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Strange messenger

How the wrong word at the right time changed a life

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One day when I was still a worldly heathen, a slight and elderly lady knocked on my door. She wore her gray hair short, her eyeglasses large, and carried a big, black purse. Her name was Leona.

It was 1991. Rapper Vanilla Ice had not yet been outed as a suburban poser, Thelma and Louise were driving feminism off a cliff, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was breaking good in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Meanwhile, my own Judgment Day was about to take center stage. God was coming for me—albeit through an unorthodox messenger.

That sunny morning, Leona opened with a smile and some chit-chat about the sorry state of the world. Then she said, “Would you like to hear about the kingdom of God?”

At that, an unrealized spiritual thirst arose in my heart, an unfamiliar concern with eternal things. I was 28 years old. Sure, I’d thought of heaven and hell by then. I’d even worn a “Jesus First” pin on my overall strap during a 1979 high school youth revival that swept through my Alabama hometown. But alas, for me the revival didn’t take. And, as an unrepentant party girl, I’m pretty sure every Baptist within a hundred miles had abandoned any hope that it would.

But here I was, 12 years later, inviting Leona into my living room. She pulled from her pocketbook a copy of the Bible: Black. Hardcover. The words “New World Translation” etched on the spine in gold.

Leona was a Jehovah’s Witness. I sat nearly knee to knee with her—I, the spring lamb just learning to walk, she the shepherd, prompting me to read aloud:

• John 1:1—“The Word was with God and the Word was a God.”

• John 8:58—“Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’”

• Colossians 1:17—“Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist.”

The Watchtower Society had helpfully italicized the words it added to the original Greek. But as I read aloud, I skipped over the italicized words. Something about them bugged me. Leona would have none of it, though. “No, no,” she prodded gently. “Read those words, too.”

My husband was then also a practicing heathen, but he had at least been to youth group and vacation Bible school, which made him a spiritual Einstein next to me. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult,” he warned and asked me not to invite Leona over anymore.

“She’s just a little old lady who wants to teach me about the Bible!” I snapped in fluent Fishwife, not yet aware the husband is the head of the household. “What’s wrong with you?”

But the truth was, I too was skeptical of Leona’s Bible patter and told her as much. Where was her proof? I wanted to know. So, before flying off to some big do at the Watchtower Society in Brooklyn, Leona promised to return with some reference books. You know: solid stuff I could use to verify the historicity of her kingdom tale.

Then God showed His hand.

Weeks passed while Leona was in Brooklyn. And one day, I was standing in front of the kitchen stove when I heard a Voice say, “Go to church with Hazel.” I didn’t hear the Voice audibly, but it was insistent enough that I nearly looked to see Who was there. So, that Sunday, I went to church with Hazel, my mother-in-law, at Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego. Pastor Mike MacIntosh preached the gospel, and I knew with crystalline clarity that I was hearing the truth.

By the time Leona returned from Brooklyn, I had practically memorized Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults and was ready to witness. I never got the chance, though. When Leona found out I’d two-timed her, she gave me a stern scolding: “I can’t believe you went and became one of those born-agains! And after all the trouble I took to get you these books!”

In pursuing His lost sheep, God presses His whole world into service—even an unbelieving stranger (Isaiah 46:9-11)—to save even one.

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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