Charles gazed out into the endless wave of high school seniors filing into the auditorium. It seemed like only yesterday he made his way down these very isles to listen to a guest speaker talk about the importance of knowledge and education. He remembered a guest counselor had visited Ecorse High School to talk to the 1991 graduating class about the importance of continuing education. BAH! In one ear and right through the other. The message had been nothing new; another lame speech about studying hard, focusing on test scores, graduating with honors, and reaping the benefits of a good job after college.
His prepared speech today would be no different than that speech he’d heard twenty years ago. How times had changed during those years. Life had thrown Charles more than a few curve balls since high school. There were disappointments, failures, and tragedies. If only someone had said a few words to touch his soul all those years ago, he may have avoided a few pitfalls.
As he scanned the students now taking their seats, he decided to make today’s speech count. He would not wait to be introduced as Charles Smith, the acclaimed Christian-fiction author and alumnus of Ecorse High School. That would mean nothing to the majority of these adolescent-minded young adults. Shock value was the decided approach. Pastor Saenz once told Charles that the average unsaved mind found the idea of the truth of the gospel initially insulting. But all he needed to do was reach one person in the assembly. That would be enough. That would all be worth it.
Charles quickly broke away from the small congregation of school faculty members, busying themselves alongside his agent. The small group was engaged in reviewing the list of red-alert language that might be considered inappropriate for public school assemblage. Terrence, Charles’ agent, was the first to notice the broad confident stride of his client, headed toward the lighted stage and podium.
“Ah, Chuck? Is everything OK? Principal Edwards is just about ready to address the student body and make the introductions. Chuck!”
Charles never hesitated. Before the faculty could react, he chucked his prepared 3-by-5 inch index cards into the front row, as he strode toward the podium. While snatching the microphone from the podium stand, he quickly loosened his necktie, then vigorously tapped the head of the microphone, sending a succession of thuds and associated reverb hum through the auditorium sound system. Students and faculty shrieked, clasped hands to ears, and faced the navy-blue pinstripe-suited man standing underneath the bright floodlights onstage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Now is the time to repent of sin, and to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior!”
The entire auditorium went silent. Every eye focused intently on Charles. He quickly glanced stage-right and flashed a double thumbs up toward his horrified agent and the equally stunned faculty members. This was exactly the type of language they’d hoped to avoid during the speech, and Charles knew it. But the Lord would not be denied. A fire burned within Charles' heart. Turning back to the crowd, he raised the microphone to his lips and began to speak, as the Holy Spirit flowed through him.
“Now that I have your attention, I’d like to say a few words. I was like you once. I teetered on the verge of adulthood without a single care about my future. I am a college dropout, a liar, a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer. Despite my best efforts, I could not change the course of my life alone. It took the love of the Lord to change my heart and alter my course. He saved my life.”
Charles’ impromptu speech lasted for ninety minutes, undisturbed. In closing, he and Terrence hustled stage-left and made their way toward the guest parking lot. As Terrence chastised Charles over the change in content, they were approached by a timid young man.
“Mr. Smith?” he said shyly.
“Yes, sir.” Charles answered.
“My name’s Israel,” the boy said through tear-rimmed eyes. “I just wanted you to know…I…was planning to go home and…hurt… myself after school today. It’s been kind of hard for me, lately. But something you said…made me change my mind.
Terrance stared at Charles, in awe. Charles gently placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Are you hungry, son? How about we take you to lunch and I’ll tell you more about the grace of our Lord?”
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