Being raised in a non-Christian home, I had no church or Bible background. In my early teens, a friend invited me to attend Sunday school with him. I did for a few weeks and received a Bible. When my father frowned on this, I discontinued going. I was ungodly in all my behavior, and this mindset affected every area of my life. Living in Los Angeles and attending high schools where there was a lot of gang activity produced fear, and school was not a desirable place to be. This may have contributed to my lack of interest in study. When I was 17, I had a confrontation with a teacher and was expelled.
My parents granted permission, and I joined the U.S. Navy in 1955.
The Navy was the beginning of a whole new way of life. Being off the streets and in an atmosphere where I had to grow up was tremendous for me. At the same time, without any parental restraint, I was exposed to unchecked opportunities for my flesh, which led to serious sinful habits. At the age of 19, I was pretty much burned out with my lifestyle and began to think about needing some religion. What was I to do?
It was at this precise time, toward the end of my tour of duty in Japan, that I met a young man who had recently become a Christian. He was immature, but he proceeded to try and witness to me. I was fed up with my lifestyle but couldn’t seem to break the sinful practices my flesh enjoyed. While on watch together one night, he gave me a booklet to read, titled “Beginning with Christ.” It was not a gospel presentation but written for young Christians, citing promises in four areas of assurance from God’s Word. Being unsaved, I didn’t understand much of what was being said, but the Holy Spirit took this reference from 1 Corinthians 10:13 and caused a phrase in it to come alive to me: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will, with the temptation, also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
I confided to my friend that I was very interested and asked if he could talk to me further. He expressed his lack of ability but got up and went into the bowels of the underground bunker, where we were working along with a hundred or so other men, and returned with a commissioned officer. We spoke briefly, and he said we would talk together when we got off watch. About 12:30 AM we drove up to our barracks. I shared my deep concern. He presented a simple gospel message, then this officer and my buddy prayed for me; and we went to our barracks and to bed.
What a night began then! Under deep conviction of my sins, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. At some point, I was given either a dream or vision. I saw myself running in the flames of hellfire, screaming and gnashing my teeth. I came out of this vision and began to call on the name of the Lord! I was the only one awake in the entire barracks. I didn’t know how to pray, but simply called on Jesus to save me. I said, “Lord Jesus, if you will save me, I will follow you all the days of my life.” I remember praying and saying, “ Lord, I have no power to stop my sinful practices. Help me.” I tried to confess every sin I could remember in my life. While praying I fell asleep. I awoke in the morning to face the day, opened my footlocker and before me was a brand-new carton of cigarettes. This thought came to mind, “I gave my life to Christ last night; I don’t need these anymore.” I gave them to a shipmate and told him what I had done (my first witness). He laughed and announced to all who could hear that “Monty has got religion!”
My lieutenant friend gave me a Bible, took me to the city of Yokouska, and introduced me to the Christian Servicemen’s Center, which was directed by a member of the Navigators ministry. A whole new life had begun. This dear brother (now with the Lord in heaven) taught me how to read and study God’s Word. I was instructed in how to memorize Bible verses and how to witness and share the gospel. Better than fifty years have passed since then. One highlight in my early Christian life were the years I spent in part time ministry at the Long Beach Servicemen’s Center. Since meeting Dick York in 1971, I’ve had the joy of ministering the Word in several different countries including some years in Nigeria, West Africa, and have served on the Board of Directors of Shield of Faith since 1975.