Retracing some steps this week unlocked a remarkable memory.
Elaine and I were visiting our friends James and Libby, who pastor a church in northern Indiana I have preached in from time to time.
James’ dad was a fine Christian gentleman who used to take me out for breakfast when I visited. His first name was Moses, but his brothers had teased him over it so he went by his middle name, which I always thought was Jay. In reality it was simply J. He had been born Amish and that’s how his birth certificate (if he had one) came out.
Jay (doesn’t seem right to refer to him by his legal name) had gone through the Amish rite of Rumspringa. As a teenager you can take a season of time to leave the community, live as wild a life as you want, and then decide whether you want to return and make a lifelong commitment. Interestingly, most return, illustrating the power of community. If you return and then leave, you will be shunned by everyone forever. If you simply don’t return, you will be shunned by many if not most of your family
Unlike many of the young Amish men who spent a year partying and getting drunk, Jay took the year to find Christ as his Saviour in a Mennonite church (the Amish were a group who split from the Mennonites), and went on to Bible College. He did not return to the Amish, and was shunned by most, though not all, of his family.
Once in a bus station in Chicago, he overheard some young Amish girls speaking to each other in the archaic form of German used in the community called Dutch (a corruption of deutsch). They had no idea he could understand their conversation, and were astonished when he interjected. The reason he did was that he realized one of the girls was his great-niece, grandson of his sister he had not spoken to for half a century.
During one of our times together, Jay leaned over and said he felt led of the Lord to tell me a story. And this story I now relate to you.
An elderly and very godly Mennonite lady was in the last stages of her final illness. As is the practice with Mennonites, the extended family gathered in the hospital room to sing hymns of praise to the Lord. I think I’d like that for myself!
She had been in a coma for three days, and the end was near. Suddenly, in the midst of the worship surrounding her, she opened her eyes. As she opened her eyes, she lifted up her hands toward heaven and exclaimed in a very clear voice: “The gates are opened!” In that instant, her hands fell back and she passed into the presence of the Lord.
I had the opportunity of sharing this story on a number of occasions in the year or so after I heard it, and the remarkable thing was several people came up to me afterward in different places to say they had witnessed or heard personally of exactly the same thing happening, same words and all.
What I will also never forget is the lady Elaine was speaking to who told her of the dying moments of her unsaved brother, who opened his eyes and shouted in tremendous distress these words: “The gates are closed!” Shortly after, he passed into an uncertain eternity.
I miss Jay. The gates opened for him very peacefully and quickly several years ago. By now he’ll have reacquainted himself with that Mennonite lady he knew back in Indiana!
People who walk closely with God, and yes that definitely includes Mennonites, live in the supernatural experience of his presence. This material world is only a gateway to the reality that is to come.
We have a wonderful hope. But please do not water down the gospel.
The gates will not open for everyone.