Bill, my husband, used to walk on stage and say, "Hi! My name is Bill Armstrong, a sinner saved by the blood of Jesus."
Well, my name is Ellen Armstrong, and I, too am a sinner saved by the blood of Jesus! But it wasn't always that way.
I don't like taking things out of context, so will give you a "before" sketch of my life. My family lived on farms for the first 16 years of my life. The last thing my dad wanted to do was go back into town on Sunday for church. We lived anywhere from 3 to 20 miles from town. There were no cute little country churches dotting the landscape. There was nowhere to go except town for church.
At 16 I married a young man who worked for my dad breaking horses. I was a senior in high school, yet we moved even further from town than when I was still with my parents. Fortunately, a caring neighbor and his wife invited us to go with them to church. Because my husband respected and admired this couple he accepted, and we would drive to their place and go with them into town.
We soon learned we needed to be baptized before joining, and both of us complied without knowing anything about what we were doing. No classes were required. We attended somewhat regularly, but truthfully, found it very boring. The relief was with the people, the pastor, his family, and the town people we already knew. It was more a social event that took me away from my studies for school and "catch-up" work on the farm which were my responsibilities.
After a year or so, I had graduated from high school and learned my husband had enlisted in the Marine Corps as the Korean War was heating up and young men were being drafted into the Army. We moved to California where he took basic training, then was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. When his ship embarked for the Pacific, I returned to Nebraska. I still didn't go to church unless it was with my older brother and his wife.
After leaving the Marine Corps, my husband came home and became the manager of a huge ranch for a share of the newborn calves each year. I worked in town for North Western Bell Telephone Co. in their business office. Our marriage lasted 8 years, then we divorced. No children but still a painful time in my life. I remember praying for reconciliation, but later wondered if God even heard my prayers. I was hoping that all would work out if I prayed. So little did I know... certainly, not what God had in His plans for me. I had many opportunities to learn in church, but it was as if my eyes and ears were closed. Certainly, my heart was closed. I was not mad at God, I just moved on as if He didn't care, or maybe, He was never there.
In 1959 I left Chadron to become an airline stewardess for Western Airlines (now Delta). My first domicile was Salt Lake City. I did not entertain the thought of going to church. Finally, my request for a transfer to Denver came through, and I found my new home. More importantly, I met my husband of 54 years (we buried him on our 54th anniversary).
What a grand life we had together!
I was privileged to enter Denver University and graduate with honors with my class in 1966 and had 2 wonderful children, Annie, and Wil. We had 4 years of me in school and he in the State Legislature for ten years. We were faithful to take the children to church because that is what nice people did. I served on the board, attended a Bible study, and we gave generously. Many times, I felt uncomfortable doing these things as my attitude was resentful of the time it took away from my family. I knew it was wrong but couldn't seem to be cheerful about it.
Suddenly, another election took us to Washington, D.C. as Bill had won a seat from Colorado to the U.S. House of Representatives. We moved to a little town across the river in Virginia and looked for another church because we somehow had sense enough to know it was important. However, we learned quickly that politics had reared its head even in church.
A certain pastor in Virginia who had a TV audience was urging Christians to come out of the woodwork and become vocal and vote. Many Christians did not want to be involved in politics as it was thought to be ugly and un-Christian for sure. This TV Pastor was passionately against abortion, euthanasia, homosexual conduct, drugs, and other social issues. He was well ahead of the times as those issues are still raging today.
This was not what the status quo wanted to hear, so he was demonized by the Press which took sides with the opposition. Sound familiar? We also heard it from the pulpit. Somehow, this did not seem right to us, as we had many concerns about those same issues. In the meantime, we had encountered Campus Crusade for Christ by way of Bible Studies for women, and many of their missionaries had begun contacting Congressmen regarding their relationship, or lack of, with Christ. Bible Studies sprung up at the White House, the Pentagon, the House and Senate, with Ambassadors, and even the press.
Something was happening in Washington D.C. Who would think one would meet the Lord in a place like that? God surely must have a sense of humor. Maybe, but he surely was at work. Many Congressmen and women and later Senators began rethinking their faith, and some made a first-time commitment to follow Jesus.
"Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."
I joined all the studies I was invited to: the Fellowship with Barbara Priddy, Campus Crusade for Christ with Sallie Clingman and Eleanor Page, Community Bible Study with Lee Campbell, and The Friday Group with Joanne Kemp in her home studying the teachings of Dr. Francis Schaffer of L'Abri, Switzerland.
My first teacher was Eleanor Page, a charming, funny, woman who asked me at a Bible study in a congressman’s home basement, "When did you ask Christ into your life?" I was taken aback but said nothing. All through the next week I kept hearing myself trying to answer that question. After all, I had minored in Religion at Denver University, gone to church regularly, served on the board back in Aurora, Colorado, and we gave regularly to the church. What more did she think I needed to do?
I went back the next week, and before class started, I went to her and said, "Eleanor, I don't know what you are talking about." She smiled at me, her eyes sparkling, and said in her sweet, Georgia southern drawl, "I didn't think you did, darlin'. Let me teach you." She began by using the 4 Spiritual Laws, a tract that has scripture explaining the essence of the Bible.
- God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man is sinful and separated from God. Thus, he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life.
- Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him you can know and experience God's love and plan for your life.
- We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, then we can know and experience God's love and plan for our life.
Me a sinner? Separated from God? Works don't count? Saved by Grace? Well, that was news to me, but seemed completely right all of a sudden. It was as if the sun came out from behind a dark bank of clouds. I had never thought of a "personal relationship" with God before. Didn't know how Jesus fit into all of this.... so much to learn.
But day by day, I became the excited new Christian wanting the world to know what a relief it was to know I had a Savior who loved me, forgave me, came to earth as man, died for me, and wanted me in His fold forever and ever in Heaven.
Oh! What joy.
I rushed home to tell Bill about it. He was mildly interested. The next week, I learned more and rushed home again to tell Bill what Eleanor had taught me. He politely listened and was thoughtful enough to say complementary things. When I told Eleanor of his reaction, she sternly told me to stop saying, "Eleanor said.” She said, "It is not me; it is what the Bible says."
I finally realized Bill may never be able to open the door Jesus was knocking on. "Behold! I stand at the door knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me" (Revelation 3:20). Aren't we blessed that Jesus is patient and doesn't give up? I didn't either and continued to pray for Bill to hear that voice saying, "Come home, sinner, come home."
Several months passed and we were out for our Sunday afternoon drive looking at grand houses, and wondering how people could afford such splendor. Upon arriving back at our modest ranch style home (our palace), Bill did not get out of the car. The children jumped out, put the garage door up and went inside to play with the dog. I asked Bill if something was wrong.
He answered, "Well, you are so enthused about your spiritual discovery that seems to be all you talk about anymore." I was stunned to think I was doing something that displeased him, so said in a remorseful tone, I'm sure, "I won't be doing that anymore. I will stop telling you all I have learned."
He said, "No, you misunderstand. I don't resent you telling me these things; it just means you have become the spiritual leader of our family, and I know it should be me." I missed a great opportunity right then to have a relevant conversation. Instead, I got out of the car in a huff, my feelings raw but bound to keep quiet about the subject. Well, that lasted about a day and a half because the joy kept bubbling to the surface, and I was once again telling him what I was learning.
I began putting tracts and books in his luggage when he flew to Colorado at least three times a month. He never mentioned them to me. I still don't know if he read them or not. But nearly 3 years later, he began a conversation about his day, and then said, "There is something I want to tell you." Suddenly, a cold chill came over me, as I thought, "Here it comes. He has found someone else, and he is going to ask me for a divorce." There was so much of it going on among sitting Congressmen and Senators. It brought up old memories and I was truly frightened.
But as he continued and I began listening, he was telling me of an encounter with one of the missionaries from Campus Crusade for Christ in his office that day. The man was a Dentist from Alabama, Dr. Sam Peeples, recently back from an assignment in Asia to work with the Christian Embassy in Washington, a new addition to Embassy Row.
Dr. Peeples had presented the Gospel to Bill in his office the same as Eleanor had done with me 3 years earlier. He was patient, kind, and respectful. Bill listened in the same manner. Then the bells rang for a vote, and Bill stood up and said, "Come with me. I have to go vote. We will walk over to the Capitol. I'll vote and then we'll continue our conversation at dinner in the Sam Rayburn Dining Room” which they did.
During dinner, Dr. Peeples continued his presentation using the Four Spiritual Laws. Finally, he looked at Bill and said something like, "Bill, I have told you all I know. Do you feel you can accept Jesus as your Savior at this time?" Bill said later, "I normally would have said, I will form a committee and get back to you." Instead, he said, "Yes, Sam, I think I do." They prayed and Bill was immediately a "born again Christian." My prayers had been answered.
Can you imagine my joy when learning what just happened? My husband and I would be in Heaven with Jesus someday. We were going to raise our children by Christian principles. We would love each other the way described in the Bible, and we would keep our eyes on Jesus the rest of our lives. Yes, there would be and were bumps along the way, but we were never alone going over them. And he never asked me for a divorce.
"T'was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that faith appear, the hour I first believed."
Life didn't change immediately, but it did change. I became a better mother, a better wife, Bill more compassionate and accepting of people with different opinions. We wanted to do as much as we could for the Kingdom of God on Earth, not as works, but as gratitude for the great gift we had been given.
Bill was like a sponge absorbing and studying the Scriptures. He was asked to speak at Governors' breakfasts all over the United States. He was honored to be the main speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast held once a year in Washington D.C. He also gave precious time to Campus Crusade by giving his testimony at Executive dinners for them here and abroad. He felt his testimony resonated with men, so spoke anywhere and everywhere he was called. All this while in the leadership of the Senate.
After returning home after 18 years in Washington, his speaking continued until he was called to lead Colorado Christian University for "such a time as this." That was his final assignment on Earth. I know he was welcomed into Heaven with words from Jesus, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Lesson learned: Keep praying.
I am living in a Senior Home wanting to be an example to others around me, that being old and infirm doesn't mean the Joy is gone. Not at all. I see Jesus at work every day in my life. I have a loving family who carry on with the assurance of Jesus and are celebrating Him together with our loved ones someday.
"When we've been there ten thousand years bright shining as the Sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, then when we'd first begun."