Don Spell...In Memory

     In the spring of 2011 Bethel Tabernacle celebrated it 80th birthday with a week-long series of services and special speakers. The church Shirley and I have been attending for three years performed the usual “outreach” activities prior to the actual celebration in hopes of attracting new visitors. Personal visits to the nearby residential areas were made and a massive mail out program was executed to get the good news spread to as many people as possible. The results were the series of services was a great success, and the church enjoyed a renewed interest from the neighborhood with many new attendees coming from the nearby homes and apartments.
     One of those new members was a gentleman named Don Spell. Don was an exception to the usual rules of conversion. Perhaps because younger adults are usually more enthusiastic in the areas of outreach and visitation than older members, the spiritual harvest they gather is usually weighted toward the same age bracket as the outreach workers themselves. Don, however, did not fit the mold of the normal convert. Already eighty years old, he was a tall, slim, fragile appearing man with thin graying hair, who responded to a card which was sent to his apartment inviting him to attend the services. Though he lived in close proximity to the church, he had no vehicle and did not drive, but fortunately he had friends who brought him to the services. It turned out that his friends owned a motel and allowed Don to stay in one of the units. Apparently he had worked for them doing odd jobs for several years, and with the knowledge that Don had no living family, his friends had felt a concern for his welfare and given him a place to call home. It was an amicable arrangement.
     When Don first attended Bethel Tabernacle, he was but another face in a crowd. The church is a fairly large church, and the services were extremely well attended. As you would expect, being a birthday bash, there was much celebration, singing, and rejoicing, and the spirit of worship and praise was very moving. The guest ministers were anointed and powerful in their delivery of the Word of God, and the response to the call to commitment was incredible as dozens made their ways to the altar areas to give their lives to God. Don was one of those who responded to the call of God. He seemed a little out of place amongst the younger participants around him and a little unsure at first as to what to do. Encircled by enthusiastic Pentecostals who are usually loudly praying, the process can be a little intimidating to one who is unfamiliar with true communication with God. Someone spoke into Don’s ear and he began to pray, quietly at first, but as his level of worship begin to rise, so did his animation. I and several others were praying with him when an expression of joy seemed to cross his face, and he began to praise and worship with true zeal, and, in a short time, he gave evidence of his new relationship with God through the only method specifically mentioned in the scriptures: he began to speak in an unknown language. It was the biblical evidence that he had received the gift of the Holy Ghost as described in the New Testament. Later he was baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ and thus began his new walk with his new savior.
     Within a month of Don’s conversion, he became a familiar sight at every church service. Unlike many who take a step toward God during the high emotion of a spiritual moment only to quickly fade away once the reality of day to day Christian living becomes apparent, Don had made a life-changing decision. He did not miss church. When he walked into the sanctuary before service, he was already raising his hands and praising his God. Normal distractions of church…crying children, chatting adults, people moving about…did not affect Don at all. When the service began, he was there to honor his God. He was one of the first to stand during singing, the first to raise his hands, and the first to praise and worship. From where I was sitting I could see Don, and his enthusiastic attitude and worship encouraged and blessed everyone. Although his motel friends brought him to church the first few times, eventually someone in the church, usually my good friend Jerry Stewart, made sure Don was picked up and taken home. I was privileged to take Don home one evening, and all he could talk about was the wonderful service we had just experienced. Don enjoyed his new walk with God, and we old timers who had grown up in the church were reminded of the simple joy and peace that comes in knowing your heart is right with God.
     Our church was shocked a couple of months ago when it was announced that Don had been diagnosed with an aggressive and terminal form of cancer. It seemed almost unfair that God would bless someone with his love and spirit and then allow a debilitating disease to destroy the life. However, Don took the news in stride, and the church prayed for his healing. Even as the church prayed for his health, he told Pastor David Fauss, that, although healing would be nice, the fact was that he was ready to go, and he was thankful to God that he had been given another chance to set his soul straight. A few days ago, he left this life, and at a simple graveside service, we said our final goodbyes to a man who in just a few short months touched many lives at Bethel Tabernacle.
     Don’s past life is still a mystery to us. His friends told us that several years ago Don lost his wife and child in a tragic car accident. He had no other family and was totally alone until his friends at the motel took him in to do odd jobs. There were rumors that somewhere in the past he had an acquaintance with Pentecost, but in his adult life he had not attended church. He did everything that someone with no regard for God would do, but that lifestyle came to a dramatic end when he walked into our church and gave his heart to God. His long time acquaintances told us that his speech, attitude, activities, and spirit all changed when he started going to church. Our church will miss seeing Don Spell stand up in the middle of a song, raise his hands, and begin to praise his God. He reminded us that even in this cynical, materialistic world, a simple touch of God can change a life forever. I’m glad I met Brother Don Spell.