After a year of military service in Vietnam, I was a man on the run. The vision I’d witnessed pushed me over the edge, and I became determined to desert, leave behind my country, my family, and
everything in my past, to enter upon a quest to learn what my life was really about. Feigning that I intended to go on leave, I emptied all my accounts and began my trek by flying out of Vietnam to Bangkok. From there, I hopped flights to India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey, and finally Europe. My goal was to find a liberal counterculture enclave I’d heard about called The University of the New World,
located up in the mountains of Switzerland near Sion, in the Canton of Valais. The name “New World” seemed to offer hope that perhaps I could learn what the vision meant and find my place in this crazy world.
My heart and soul were shredded; I felt old beyond my years. My spirit yearned for answers to questions that seemed to have no answers. The terrible things I had witnessed in Vietnam superimposed their tormenting images as some kind of semitransparent film over everything I gazed upon. I felt as if my youthful innocence had been ripped away from me, like someone had violently torn off my clothes in the middle of an arctic winter, leaving me cold and shivering in the stark reality of a world seemingly gone mad. I had fallen into emotional shock. In this state, I could not contemplate the depths of my own brokenness and felt strangely disassociated from, and unattached to, all that went on around me.
After finally arriving in Switzerland, and a brief stay at the “University of the New World,” I quickly realized that the “University” was a sham–a party school-where rich, mostly American kids from liberal-Leftist families came to indulge their flesh in sex and drug parties every night. During the day in the “classes” I audited, they reveled in neo-Marxist fantasies about how the elite class must one day rule the world without morals, religion, or restraints upon our “natural” urges. In other words, a fantasy “utopian” paradise. My flesh was titillated, and I enjoyed a certain celebrity among them because of my pacifism, desertion, and stand against the Vietnam War. To be honest, I was rather proud of myself and liked living the persona of the brave counter-cultural revolutionary who stuck it to the “establishment.” After a few weeks, however, I became restless and frustrated at the aimless existence of everyone living there. It didn’t take a rocket-scientist to realize that these people were being funded by some of the very people they were revolting against. It just didn’t make sense. Besides, my personal demons were emerging, making me less and less popular among them. I was asking too many uncomfortable questions..
One night, I was talking with a girl at a party and trying to impress her by bragging about what a brave, courageous guy I was-standing up to war, injustice, the military-industrial complex-and blah, blah, blah. She grew visibly annoyed with my pride and arrogance, and interrupted my little “brag fest.” Looking me right in the eye, she said something that totally blew my mind. “Jesus never ran away,” she said. I sat there with my mouth hanging open, completely disarmed by her words. It was like being struck by lightning. She was anything but a Christian, and for a fleeting moment, seemed shocked by what had just come out of her own mouth. Getting up suddenly, she walked away leaving me staring at the floor in shame.
Looking back, I think I felt a bit like Balaam the prophet must have felt when his donkey suddenly
spoke to him by the power of God, rebuking him. In that moment, I had another revelation and didn’t like it very much. I was flooded with the shameful realization that virtually everything
I was doing in my life at that time–even the good things I thought were right–was coming from a totally prideful, selfish, conceited motive. “Jesus never ran away” stung my itching ears. I realized that I was a fearful coward, running away from what I considered wrong, and selfishly seeking my own aggrandizement in the eyes of others. Fear was dogging my tracks, and my entire motive was selfish. I felt dirty and ashamed. I had to escape, and the next morning I left and caught the first train out of Sion. For reasons I cannot explain, I was headed for Rome, hoping to find some answers there.
Can These Stones Yet Speak?
A chilly breeze wafted through the colonnades in the Coliseum, interrupting my reverie and pulling my mind back into the moment. I shuddered involuntarily as the cold slab of rock I’d been sitting on drained body heat. Rising unsteadily to my feet, I began to climb to the upper levels of the darkened ruins, my bottle of wine hanging loosely from my hand. I had vainly sought to drown my inner pain and raging thoughts within that bottle, but the tormenting visions of lost innocence would inevitably claw their way back into my consciousness. “What was it she said?” I mumbled to myself: “Jesus never ran away!” I couldn’t escape the unwittingly prophetic words of the girl in Switzerland. The comparison she made between Jesus and my selfishness was unbearable. My shame and cowardice became a heavy weight upon my soul. After wandering around Rome for several days, I was becoming restless and had a growing sense that someone was trying to communicate something important to my tormented soul through these ancient ruins, churches, and weathered monuments.
Gazing down from the stone stands that had long ago held multiplied thousands of cheering, blood-thirsty spectators; I began to ponder what spectacles had once filled this place. I tried to imagine
fifty thousand crazed Roman citizens intoxicated by the violent entertainment of battles reenacted before them on the main floor of this stadium. The spectacle of gore and blood, provided by warring gladiators who reenacted historical battles and struggled unto death, drove the raving mobs into near-orgasmic apoplexy as their appetite for ever-greater displays of carnage grew with each new death. At one point in Roman history, the slaughter of Christians as public spectacles only added to their national insanity.
Suddenly, in the dark shadows of the Coliseum, I began to sense a powerful presence surrounding me. At first, I felt nothing but terror. However, after a few moments, the fear melted away and was replaced by a warm sense of security and peace. I trembled as I contemplated the possibility that God might be drawing near to me, even in my wretched and unworthy state. The vision back in Vietnam came thundering back into my mind. I was beginning to think that God had spoken to me that night in Vietnam and that He was somehow calling me into His army of light. Looking back, I now understand that He was beginning to cut the “control strings” of the enemy’s bondage in my life and draw me out of the kingdom of darkness, transferring me into the kingdom of His Son Jesus. The puzzle was beginning to come together…