Coming Forward Since Age Six
My Christian Heritage
In the 1600s, some English families migrated to New Jersey, including a group of Watsons. My cousin has done a tracing of my family tree. My great-great-grandfather was a Watson. My grandmother was a Watson. In the 1600s, there was a Baptist minister in southern New Jersey and his last name was Watson. Are you a Christian because your parents are Christians? I come from a long line of Christian families who believed in the Lord. Praise the Lord!
Raised in a Christian Home
My mother’s name is Mary. She is 94 now. She was raised as a Baptist and was born again. She heard the gospel and got saved, but she was what you would call a “quiet” Baptist. She wasn’t very active. If she was, she wouldn’t have married my father because, at that time, he was not saved.
My father and mother went to the same high school and knew each other very well. My father was religious but he was not a born again Christian. When WWII came, he joined the Marine Corps. He worried about being killed in the war while still an unbeliever who did not know the Lord. Praise the Lord that he came safely back home. It was then that my mother took him to the Baptist church. On the first week that they went to the Baptist church, a minister said, “If you would like to receive the Lord as your personal Savior, come forward after the service.” And my father went forward and got saved. He got saved because of my mother.
This was all before I was born. My siblings and I were raised in a strong Christian family. My father liked to share the gospel and was very evangelical. When I was a kid, we went to Sunday school in the morning and then we would have church service. Then we came back in the evening at 6:15 for “training union.” This was like an overcomers meeting. In the morning church service, there might have been 200 people. In the evening service, there were maybe 80 people. At the “training union” at 6:15, there would only have been 25-30 people. From when I was six years old till I was thirteen, this was my Sunday.
Saved at Six Years of Age
I grew up sitting in the pews of the Baptist church. I heard the gospel many times. The gospel that the Baptist church preaches is a gospel that we would agree with. You don’t want to die and go to hell. You want to go to heaven. This is the gospel that I heard when I was a child. Many times I heard, “If you died tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?” To be born again means that you are saved. To be saved means that you are born again. What’s another phrase that people say other than saved or born again? Have you received the Lord? Have you received Christ as your personal Savior? There are many phrases, but they all basically mean, have you received the Lord into you and is He one with you in your spirit?
The funny thing is, as I was growing up, I didn’t know anything about my spirit. I knew that song that we sing in children’s meetings: “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.” We only knew about the heart. I never knew I had a human spirit until I came into the church life. I knew the word “spirit” was in the Bible. But “spirit” was mainly something we had in pep rallies in high school. I didn’t think of anything about the human spirit.
I knew about the Holy Spirit but I didn’t know the human spirit. When I was six years old, I heard the gospel from a man named Pastor Gordon Cook, a dear brother who loved the Lord. He gave a message and, for some reason, I heard it. I wasn’t goofing off that week. I listened to him. He said, “If you would like to receive the Lord, come forward.” So when they stood up to sing the final hymn, I went up. I stepped out of the pew and went forward. My father thought I was going to the bathroom. They didn’t expect a six-year-old boy to come forward. I went forward and prayed with that man to receive the Lord. I do believe that was the day I got saved. Praise the Lord.
Then I went to some classes for about six times. Before they would baptize those of us who went to the classes, they wanted to make sure that we were true believers. They interrogated us and shared the Bible with us. Then I got baptized. The baptismal pool was elevated up by where the preacher preached. They put me in there and asked me questions. “Have you prayed to receive Christ as your Savior?” “Yes, I have.” “Do you confess Him as your Lord and Savior?” “Yes, I do.” “Then we baptize you into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And they put me under the water. Praise the Lord! So I was baptized at six. They interrogated me a lot to make sure that I wasn’t goofing off. But I was saved and I knew I was saved.
Praise the Lord for the Lord’s mercy. My wife testifies that she got saved at four years of age. Her grandmother led her to the Lord. You can get saved at any age. The Lord will come into you if you pray, “Lord, come into me.” Do you think the Lord will say, “Kid, get away from Me, you are too young.”? Even the disciples, when the little children came to Jesus, they said, “Get this kid out of here.” But the Lord said, “Don’t do that, let the little children come to Me.” Little children can be saved, and I was saved at six years of age.
