I recently celebrated a birthday and the more birthdays I have, the more I look back over my life. I am sure many of you do the same. As we look back over our lives, I am sure all of us have had certain events that we always reminiscence about. I feel compelled to share with my readers the most important encounters I have had over my lifetime. These are my personal encounters with the Lord.
I have had many encounters with the Lord but there are four (4) personal encounters with Him that I often think about daily.These encounters have made me who I am today and they are the only motivational forces in my life.
My first encounter with the Lord took place when I was eight (8) years old during the summer of 1962. Back then, things were much more difficult for Blacks than they are now. The only job many Blacks could get in the south was farm work. I remember, that like most Black kids, we would have to go to work with our mothers or grandmothers. Their primary work source was tying tobacco at a tobacco barn. Many of the young kids were made to sit away from the barn while our parents worked. I remember on one particular day sitting on a long porch with other children while our parents worked at a nearby barn.
During the summer of 1962, I was being raised by my grandparents, separated from my siblings. I longed to be with them, but I was afraid of hurting my grandparents feelings, so I never expressed that to them. On that particular day, my mother and grandmother were working with other women tying tobacco at a nearby tobacco barn. While the children were playing, including my siblings, I found my self alone, sitting on a part of the porch away from the rest. While sitting there, I began to sing these words, over and over. “And he walks with me, and He talks with me, And he tells me I am His own. And the joy we share, as we tarty there, None other has ever known.” I don’t remember how many times I sung that but I do remember stopping all of a sudden because I heard a strange voice that said, “I love you.” It was at that moment when I became aware of the presence of God with me. I remember crying and shouting out to Him uncontrollably. The most important thing I learned from that encounter was that there was a God and that God loved me.
Even thou the above encounter made me aware of the presence of God in my life I somewhat dismissed it and went about living my life. It was some 15-16 years later when I had another personal encounter with God.
I had just graduated from college with an MBA. I was madly in love with a woman from Charleston, S.C. and we had a son. I was working in North Carolina and she and my son were living with her family in Charleston. I remember her calling me one day and telling me she had gotten saved. We were planning to get married but I wanted to save some money before that happened. I would visit her and my son every weekend. But I noticed that every time I visited them there would be a deacon of her church with them teaching the word of God out of the Bible. I didn’t pay it any attention and I began to studying the Word also with them and away from them.
I remember during the summer of 1978 when I went to visit, her church was having a Tent Revival. I attended the revival that Friday Night and gave my life to Christ. This was my second encounter with the Lord. When I gave my life to Christ, I remember being surrounded by a bright light which I will never forget. And I remember praising Him profusely. At that moment, it was as if there was no one in the world but me and the Lord.
The next night I was looking forward to the service but I got the shock of my life. It was then, after the service when I was asked to meet the leaders of the church inside the church building. When I walked in, I saw the pastor and her husband, my son and my girlfriend. and the same deacon who had been constantly teaching my girlfriend the Bible. It was at that point when I was told by my girlfriend that the Lord had put her and the deacon together as husband and wife and I would not be allowed to see my son again. The pastor then said, even though I had just gotten saved, it would be best if I never saw any of them again.
I was completely devastated!!! I immediately got into my car and drove home, which brings me to my third encounter with the Lord. I remember, driving from Clinton to Roseboro a few days later and saw a man thumbing for a ride. At this time, I had never picked up a hitchhiker in my life, but something (or someone) told me to turn around and pick him up. When I picked him up, I remember him to be very tall and with very dark skin. While driving towards Roseboro, I began to tell him all my troubles as it relates to what I had experienced in Charleston, S.C. When we got to Roseboro, I told him I had to let him out because this was as far as I was going. He asked me to pull off to the side of the road because he had something very important to tell me. I pulled over and He said, “God sent me here to tell you He wants you to preach and teach His word.” When He said that I buried my head into the steering wheel and began to cry. When I finally looked up, He was gone. I never heard the car door open nor close. I got out of the car to look down the road in both directions, but he was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, I had just been in the presence of an Angel of God.
Once again, I somewhat dismissed that encounter and began to carry on with my life. As the years went by I became a very successful banker in Dallas, Texas and New York. My success led me to get hooked on drugs.
After several years, I moved in with my sister and her family in Atlanta, Ga. I joined New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and threw myself into studying the Bible. One night while sitting in Bible Study, I found myself in somewhat of a trance and I heard the same strange voice that I heard when I was a child sitting on a porch. I heard the voice of God saying, “Go preach and teach my Word,” I immediately left the church that night and was on a bus on my way home to my local church. I preached my first sermon a few months later and have been dong so every since.
I have had other encounters with the Lord but the four above have and continue to influence me the most. My personal encounters always allow me to know with complete confidence that the Lord loves me and that He will always be with me. I can never give up on Him, because He will never give up on me. My personal encounters with the Lord is what causes me to preach every sermon as if I am preaching to thousands. My personal encounters with the Lord is what causes me to spend hours preparing for every teaching encounter I have. Through all of the ups and downs and through all of the storms, He has always brought me through with so many other personal encounters. I have known His voice since I was eight years old and today I am assured, that one day, I will see Him face to face!!
Gilbert Owens is a native of Roseboro and a columnist for The Sampson Independent.