How God Launched My Preaching Career from a Sewage Trench

It was 1956, and I was a teenage pick-and-shovel labourer earning money to attend Bible school the following year. One day I was shin deep in slimy muck, digging around a leaking sewer pipe at the bottom of a seven-foot-deep, narrow trench between the pavement and the sidewalk. Just as vehicle seat-belt laws were still a decade in the future, so also in the 1950s, no one was concerned about using shoring planks in deep ditches.

My Silence
The crew I worked with knew I was different from them. They realized I believed in God. They had seen me pray before eating my lunch. They noticed me turn away when they swore or cursed, and they could count on me to grab the heavy end of pipe fittings or slide down into the deepest holes.

They had never heard me curse or use foul language, but they had also never heard me talk to them about Jesus, and how He had died to give us eternal life. I often felt guilty about being silent and tried to justify myself.

“These guys are all recent immigrants and don’t understand much English,” I told myself, “so they probably wouldn’t understand my explanation. Besides, they are three times as old as I am, and they wouldn’t listen to me anyway.”

God’s Action
God recognized that I needed a bit of help, so being my fellow worker (“We work together with God” 2 Cor. 6:1), He went into action and collapsed the trench I was in.

I saw it coming. I had just straightened up to fling another shovel full of mud out the top of the hole when I saw the wall of the trench sag down from the sidewalk to my right and bulge toward me. I immediately lunged my upper body toward a small open area below the pavement created by a previous cave in on my left.

No sooner were my head and shoulders below the pavement than Whumph! The bulging sidewalk side of the trench wall gave way entirely and nearly filled the hole. Covered from the neck down, I couldn’t move my arms but felt no crushing pain.

The crew was aghast. “We not seeing you,” Mico told me later, “just seeing dirt.”

“We thinking, you face down in mud,” Wojtek added, “big pile of dirt on top you. Happy we hearing you yell.”

What they heard me yell was, “I’m okay! Be careful! Don’t use a pickaxe!

Twenty minutes of digging later I climbed out of the ditch. Then, as we were loading our shovels and picks onto the truck, Mico and Laszlo pulled me aside, “Jack, we thinking you were dead.” Then I finally broke my silence.

My Sermon
“If I had still been bending over, that wall of dirt would have fallen on top of me. You would have pulled up my dead body from the mud. But my real self would now be in heaven with God. What about you? If one of you had been down there? What if we had dug up your dead body? Where would your real self be?

Mico looked very serious and, nodding his head slowly, said, “Now I thinking more about this.” And Laszlo added,” I thinking more about God.” Riding home on the back of the truck the three men talked together in a language I couldn’t understand. But, from their glances at me and the grave looks on their faces, I knew it was something serious.

I was transferred to another crew shortly afterward. I don’t know if Mico, Wojtek, or Lazlo, ever made contact with God. All I know is, I finally did my part, and more importantly, God did His. Working together, God and I gave that crew a demonstration of faith that was probably more powerful than any evangelistic sermon from a teenage ditch digger.

2 thoughts on “How God Launched My Preaching Career from a Sewage Trench

  1. … I finally did my part, and more importantly, God did His. Working together, God and I …
    Isn’t this THE key point?
    I spent my closing months of university putting myself through evangelical torment – including cold sweats in the nights – about whether or not to ‘confront’ my closest friend with a ‘where will you spend eternity?’ discussion.
    He knew I was an active Christian. I knew he was actively, charmingly cynical.
    In the end, I decided not to: I felt that my planned ‘confrontation’ would violate a level of trust fundamental to our friendship.
    The next autumn, he told me to “you will need to sit down!” He had become a Christian and he wanted to tell me ‘my part in it’?!? Yes, as in your story, he had been watching me.
    We were both studying biochemistry, and he could see that we both shared a deep love of the beauty revealed inside life at the cellular level. He had assumed that to have faith, a thinking person would have to “kiss his brain goodbye”. Then, he told me, “I realised, you didn’t have a problem.” He saw that I could love science and centre my life of Jesus at the same time.
    What did I take away from that experience?
    1. Perspective on who we are in Christ:
    Jesus has told us that we ARE salt and light – not that we must strive to be salt and light. He has told us that lives centred in him WILL bear fruit, and has not told us to ‘make’ fruit on our own.
    In fact, Jesus’ commands are simple – generally two or three words:
    * Follow me.
    * Love one another.
    * Don’t be afraid.
    * Make disciples.
    The ideas are simple. However, ‘doing’ these simple things are impossible unless we walk each step ‘in him’.
    2. Perspective on Christ: HE is the fruit-bearer.
    In fact, my planned ‘confrontation’ might have been destructive of the work God was doing in my friend’s life. At that point, he wasn’t asking himself questions about his eternal destiny – and (despite our close friendship) I had NO idea of the questions which were central to my friend’s soul.
    3. Perspectives on Peace: Yielding up the angst about fruit-bearing to Him has offered me a peace which ‘passeth’ my childhood evangelical understanding, and which has sustained my heart and mind in Christ Jesus ever since.
    We continue to live in places where testimony must be covert. So do our sons. Do I sometimes question whether or not I should have shared more overtly at times? Yes.
    But deep inside, I find a peace that I did not create for myself and that no-one can take away.
    Am I living a life of obedience to Jesus’ most basic instructions?
    * Am I following him?
    * Am I loving those whom he loves?
    * Am I trusting my present and my future into his hands?
    * Am I leading others towards greater faith in him?
    Only by his grace.
    When I do my part, He will do his … in His time. Working together, God and I …

    “I finally did my part, and more importantly, God did His. Working together, God and I …”

    You and Jo have been such a rich blessing to us over the past 30 years. May you, too, be richly blessed yourselves – today and always.

    Bryan – with Renee, currently in Hong Kong

    • What a super testimony Bryan! Thank you for taking time to share this with me and with the readership of these comments.
      May God continue to bless you both!

Comments are closed.