by John Carroll
I wasn’t looking for God when I entered VA Tech in the summer of 1963, only a few days after my High School graduation. Not at all. Rather, I was on a fast track to the “good life:” get a degree, land a job, and get married. By fall of the next year, I had been in school without a break for six quarters (19 months). I had decent grades, was a corporal in N Squadron in the VA Tech Corps of Cadets, and worked as a disc jockey at WUVT, the campus radio station. I was about to join Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.
Sure, I was achieving my goals on schedule, but there was a problem. My successes were empty. My life had no meaning beyond the next social event. I was living from weekend to weekend and crossing off the days in between. Somehow I was haunted by the thought that my dreams for money, marriage, and lots of stuff would become nightmares when they all came true.
About that time, I met a man named Dwight Hill who had come to the campus with a Christian organization called The Navigators. That didn’t impress me much. I was more impressed with Dwight’s new Dodge and beautiful wife, Ruth.
One day, Dwight asked me to show him around the radio station. After the tour, he invited me for a coke at the Squires Hall snack bar. No, I had no idea I was being “set up” for a challenge to get serious about following Christ. Dwight was intense, a no-nonsense ex-Marine from Seattle. He would later admit that he doubted that spending that hour with me would make any difference in my life. I struck him as an un-teachable person, committed to my own plans, and unwilling to obey God. He was right on the second point, but not the first. That day, Monday, November 9, 1964, would be the turning point in my spiritual life.
In the snack bar, Dwight grabbed a napkin and began to draw what I later learned was the “wheel” illustration, a rim (my life), a hub (Jesus Christ), and four spokes (Word, prayer, fellowship and witnessing). He, paused after drawing the hub, looked me in the eye and stated flatly,
“John, you will never have happiness in your life until Christ is in the center of it.”
His words hit me like a sucker punch.
How did he know that I was finding no happiness in my life? The night before, I had dragged back into the dorm after another disappointing weekend.
Maybe he saw that his words were sinking in.
He continued filling in the various parts of the “wheel.” When he got to the “witnessing” spoke, he leveled with me again,
“I am here on this campus to reach men for Christ. Listen, I think you need to be doing the same thing.”
Another punch to the gut.
How did he know that one of my biggest hang-ups was unwillingness to identify openly with Christ and risk ridicule and rejection?
I thanked him for the coke and we said goodbye. I staggered out of the snack bar and headed for my dorm room in Major Williams Hall on the upper quad. It was a short walk, maybe five minutes. But I walked slowly. Dusk had fallen. I was glad to have darkness around me shielding me a little from possible onlookers as I walked and thought. Somehow, I felt I was being given one final chance to turn to God. I felt like I was approaching the last off ramp before Hell. Privately, I had given up on Christianity out of frustration with my own sin and endless failures to improve myself, combined with my fear of being ridiculed by the cool people in my world. But the emptiness and the guilt, accentuated by Dwight’s two comments, had caught up with me. I was in crisis.
I prayed silently. “God, I have made a mess of my life. It seems as confused and tangled as a bowl of spaghetti. I cannot be a Christian. I have tried so many times. I know I will fail again, but I am willing for you to change me if you will.”
Back in my dorm room, I sat down and wrote my girl friend telling her something of what had happened.
But I was caught between doubt and desperation. Did God hear my prayer? Would He respond to my crisis? Would anything really change in my life?
Yes. Something already had changed. Only it took 24 hours for me to realize it.
On Tuesday afternoon, it dawned on me that suddenly I wasn’t using the vulgar language and profanity that had permeated my speech, the kind of language used in a men’s dorm that was not fit for the ears of your mom or little sister. My roommate, Jim, and I had attempted to eliminate it for the sake of our moms and little sisters but with absolutely no success. This time it was different. The impossible had occurred. Later I would understand that the Holy Spirit had regenerated me and I had been “born again.”
Over the next months , Dwight spent time with me, teaching me to study the Bible, pray, trust God for my future, and tell others the good news of life in Christ. He and Ruth invited several of us to live in their home for a summer so we could concentrate on “knowing Christ and making Him known.”
Last week, Dwight went to meet the One who was the center of his life, the One whom he urged me to make the center of my life. Dwight served Him, loved Him, and proclaimed Him. Because he did, a formerly guilt-ridden, empty college student also serves and loves and proclaims Him fifty years later. And so do innumerable others.
I wasn’t looking for God in college. But I learned that He was looking for me and He sent a man named Dwight Hill.
Dwight and Ruth Hill with me on February 20, 2014 (photo by Mary Carroll)