The late Norman Vincent Peale, senior pastor of New York City’s Marble Collegiate Church for over 50 years, grew up in Ohio, a preacher’s kid. His father, Clifford Peale, was a tremendously compassionate man. If there was a need within his congregation, he was determined to meet it.
Norman remembers the phone ringing in their parsonage one cold winter’s night. His mother answered, and passed the phone to his father. The woman on the other end of the line explained that she didn’t know any other preachers, but had one night slipped into Dr. Peale’s church. She didn’t remember anything he said, but she did recall that he struck her as gentle and kind, which is why she had picked his church out of the many from the phone book. She was calling with an awkward but serious request. As it turned out, she ran a local brothel. One of the prostitutes was dying. Would Dr. Peale be willing to come and pray with her? He agreed and hung up the phone, quietly explaining the situation to his wife.
Suddenly, he turned toward his boy. “Norman,” he said, “put on your overcoat and come with me on a pastoral errand of mercy.”
The young Peale’s mother gasped. “Clifford,” she said, “you are not going to take our ten-year-old son to that place of sin.” But his father pressed on. “Yes, I am,” he replied. “Norman can see Jesus Christ reaching for one of the sheep who was lost, but wants to come home to the father’s house.”
At the brothel the Peales encountered the nineteen-year-old prostitute, now near death. “I am a bad girl Reverend,” she said, “but my family are godly people and I was raised a Christian and I attended Sunday school, I was baptized by our preacher, but I have brought shame on my mother and father. I am bad. I am a bad girl.” Norman’s dad placed her diminutive hand inside his.
“Do you love Jesus, Mary, and do you believe that he has forgiven your sins and that he will forgive your sins and wash them all away, so that in your soul you will be pure?”
“Do you give yourself now, your whole soul, your whole self to the Lord asking for salvation?” Again, she said, “Yes” adding, “I asked the Lord to save my soul.” Dr. Peale then concluded. “Well, then I declare to you in the name of Jesus that you are saved.”
In the midst of this conversation, all the other women in the brothel, one by one, had begun to surround Mary, openly weeping at the sight and sound of her pain, confession and finally, absolution and assurance of salvation. Years later, Norman Vincent Peale said that night was one of the determining factors that led him to his decision to become a pastor. He had witnessed the strength and power of the Gospel firsthand.
Would you have allowed your ten-year-old son to accompany you on that mission?
I have been thinking of that in light of my own boys. I wonder if we have sterilized our faith to the point of rendering its appearance powerless to the younger generation.
If it appears all sweetness and light without struggle and strain, how is that going to match up with reality when times grow tight and tough?
Why would a young person find our faith relevant and vibrant if it doesn’t appear viable to the good and bad in life?
Norman Peale’s father gave his young son a great gift that cold winter’s night. In that difficult visit, he shared with his son a vivid snapshot of the source of our strength.