A soldier stuck his head into the tent where Alfred Rawson was quartered during the Korean War with several other soldiers at an Air Force base in Japan.
It was in November 1952. The soldier asked if anybody wanted to go hear Billy Graham at another Air Force base about 30 miles away. A bus would take them there; Rawson and another soldier in the tent agreed to go.
“I told ’em I’d go see the show,” the Vermont native said with a laugh.
“I didn’t even know what the meeting was about. The guy’s going to give a speech — that’s all [the soldier] said. I don’t remember him saying it was a religious meeting or anything like that, just somebody that was going to speak to the troops.
“He spoke to us, alright,” Rawson, now 89, said at the one-year point of Graham’s death at age 99 at his home in North Carolina.
About a thousand troops, by Rawson’s recollection, were in a gymnasium-type facility on a cold night when Graham spoke.
“I got way up back as far as I could away from the meeting,” Rawson admitted.
But then: “Billy gave us a good lecture from the Scriptures, from the Bible…. He got the Word across. I know everybody listened to him.”
Graham told the soldiers Jesus died for their sins.
“I realized I had done a little sinning,” Rawson acknowledged.
“And if we didn’t accept Jesus Christ we were headed for hell. I didn’t like that message very well. So I knew I had to do something about it.”
Graham “gave us an invitation to come forward if we wanted to receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior.” Rawson left his seat and made his way to the front. “There were about a hundred that went forward that night,” he recalled.
Rawson talked to one of the volunteers, saying, “Yes, I want the Lord to come into my heart.”
“I was a sinner,” he told Baptist Press in an interview, reiterating, “I needed to do something about it.”
He received a small New Testament, “and they told us we should all read the book of John because the message was in there about how God so loved the world and gave His only begotten Son.”
Back at the base where Rawson was one of the welders who repaired aircraft parts and later became a supervisor, Rawson read from the New Testament he had been given, later receiving a Scofield Study Bible from someone in his family back home.
Otherwise, he didn’t talk much about his profession of faith.
“They kept you pretty busy. We were working seven days a week. We got time off only when they wanted to give us some time because we were at war.
“I went to the chapel three or four times. I didn’t get much out of that because they kind of lean towards a little of everything,” he said.
Life on the farm
Rawson knew little about Christianity while growing up.
His father was a farmer who had several cows and a team of horses. “As a kid … it didn’t give you much chance to try to go to church or anything like that because you were busy on Sundays doing chores.
“I went to church a couple times when my grandfather died and when my grandmother died. I went to their funerals,” he said, and he went to Sunday School a couple of times “but I don’t remember much about it.”
He heard about Noah and the ark and about David and Goliath from someone he described as a “lady missionary who was allowed in those days to come to the school and bring a story about the Bible.”
A few years ago he came across diaries his grandfather had kept, and Rawson learned that his grandparents were active in the local Baptist congregation.And he knew of a single missionary in town who had to leave China during World War II and was living with another single woman who was a doctor.
“He was a man that would write down a diary every year, what he did, what the weather was, where they went and things like that,” including “how many people were in church sometimes, some of the dinners they had.”
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Baptist Press