized we had done everything possible and placed the situation entirely in God’s hands. As the early morning hours approached, we tried to get some sleep to resume our search at sunrise.

Eleven Hours Later

My wife, Sunday, and I woke at 5:45 a.m. to the ringing of the telephone. As my wife struggled to find the receiver, I anxiously waited to hear if this might be news regarding Todd. My friend, Clayton Smith, a California Highway Patrol officer, had just started his a.m. shift and was on the phone. He was contacted by Lynn earlier that morning and was informed of Todd’s disappearance. Clayton had already notified dispatch which made this a top priority because of Clayton’s friendship with Todd. A helicopter unit was contacted to search the canyon areas along the freeway, but an overnight rain and a heavy morning fog delayed the helicopter.

Clayton drove his patrol car slowly along the shoulder of the freeway while I peered into the ravines along the way. As I peered into each canyon, I prepared myself mentally for the possibility of seeing Todd’s car at the bottom.

New Clues

With every moment that passed, our hope of finding Todd alive became more desperate. Clayton contacted dispatch once again and learned further details about an accident that had occurred the previous night on the freeway. He learned that at approximately 6:30 p.m. emergency vehicles responded to an accident involving two cars and a fire. A female driver was reportedly removed from the scene and taken to the emergency room. One car was a Pontiac Grand Am and the other car was unidentifiable due to the damage it had sustained, but was suspected to be a Pontiac.

Clayton and I concluded there was a high possibility that one of these vehicles could have been Todd’s. Just then my uncle, Bill Rudge, and Lynn drove up to help with the search. We decided not to tell Lynn until we were certain if Todd was involved.

As Bill stepped out of his car and out of Lynn’s presence, Clayton informed Bill of the situation. After a brief discussion Clayton and I sped away in the patrol car to find the accident scene while Bill took Lynn home to pray and contact hospitals.

Locating the Accident Scene

After several minutes we noticed skid marks along the shoulder of the freeway, about a half mile west of where we had originally been searching. Clayton slowed down and stopped the patrol car on the shoulder near some debris. As Clayton talked with dispatch, I got out of the patrol car and walked to the edge of the ravine. I looked down and saw Todd’s body lying on the ground about 20 feet down the hillside. His car was nowhere to be found. His back was flat against the earth, his face as pale as snow, left arm by his side, with his right hand resting on his chest. As I struggled to grasp the reality of the situation, a surge of adrenaline shot through my body as though I was hit in the chest by a heavy object. I turned my head away stricken with the fact that I had just found my brother-in-law dead in a canyon. My knees began to buckle as I yelled to Clayton, “There’s a body down there!”

As I observed Todd slightly wiggling the fingers on his right hand, I recalled Lynn’s words about God telling her Todd was not dead but was just sleeping. I turned toward Clayton who was informing dispatch and yelled, “He’s alive!”

In an effort for a more immediate response, Clayton radioed in the code for “officer needs assistance.” As I raced to get the EMT kit out of the patrol car Clayton made his way down the ravine to check Todd’s vital signs and offer him aid.

Hold On!

Todd lay almost motionless as Clayton applied gauze to a noticeable laceration on the side of his head. I placed my fingers in the palm of Todd’s right hand to let him know that I was there. Todd briefly opened and rolled his eyes side to side as I continued to reassure him that help was on the way. His breathing was labored and shallow, rattling as he fought for air. Clayton started to connect the O2 bottle as he administered oxygen to aid Todd’s breathing. In order to maintain Todd’s alertness I commanded him to grip my fingers whenever I felt him loosen his grip.

Within a few minutes the first of the medical response teams arrived. Clayton called to them, “He’s been here all night!” Immediately the EMTs got their gear and rushed to Todd. Several more emergency personnel arrived including fire trucks, highway patrol officers, ambulances, and a helicopter unit. It was not long before Todd was placed on a transfer board and carried up the ravine toward a waiting ambulance.

As I walked out of the canyon toward the patrol car, I overheard one of the emergency personnel tell Clayton that they could not find Todd’s pulse, indicating his system was starting to shut down. As Todd was rushed into the ambulance and to the emergency room, Clayton and I followed behind in the patrol car. I prayed silently for Todd’s survival and hoped that he could hang on long enough to make it to the emergency room.

Assessing His Injuries

We arrived at the hospital in a few minutes. We were told that Todd had survived the trip to the emergency room but his body temperature was down to 85 degrees. He was quickly taken into the trauma unit for a CT scan in order to assess the extent of his head trauma. As family members started to arrive at the hospital, doctors reported
after several tests that he had the following extensive injuries:

• Brain trauma, swelling, slight bleeding, with the possibility of cognitive and communication damage such as delayed comprehension

• Left ankle fracture and laceration

• Shattered left knee

• Left shoulder fracture and dislocation possibly requiring a steel rod and ball insertion

• Right shoulder fracture

• Right knee hairline fracture

• Multiple skin abrasions and lacerations

• Several chipped teeth

In speaking with the medical personnel who assessed Todd’s injuries, it was speculated that:

• On his way home from work he was stuck in traffic on the freeway. (For an unknown reason Todd pulled onto the shoulder.)

• As he was standing near his car, it was struck from behind by a motorist who had swung onto the shoulder. The impact forced his car to smash against him clipping his legs and knees. As the car moved forward, it violently threw him into the ravine.

• His car finally rested on the shoulder 50 feet away from its original location and ignited when the gas tank ruptured.

• When emergency personnel arrived at the scene and found no body in or around the wreckage of Todd’s vehicle, they assumed the vehicle was previously disabled and abandoned prior to the accident.

• Due to the extreme damage to Todd’s car, authorities were unable to find the license plate or vehicle identification number and therefore no records of his car were in their computer systems.

Epilogue

After an extensive hospitalization of approximately three months, Todd made a miraculous recovery and returned home to his family.

It was miraculous….

• that he was not killed on impact

• that he survived being thrown 50 feet

• that he did not suffer permanent brain damage.

At that time, as he held his two year old son and anticipated the birth of another child, we were all so thankful that God had spared Todd’s life.

Our families continue to believe that a miracle has happened and that many prayers were answered by this remarkable chain of events. Just as God had revealed earlier to Lynn that Todd was not dead, he was just sleeping – Todd had been found alive, minutes from death! He had lain 14 hours in a ravine, with multiple injuries, through the cold of night, and an overnight rain. Yes, God protected him. God answered our prayers. What a truly amazing God we have!