Pursuing with Companions as a Young Person
From the time I was six until I was thirteen, we went to this Baptist church where my mother was raised. It was six miles away from our home in another town called Penns Grove. Then something very dramatic happened. There was a misunderstanding, a disagreement between my father and the pastor. Our family then left and started meeting at a meeting place called “Park Bible Baptist Church,” which was only six blocks away from our house, in Pennsville.
At this church, my life changed. 16-20 other kids whom I knew from my high school, Pennsville High School, also went to this church. Every Saturday night, they had a young people’s meeting and I started going. I was the center in our high school football team, and the quarterback was John Flickinger. He was one of my best friends. I never knew he was a Christian. I knew that he was a nice guy and that he didn’t cuss, swear, or talk dirty. But I didn’t know that he was a Christian. It was a dramatic change in my life. I started having Christian friends in school. Every Saturday night, we met together. Every Sunday morning, we were all there. This made me very excited to be a Christian. Praise the Lord!
Encouraged by an Older Lady Who Loved the Lord
I also need to share about another person in the Penns Grove church. This older lady named Mrs. Willets who went to the same church. She came from England after WWII. She was a dynamic Christian. She couldn’t hear very well, so she would sit in the second row. My parents would ask me to sit with Mrs. Willets to help her find the hymns. So I did. She would always give me this English toffee candy. She influenced my life because she was very much in love with the Lord. She would preach the gospel wherever she went. That is Mrs. Willets, and she greatly influenced my life.
Receiving the Assurance of Salvation at Age Fourteen
What kind of gospel did I hear when I was a kid? I heard the gospel that said your sins could be forgiven. Isn’t that a good deal? Who doesn’t want their sins forgiven? I couldn’t believe that anyone could refuse that deal. The Lord died for you, you pray to receive Him, you get your sins forgiven, they get washed away, you get a new life, and when you die, you go to heaven. Such a good deal! Praise the Lord! It is not the high gospel but it is true that you get your sins forgiven. Your life is secure in the Lord. This was the gospel I heard all the time.
But then when I was fourteen, an evangelist came to the church and said, “If you would like to receive the Lord tonight and confess your sins, confess Jesus as Lord, invite Him into your life, and give your life to Christ…” And he continued to rattle off these things that you needed to do. I thought, “I did number one, but I didn’t do two, or three. Oh my goodness, I didn’t pray the right prayer. Maybe I am not saved!” I got troubled by his speaking. He made me think that maybe I wasn’t saved. So I went home and talked with my dad. I was fourteen and I thought I prayed the wrong prayer. Now can you imagine praying the wrong prayer? Do you think God would say, “Wait a minute, let me hear your prayer. Did you pray this? You didn’t pray that. Sorry, you’re lost. When you die, you are going to hell.” But at that time, I thought I prayed the wrong prayer. So I remember praying, “Lord, just for the record, I need to pray again.” And I prayed everything that the evangelist said to pray. When I was praying, this was the first time I sensed the Lord’s presence. I sensed the Lord saying, “You don’t need to do this, but it is okay.”
So I would say to you that if you ever doubt if you were saved or not, just go pray to the Lord. The Lord is not going to say, “You prayed that prayer last year, I don’t want to hear it again.” Do you think the Lord would say that? I’ve told some junior high students before, if a child came to his mother and said, “Are you really my mother?” Do you think the mother would slap him? What mother would do that? If you are not sure that you are saved, if you are not sure that you are born again, just pray to the Lord and say, “Lord, I open to you and I receive you again.” The Lord doesn’t care if you keep praying like this, until you have the full assurance. This is one thing that my parents and the Baptist church gave me – the assurance of my salvation.
