The unfinished song
Portland, Maine— Back in days gone by when I was growing up in Holly, Michigan, a highlight of each summer was the annual 10-day MichiganConference of SDA Camp Meeting in Grand Ledge, where hundreds of tents were pitched, cabins were occupied and travel trailers were parked.
Church members from all over Michigan and beyond congregated to be inspired, worship and to socialize with fellow believers and friends. On the weekend, 10,000 to 15,000 would join the many hundreds who camped during the week.
My parents were lucky enough to have a cabin reserved each year that served as “the grand central station” for our family meals, sleeping and a meeting point with friends and relatives.
Evening meetings were a big deal. Usually, the governor of Michigan or some other well-known Michigan figure would make an appearance in the main auditorium. Several thousand sat on wood benches that were set on a floor of dirt and gravel to hear the world-famous evangelist HMS Richards, The King’s Heralds and Del Decker among others.
]There were large tents and forums organized for children and teenagers. One of my favorite memories was the annual visit of famous children's author and storyteller Eric B. Hare. He would perform spellbinding presentations of his famous stories at the outlying bonfire site. After dark, his presentation of "Mister Crooked Ear" or "Silver and the Snake" would have the hundreds of us crowded around the campfire circle either laughing or hanging onto each other in fright.
The youth tent would hold hundreds on the weekend. The guest speakers included popular youth pastors or up-and-coming young people who sought a pastoral career.
Because of the excellent teaching and tutorship of Dan Shultz, the Adelphian Academy’sband director, my skill at trombone performance had been developing nicely and my invitation for trombone solos had been increasing in several parts of Michigan.
I was once asked to perform solo during a weekend youth tent service at the Grand Ledge Camp meeting, where the featured speaker was Doug Morehead, a fellow student at Adelphian Academy.
I asked my sister Dianneto to accompany me and we practiced a couple of hours before the meeting. My selected piece, "Jesus Paid It All,” was one of my favorites from the Bill Pierce GospelSolos for Trombonebook I relied on frequently.
On this particular Sunday evening, the hot and humid summer had been disrupted by some strong thunderstorms moving through the region in the late afternoon.
By the time the meeting started at 7 p.m., an earlier cloud burst had dropped a considerable amount of rain.
Consequently, there was standing water in many areas inside the tent, including the front row where Dianne and I were seated. Not far from us, the featured speaker, Doug Morehead, was wired with a mike around his neck attached to the PA system by a long extension cord.
The opening song and prayer were unfolding as a fast-moving thunder cloud passed over the campground darkening the sky. The faucet of heavy rain sprang upon us. We were all thankful to be safely inside the large event tent. The event tent was centered with a large support pole that also held the electrical line that powered the lights and PA system in the tent.
As our time on the agenda had come, Dianne and I were happy to leave the wet grass under our chairs for the dry wooden platform where we would be performing.
When Dianne began the opening piano intro, I blew the spit from the narrow slide of my John Roberts Bass Trombone which was my trusted partner for each of my performances. I hear the Savior say,
Thy strength Indeed is small…
By the time of the first refrain, I was getting into the rhythm of my performance, having gotten over the initial nervousness.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe…
Knowing most of the words to this moving hymn,I couldn’t help but reflect while playing on how the beautiful sound of the instrument was so in tune with the redemptive words of this famous hymn: When from my dying bed My ransomed soul shall rise…”
Nearing the end of the piece, I took a deep breath to start the last refrain and started the buzz and airflow in my mouthpiece that created the unique intonation of this wonderful horn.
The melodious sound was suddenly and frightfully interrupted by the cracking flash of lightning and booming clap of thunder. A bolt of lightning hit the tent.
Before I could remove the mouthpiece from my lips, I heard the loudest, most frightening scream I had ever heard. From the corner of my eye, I could see Doug jumping high into the air, tearing the microphone chord from his neck before he hit the ground.
Pandemoniumtook over and several rushed to the side of the now lifeless speaker.
The next thing I knew CPR was being administered. Those who hadn't scattered were huddled in small groups praying for this young man as an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. Dianne and I left the tent, not at all concerned that we hadn't finished the song.
The next day we heard about the amazing story of Doug's miraculous survival and recovery. His severe chest burns had been healed.
After hearing this wonderful news, I couldn't help but hum the melody and think of the words to the refrain that I wasn't able to finish in the song: Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
Theodore Lewis is the former CEO of Guam Memorial Hospital and has a health care consulting business based out of Portland, Maine. He is collecting stories about lessons learned in life and can be reached at email@example.com.