Honeymoons are typically filled with joy, intimacy, and discovery between a husband and wife as they begin their new life together. Likewise, the weeks immediately following my Christian conversion were like a honeymoon.
In those early days of my spiritual journey, I experienced a joy that I never thought existed. As I devoted myself to the daily study of His Word and to prayer, the discoveries I made concerning the Person and Work of Christ, served to deepen my relationship with Him. I enjoyed an intimacy with the Father that was like a well of living water. Life was good!
Every day the Spirit spoke powerfully to me from the pages of His living Word. Justification, redemption, sanctification were but a few biblical concepts that impassioned my hunger and thirst to know more about my salvation. I could not get enough of the Bible. Further, I could not get enough fellowship with believers, either in our rooms or off-barracks meeting places.
TIMES OF REFRESHING
On liberty weekends we would head over to Carney Park, a park outside Naples that had been developed for use by military personnel. There we barbecued hamburgers and played softball or tag football, played guitars and shared the Gospel with military personnel that frequented the park. Sometimes we went over to Ischia, an island at the northern edge of the Gulf of Naples, which at the time was gloriously bereft of American tourists (they mostly went to Capri). We camped on the beach, sang Christian songs around a bonfire, hiked and generally exulted in our youth and newfound faith.
But mostly we spent our liberties downtown at the Serviceman’s Center, home of Jesse and Nettie Miller who were missionaries to servicemen. There we met fellow believers off the Fleet or permanent personnel, played ping pong or chess or shared testimonies while waiting for a good home cooked meal provided by Nettie and her helpers. Afterward we would gather in a circle and listen to Jesse teach. Before heading back to the barracks we would go into the little in-house book store and purchase the latest Bible or music tapes or learning materials. In those early days I added a Thompson Chain study Bible and a Scofield to my burgeoning library, along with the then popular Late Great Planet Earth and other books on end-time prophecy. They were truly times of refreshing.
Those early weeks were also heady days of evangelism. What began with Terry and Mike leading me to Christ in Mike’s room, soon became a handful of committed Christians, with many others in the barracks dropping by our rooms to ask questions, listen to our Bible studies and songs of praise. The Holy Spirit revival that began on the beaches of California then sweeping across the United States was now blowing through the Marine Barracks, Naples, Italy.
I think the devil was caught napping.
We handed out Chick tracts (This Was Your Life, and Holy Joe) on the streets of Naples, to servicemen, prostitutes, cab drivers, as well as the carabinieri (Italian police) with whom we stood guard, employing our pigeon Italian as best we could. We left tracts on post for the next guard cycle of Marines to read. By the way, this latter activity was not allowed, but Marines left all manner of contraband on post, so we did the same. Our witness was known all over the barracks.
DARK CLOUDS LOOM
It was truly a season of joy. However, whenever God does a work in a person, persons, or region in the world, the devil may be counted on to mount a counter-offensive. A counter-offensive that is usually designed to shut up witnesses, intimidate them, or to lock them up. Such an offensive was mounting in the barracks.
Persecution may take many forms: ostracizing, verbal abuse, physical abuse, loss of job, and of course martyrdom. With that handful of young believers it began with mild persecution––mostly name-calling from fellow Marines. We were told by a couple of men who later became believers the kinds of things that were spoken about us behind our backs. It’s to be expected. A verse has always given me pause to think, as well as to evaluate my walk with Christ. It was written by the Apostle Paul to his young protege, Timothy, before he was executed.
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
It seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? Godliness produces persecution. We don’t have to search for it, it will find us. Because the world hates Jesus it will hate His followers too. If Christians hide their faith under a basket, or keep their salt in shakers, there is little danger of persecution. However, as young and somewhat radical and naive followers of Christ, who were not ashamed of Gospel, we were about to be tested in ways that would change the course of our lives. We had become targets.
Next Blog: THE COUNTER OFFENSIVE