The Judge Came to Church

“Speak carefully. You will probably go to prison for what you say.” 

Dick Duerksen

“Speak carefully. You will probably go to prison for what you say.” 

The country has laws about religion. Laws that make having a Bible, reading a Bible, talking about the Bible, and holding meetings about the Bible illegal. The state has approved one way to worship. All others are to be eliminated. Yet, for some unexplained politically expedient reason, the Ministry of Religion had agreed to allow a small Seventh-day Adventist group to hold two weeks of public meetings about the Bible. 

“It must have been God’s plan,” says Pastor Ed. “The group’s leader called me and asked if I would come to hold evangelistic meetings. Then he added the caveat ‘Speak carefully. You will probably go to prison for what you say.’ I listened, thought about living in a dark dusty dungeon with slobbering rats, and knew I had to go.” 

* * *

They advertised throughout the town. 

Quietly. They talked about the meetings with their friends. Quietly. They prayed for God to send the right people to the meetings—loudly. 

On the first night every seat was filled, and people were leaning in the windows. 

Certain that the government would be planting spies in the congregation, the local members looked around carefully to see who might be taking notes for the police. Everything looked safe until the local judge and his wife walked in and settled into seats near the front. 

One of the church leaders whispered the news to Pastor Ed. 

“I thought about the dungeon and wondered if I should change my sermon,” says Pastor Ed. “Then I remembered how Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever—and knew I should move right ahead with my message about Jesus and His love.” 

Pastor Ed preached as if the judge were the only person in the congregation. He used his illegal Bible, quoting from passages that were against the law to read out loud, telling Bible stories that people were not to know, and uplifting an understanding of God that was contrary to the government’s accepted view. 

Pastor Ed spoke truth as though God was giving him the words to say. 

The judge took notes. His wife dabbed tears from her eyes. The congregation, fully understanding the danger of what was happening, seemed to listen without breathing. All the way through the closing prayer. 

The next night was the same. The meetinghouse was full, the judge and his wife were in their seats, and Jesus was lifted up as the congregation held their collective breath. 

* * *

The congregation prayed all day and much of the night, members meeting in small groups and as families, praying for Pastor Ed, praying for the words of the messages, praying for each person who was coming to the meetings. Praying for safety! 

The third and fourth nights everyone relaxed, a bit. No one had been arrested. The police had not come to break up the meeting. The Holy Spirit was bringing conviction, and many in the congregation were responding positively. 

The judge and his wife attended each meeting, listening carefully and taking notes. The judge’s wife was smiling. 

One evening in the second week of meetings, Pastor Ed told the church leaders that he was going to make a call for baptism. They agreed that it was the right time and were excited to see who would stand. They were also terrified. Tonight they would all be breaking the law together. Purposefully. Right in front of the judge! 

“This could be the last sermon you ever preach,” the leaders told Pastor Ed. “The judge knows every word you have spoken. He knows you believe in Jesus, in the Sabbath, in God’s grace, and so much more. None of this is OK with the government. Maybe the judge has been here every night just waiting for you to make an appeal for baptism so he can arrest you. We may all go to jail tonight!” 

They thought dungeon thoughts together. 

Pastor Ed watched the judge and his wife come through the doors and take their seats near the front. When the time came to make a call for spiritual commitment and baptism, he looked over at the judge, thanked God for courage, and asked the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of everyone present.

“It is time for you to make a decision about your life and your future,” Pastor Ed said. “Tonight God is calling your name.” 

There was a stirring in the crowd as many raised their hands in agreement. Some stood. Some sang out loudly. Pastor Ed responded to each one, and then glanced over to see how the judge was doing. The judge was frowning, and the seat next to him was empty. Pastor Ed almost gasped, and then saw that the judge’s wife was kneeling at the front of the meeting room, arms lifted high in acceptance of the invitation! 

* * *

At the baptism Pastor Ed raised the judge’s wife from the water into a room dark with fear. Then a clear “Amen” flashed through the silence. One strong voice of affirmation that began a celebration of joy. The judge had spoken. 

That afternoon Pastor Ed visited the judge and his Seventh-day Adventist wife in their home. “I am a Saul of Tarsus,” the judge said. “I have persecuted Christians since the day I became a judge. It was my responsibility to make sure nobody became a Christian in my territory. I brainwashed the children to believe Jesus was fake. I sent a man to prison for 22 years for passing out one piece of Christian literature. That was my responsibility. But now my wife has accepted Jesus as her personal Saviour, and I don’t know what to do!” 

“God is calling you,” Pastor Ed told him. 

“No. I don’t believe God can save someone like me,” the judge responded. “But you just told me you were a Saul of Tarsus,” Pastor Ed said. “Let’s read that story again.” 

There, in the living room of the judge’s house, Pastor Ed, the judge, and the judge’s wife reread the story of Jesus calling Saul on the road to Damascus. With Saul, the judge broke down and wept. “Yes,” he said, “It’s true. God is saving even me!”

Dick Duerksen