Eric had made up his mind to leave the school, but a few days must pass before he could make arrangements for a job. Meanwhile he kept on attending classes.
The next day in Bible class his teacher, Mr. Weaver, looked at him with special attention. "Is something troubling you, Eric?" He did not wait for an answer. "Come to my office after classes are over for today."
All through the rest of the morning Eric wondered what Mr. Weaver would say to him. How had Mr. Weaver been able to read his troubled mind, and why should he care?
When at last he stood before his teacher's desk, he could think of nothing to say. The matter had been settled in his mind. By this time next week he'd be far from this discouraging place.
"What did you come to school for, Eric?" the teacher asked him. "Why did you come to this Christian school?"
Eric tried to collect his confused thoughts. "I wanted to learn more." He felt sure of that. "I wanted to live a Christian life."
"Sit down in that chair, Eric. Let's talk this thing over." Mr. Weaver sat down too. "You have found both these goals difficult to reach, right?"
Eric squirmed a little. "English is a hard language to learn, and I don't do well at it. My grades are not good."
"That problem will clear up. You will find your lessons easier as time passes and you learn the language better." The teacher seemed to be probing Eric with his eyes. "Now the second problem: You do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?"
"Yes, from childhood my parents taught me to pray to Jesus and to follow His teachings."
Mr. Weaver leaned forward and spoke in an earnest tone of voice. "Can it be, Eric, that you find it difficult to live a Christian life here because you are looking to people instead of looking to Jesus?"
Eric moved uneasily in his chair, but he said nothing.
"There will always be people who claim to be Christians but are not. We are told not to follow men or walk after their ways. We must follow Jesus and never take our eyes or our faith from Him."
"Let me tell you a little story, Eric. Maybe it will help you to understand your problem. One day a group of people accompanied their new missionary up a steep mountainside on the island of Sumatra. The narrow path was bordered on both sides by tall lallang grass. When the travelers came to the steepest part of the climb, they reached out to take hold of the grass to pull themselves up. Everyone in the line shouted 'Grasp it firmly! Grasp it firmly!' So the missionary grabbed a handful of the tough, coarse grass and held it. Then he grabbed another handful and another until they reached the top.
"Then the missionary asked his companions why they had all shouted, 'Grasp it firmly!' They told him that if any person takes hold of the lallang grass lightly or fearfully, the razor-sharp edges will cut his hands and make deep and painful wounds."
Eric thought for a long time while his teacher sat waiting. "You think, then, that I have not taken a firm hold on the Christian life?"
"You will have to judge that matter, Eric. I have found that many young Christians suffer discouragement because they have not taken a firm and determined stand for Christ." He stood up, and his voice was soft and gentle. "You see, my boy, the Christian life is a war against evil. We must take our stand under the flag we mean to defend, and we must grasp our weapons and step out with courage. Our Leader goes before us. We follow the blood-stained banner of our crucified Lord."
After Eric and Mr. Weaver had prayed together, Eric walked back to his dormitory. His mind flashed back to the oath he had taken in the Hitler Jungvolk. He had promised to follow the "Blood Banner" of his Führer even to death.
He questioned himself. "Does Jesus Christ deserve as determined and faithful followers?" Now he could see it all plainly. Hitler had set himself up as a leader, but he had been only a frail and wicked human being. Now another Leader commanded him to follow, to pledge his life and obedience.
Eric determined to take his stand under the "Blood Banner" of Jesus Christ. He would not look to his schoolmates but would grasp the Christian way of life with both hands and keep his eyes on his Leader.
So Eric enlisted in the army of King Jesus. He realized at last that a man cannot go through life without taking a firm stand on something. Otherwise he must slide down into defeat and ruin.
With Eric's new decision came a new kind of experience. He found more evidence of God's watching over him with constant care. He knew more moments of time when he sensed God's presence. He began to discover that a Christian experience is an active and satisfying series of events.
Faith grew in him. He had determined to grasp the truth and hold it firmly. God had answered that faith with a sense of the divine Presence that Eric could see and feel more every day.
During the second semester Eric found his schoolwork becoming less difficult. He began to understand English and to speak it with more freedom.
Then came the spring Week of Prayer, and a number of students made the decision to surrender their lives to God's will and service. Without hesitation Eric joined the group. A baptism was planned for the end of May.
