We arrived in St Catharines at just about the time predicted, four PM. We hadn’t seen Ernie and Debbie Jones for some time. When we lived in Minnesota we often came- around their way and would spend a night or two. In those days,
most of the kids (Aaron, Tim and Katie) were still living at home but now they are all married with Tim and his wife living on the west coast. We enjoyed a nice supper and made plans for the next day touring around the area. Our day trip would take us to some charming and favorite spots like Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls.
For those that may not know, Debbie and Ernie became our friends in Merrickville during the revival that took place there between 1975 and 1979. Debbie was first to meet the Lord and her reluctant (suspicious) husband came along a few months later. Their conversion stories are quite remarkable and briefly, I will tell it here.
Debbie was first to show up being brought to church meetings and bible studies by two friends who had begun a conversation with her at work. It didn’t take long before she responded to the offer of the gospel and having been transformed, she became very active in fellowship. As in many other cases, she began to urge her husband, Ernie, who directed the regional emergency services in Smiths Falls. Ernie was also an athlete of some note and played a good game of hockey. All of his practices, scrimmages and games were scheduled on Sunday nights – for him conveniently at the very same hour that we held bible study. Debbie could be then and still is very insistent when she sets her mind to it – whatever IT might be. Finally, Ernie gave in, promising to come if ever there was a night when hockey was cancelled. This was good enough for her and it only took a couple of weeks before poor Ernie wrenched his knee. In fact, the injury was so bad that he couldn’t even walk. It turned out that he did show up one Sunday night in October. Our bible studies were held on the second floor with a long, narrow walk-up of about thirty stairs. He took one look at the challenge and said that he just wouldn’t be able to make it, but that’s when several men got the idea to haul him up in a chair. Though Ernie was a strongly built man, they sat him in the chair and toted him up to the room filled with about fifteen or so others.
Ernie now tells me that he traded mocking critiques with another skeptical visitor on that first night. Yet, in spite of this, he was curious enough (or perhaps it was just to please Debbie) to return on the next Sunday evening. On that night he committed himself to Christ and from that moment Thanksgiving Sunday (the first week of October in Canada) he has never wavered in his testimony and resolve.
Several weeks later, in late November, I was sitting at my office desk when the phone rang. It was Ernie, who had been reading the Bible and discovered that everyone who became Christians followed their decision with baptism. He said, “I want to get baptized!” My immediate thought was, where might we be able to do this? I suggested that we call a church with a heated baptistery and ask when they planned to have a service and perhaps we might join them. Ernie didn’t buy the idea and quickly said, “I don’t want to wait. I want to be baptized in the Rideau River like all the others.” I reminded him that these baptisms took place in the summertime. Certainly by November 28th, temperatures in the Ottawa area are near or below freezing. Nevertheless, this is what he wanted so I arranged a beach side event for later that night.
It was already dark when ten or more cars lined up with their headlights aimed at the water. I stepped into the freezing water and immediately wanted to retreat. I doubted that Ernie (even as strong as he was) would be able to endure the frigid waters. It had begun to spit snow and we could see the big flakes bouncing off of the headlights. Out we went, deeper and deeper. Once we made it to waste high water, with Bud Narraway alongside, I made quick pronouncements and down he went. There was no time for small talk or long stories. It was just in and out and then an almost run to the shore and the heated car.
As I felt my foot finally touch dry land, a rather “girlie”, silhouetted Debbie called out. “If he’s a gonna, I’m a gonna too.” I didn’t think I could manage another and delegated this one to Ross Ayling. Bud who remains to this day as tough as a boot went right back out while I huddled in the front seat of our car under the heater on full blast and wrapped in a quilt. This was their start and they meant business then, as they mean business today.
We share many fond memories over the years and it is nice that even after a five year absence when we have not met face to face, there is absolutely no getting re-acquainted. Things are just as we left off the last time, and the time before and the time before that.