MY CONVERSION: MIRACLE IN NORTH CAROLINA (A MUST READ!!)
How would you react if you were broken down 500 miles from home and two black men approached you on the side of the road?
What would you say to them if they offered to tow your car 20 miles in an area unknown to you?
Would you trust them to shuttle you around for a week while your car was fixed?
My answer to all these questions was yes and in so doing my lifes trajectory changed. What followed was a story of Good Samaritans, the shattering of racial barriers, and the groundwork for my Christian conversion. It began on Interstate 95 in North Carolina mile marker 149. I was traveling from Florida to Pennsylvania with the goal of moving closer to my adopted twin boys who had been relocated a 1,000 miles from my home.
I was coasting along until the lights in my car went off. My engine went dead. I had just replaced the engine in Florida prior to leaving. The thousands I had saved up to buy a new engine were now wasted. What was I to do? Return the engine? Hardly. a preposterous notion given that I had already traveled 500 miles. Pay for a new one? I was too cash strapped. I was stuck. I sat by the side of the road with a glazed look. Thus, it was while I was sitting on the side of the road that my life would change forever.
The first Good Samaritan pulled over to help me. His name was Ed Vincent West. I would later learn that Ed, a Christian, had prayed that morning to put someone in his life that he could help. He sensed his Christian walk was becoming stale. I also learned that he had intended to get off the prior exit but somehow missed it.
Ed had a business appointment he had to attend and promised to stop back. The next thing I knew a tow truck pulled up and the driver said Ed West sent me and said you needed some help. The drivers name was Deral Hedgepeth - a friend of Eds.
As Ed would later say in a church testimony, Mark showed faith by allowing two black men to pull over and help him while stranded. He could have just as easily been jumped rather than helped. What was ironic is that when Deral pulled up with his tow truck, I had already called AAA and their truck arrived at the same time as Derals. But I knew that AAA would tow me to a garage that would know how desperate I was and would undoubtedly try to fleece me. My God instinct was to go with the Good Samaritans, Ed and Deral. It was a true leap of faith because at that time I had absolutely no way of getting home. There was no way I had the $ 5,000 that it cost me to just fix the engine in Florida.
I was in no position to question anything. I assumed that this was a God thing or perhaps a payback for the good deed I performed when I picked up a man in South Carolina who was walking alongside the road, 20 miles from the next exit, and carrying a sign that said I am the Messiah. This is no joke. He had no destination. It appeared that he perhaps was a paranoid schizophrenic as he was suspicious of restaurant food being poisoned. How he survives out on the highways I am sure is another God story in itself. Either way I gave him money for food at the next exit.
Back in North Carolina Deral introduced himself to me and asked if he could tow my car to his friends car parts yard where they could help me. After obliging, I soon found myself 20 miles west of I-95 near Hollister, North Carolina. His friend Ralph, like Ed and Deral, was a Christian. Ralph immediately began a search for a replacement engine for me.
(In the picture below from left to right is Shante West (Eds wife), Ed West, Deral Hedgepeth, and Eds son Jamal)
As I was awaiting the status of my car, Deral asked me if Id like to go to a prayer meeting that night. I said, Sure I have no other plans. (ha ha) As it turned out, Ed and Derals families played tag team as far as taking care of me over the next week. They drove me back and forth to my hotel, had me over for dinner every night, and took me to two church services.
The prayer meeting was held at 7 PM on a Friday night. The gathering was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, raucous affair the likes of which I had never seen. The meeting was held in a refurbished garage with the only accessories being fold-up chairs. Though I at first felt a bit awkward being the only white person among in a room of fifty whose descent was either African or Halifax Indian (or both). Soon these feelings dissolved. The Spirit was alive in this room. Ed and his wife Shante demonstrated this by speaking in tongues for the very first time. I felt like I was in a movie (and I kidded Deral that he reminded me of Morgan Freeman).
I was asked to stand in the center of the room where I was introduced and prayed over. I can remember an older gentleman exhorting, God bless this man! Break all generational curses! Give this man prosperity! The part about prosperity seemed a little fishy to me. I asked myself, How the heck am I going to receive prosperity in the middle of rural North Carolina (Halifax County)? Soon thereafter a collection bucket was passed around. The collection was counted and then I was approached. They said to me, This is for you. It was 800 dollars. I was astounded. I was amazed at the fact that in this day and age that people like this existed people who would give so unconditionally with absolutely no strings attached. They knew they would probably never see me again.
I became more convinced of their purity and selflessness after thanking them repeatedly and having them refuse to take credit. Their response was always the same: To God goes the glory. It soon dawned on me that these folks didnt need my adulation. They had already tapped into the deepest treasure and ultimate joy receiving Gods love and sharing it with others.
This represented the beginning of my conversion experience. These individuals personified the essence of Christianity and they clearly had what I wanted. Prior to this my church experience included the Unity Church (not really a church as they stand for everything and are convicted of nothing) and the Mormon Church (represented by an initial love bomb, a salvation by works model, and a number of other questionable doctrinal beliefs).
The balance of the week in North Carolina consisted of prayer meetings, nightly dinners, a business trip with Ed, and other gracious fellowship. The evening prior to my departure I attended a Wednesday night service. At this service both Ed and I both shared testimonies about the compelling series of events. See photo below. I am standing in the center and Ed is to my right.
It was now Thursday morning and I had been in Hollister for a week. This was my last day. I received a knock on my hotel door and the generosity continued to flow. On the other side stood Shante (Eds wife) and a delightful fellow named Fred Hedgepeth (no relation to Deral Hedgepeth). These two folks had actually picked up my car for me and drove it right to the hotel! The cost for the new engine was less than a third of what I paid in Florida. As much as I would have liked to visit further, Ed wisely stated that it was time to go as the number seven represents completion and it had been 7 days. In addition, at the cheap hotel I was staying at, there were signs of prostitution and drug dealing. It was time to get out of dodge.
My very last visitor was Deral Hedgepeth who dropped by to give me a beautiful leather jacket, some winter clothes, and an envelope with Broken Chains Ministry written on it. Inside was another two hundred dollars. With that I was on my way.
Post script: Since that week I have stayed in contact with all my friends in North Carolina. I have shared this story with literally hundreds of people and have touched the hearts of many in the process including that of the Executive Pastor of my church. After a morning prayer, the Spirit moved Pastor Gibbons and prompted him to offer a church donation to the ministry of those who helped me in North Carolina. A check was sent for an amount of $ 2,500.00 !! Their good deeds resulted in 3 fold fruit.
But it didnt end there. In December of 2011 I received a Facebook message from Ed West that said: Mark, If dont see you on Earth, well have to catch up in Heaven. It had been six years since I saw him. I decided that Heaven was too long a wait. I decided to head from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for a five day trip.
While there I told my friend Deral Hedgepeth that Hollister, North Carolina represented to me hallowed ground. Deral felt that this was ironic considering the town had its share of troubles (including drug problems). I suppose I bumped into exactly the right people!
In 2011 was fortunate to have received some financial blessings which prompted me to share some of it with people that meant so much to me. I was all too eager to gift some money back to Ed and Deral and their families and ministries. Rural North Carolina is a tough place to make a lot of money, so I was happy to give where I did. Including what Pastor Gibbons of The Back Mountain Harvest Assembly church had already sent to them, I was able to give them a total of about 7 times that they gave me. Gods Kingdom does not always act in such a linear, mathematical way but when it does its really neat!
Next you can see a Christmas card of the West family (Ed, Shante, Victoria, and Jamal). Shante blessed me with one of the nicest messages I have ever received.
My Visit SIX YEARS LATER (2011)