Sharing the Gospel with Others
At Pennsville High School, I was on the football team. My brother was a football and basketball player. My other brother was the school district jockey at the school dances. So my family was known and I knew all the kids at the school. During my junior year, I ran for Student Council President and won. In my senior year, I was the Student Council President. You would think that this would be a good time to preach the gospel. Did I preach the gospel? I could only remember sharing the gospel twice. One of them was with a guy named Kevin Foley. Many years later, just about eight years ago, he got saved. When they were baptizing him at the Pennsville church, he stood there and said, “The first time I ever heard the gospel was from Jeff Fearn.” I couldn’t believe it. He remembered that I shared the gospel with him. The other guy was named Bill Plasket.
I could only remember sharing the gospel these two times. Don’t think that I was some burning evangelist. I was pretty timid, pretty shy. Even though I knew everybody and everybody knew me, and by the Lord’s mercy I had a good testimony, I didn’t preach the gospel. I wish I had because I think a lot of people would have listened.
In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I joined an organization called Child Evangelism. We would have Bible studies in the backyard of our neighbors, and we would invite neighborhood kids to come and sing songs. We would share the gospel with these little children through the songs and a number of them got saved. Praise the Lord!
Drawing Near to God
My senior year in high school came and it was time to graduate. We were supposed to put in our yearbook what our future plans were. I said that I was going to be a minister or a missionary. When I signed people’s yearbooks, I put in there James 4:8a “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” That was my life’s verse. I don’t know why but I liked that verse. If you try to get closer to God, He will try to get closer to you. That’s what it meant to me.
To be a missionary or a minister you have to get trained. I wanted to preach the gospel. My parents used to have missionaries come to the house and stay with us. We had a little box by our dinner table. It had a card for every missionary that was in the Baptist organization. Before we ate dinner, we took turns praying. My parents would draw a card from the box, give it to the person whose turn it was to pray, and that person would pray for who was on the card. We were praying for missionaries all the time. My family was gospel-oriented, missionary-centered. So I picked it up and I wanted to see people get saved. I didn’t want math or science. I wanted the Bible and I thought the way to get the Bible is to go to Bible school. So on my eighteenth birthday, I got on a flight to go to Chicago, to attend the Moody Bible Institute, to learn the Bible.
Knowing the Bible
I would like to tell you right now that if you are reading the Bible and you are studying some of the footnotes, you can learn as much of the Bible in about a year and a half as I learned in the Moody Bible Institute in three. Everybody thinks that if you go to Bible school, you will become a Bible genius. The way to know the Bible is to read the Bible, read the footnotes, read the lifestudies, and come to all the meetings, listen and open up to the Lord. Praise the Lord! The church life should be an environment where everybody can know the Bible. I appreciate that about the church.
In one of the first meetings I attended, they had about four brothers share about the disciples eating corn in the field, and the Pharisees telling them that they were not supposed to do that on the Sabbath day. These four brothers did a little skit. One of these brothers was named Chuck Catone. He was not a polished person. He had a hard childhood and was socially different. This brother shared the word that morning and I was amazed. He was quoting verses and references. I thought that this brother had probably been in the church life since day one, since they migrated from Los Angeles. But I found out that he had only been there three months before I came. This impressed me very much about the church life.
Every member should know the Bible. That is why we try to get the young people to read the Bible at an early age. Do you know that you can meet some Christians who have been Christians thirty or forty years, and when you ask them to find a book in the New Testament, they couldn’t? Every member in the church should be fully versed and know the word of God. This is a strength I love about the church life. We don’t have a class of people who know the Bible. Now it will turn out that some people know the Bible more than others because they have a desire. But that is the whole idea of sowing the word – everyone should get the word in them.
Seeing the Church Life
So I got saved at six, confirmed my salvation at fourteen, and at eighteen I came to Chicago. Three years later, I met the church life. The topic during my first meeting in the church life was on the blind man. In that meeting, it felt like all the light bulbs were on extra bright. After the meeting I stood up and said, “Once I was blind, but now I see.” I saw the church life and it changed my life. Praise the Lord for Christ and the church. Praise the Lord for full salvation. Don’t despise the fact that you are a Christian because your parents are Christians. One time my son told me, “The only reason I am a Christian is because you made me to be one.” I said, “Wonderful, aren’t you so glad I did that?” I wish I could make everybody a Christian.
(Originally shared with a group of young people.)