As Eric stood with the others on the riverbank, he thought no springtime had ever seemed so lovely, no trees such a tender green, no skies so blue, no river so symbolic of the river of God which flowed through Eden. As he rose from the water, his heart overflowed with love for every living thing. Every beautiful manifestation of God's love thrilled his heart and mind.
Back in his room in the dormitory he sat down to write letters to family and friends in Germany. First he must write to Father and Mother. Not for a moment did he doubt their joy in his new experience. Hadn't they set his feet in the path that had led at last to his present dedication and his baptism?
School closed, and he took up his summer's work. He wanted to have as much money as possible on hand when school opened in the fall. He went back to spend the summer working with Mr. Conrad's bees.
Before he had been a week at Mr. Conrad's house, the answers began to come from his letters sharing his faith with his family. Many of his relatives and friends disapproved of what he had done. They accused him of forsaking the faith of his fathers.
Had his letter been that hard to understand? He had not forsaken the faith of his fathers. Hadn't he made that plain? He had gone forward into a deeper dedication to the Lord Jesus. Before, he had been tossed about on waves of uncertainty. Now, he knew himself anchored in the love of God and His truth.
Most distressing of all was Father's letter. Eric could only spread it out before the Lord while he knelt in tears and perplexity beside it.
Then he carried it to his friend, Mr. Conrad. "I have broken my father's heart," Eric explained in a faltering voice. "He is a good man, a devoted Christian gentleman. He loves me. He taught me from my earliest childhood to love and obey God. What shall I do?"
With patient care they read the letter again and again trying to understand the feeling that lay behind each word.
"I can see that your father is an honest and a dedicated man," Mr. Conrad said at last. "To him, it looks as if you have abandoned the faith of your childhood, your family, and your country."
"But I haven't." Eric folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. "I have not departed from my father's teachings. He has said many times, 'God's law is above man's law. We ought to obey God rather than man.'"
"You must remember that it will take time for your parents to understand why you have chosen to keep the seventh-day Sabbath and be baptized by immersion."
"But both these doctrines are part of Christ's example and teaching."
"Eric, only love and tenderness and the gentle work of the Holy Spirit can bring together hearts that have been torn apart by religious differences. Begin now to build a bridge of prayer, of affection and patience. God grant your father will use the same materials to build his bridge toward you. I am sure he loves you as only a Christian father can love his son."
Comforted, Eric went back to his work. He knew that nothing could shake his determination to follow Christ all the way, to hold fast to truth and endure to the end. But the long silences where once there had been loving communication, the empty mailbox when letters from Germany had been his constant pleasure and comfort--these saddened Eric, and he realized that it is through much tribulation that we enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Eric returned to the school, and the years passed, two more of them.
English at last came naturally to his tongue. He began to think in English. When the end of the last year of Eric's study drew near, the senior class organized and chose him as class pastor.
"What a change!" Eric thought. "When I first came to this school I had to put on my application blank that I smoked, drank, danced, and played cards. Now they have chosen me as class pastor!"
The class adopted as their motto, "Simplicity, Sincerity, Service." Their aim, "To Build for Eternity." Their special Bible text,
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He shall direct your paths."
--Proverbs 3:5, 6
Graduation week came at last. Eric stood in the chapel decorated in the class colors, green and gold. Great bouquets of yellow roses, the class flower, stood along the front of the platform. He went forward to get his diploma. He stood in line with the other graduates to greet all the people who offered their congratulations.
Then Eric went to his room, took off his cap and gown, folded them neatly, and sat down on the edge of his bed to think.
He picked up a letter which had just come from Germany. Irmgard would be coming to America soon. He must meet her in New York. His heart warmed at the thought of seeing his little sister again. She had been so young when he left Germany--must be a woman now.
He looked again at the last sentence in Father's letter. He had read it many times. "I am very proud of you, my son." The bridge between them had been built again just as Mr. Conrad had hoped.
He stood this day at an important milestone
of his life, but he knew that the direction of his march had been set when
he made his decision to grasp the Christian life with both hands firmly.
He had taken the weapons of his warfare in hand, enlisted under the Blood
Banner of the Prince of Peace. He knew that certain victory lay ahead.
With a thankful heart he stepped out into the spring afternoon.
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