TEN

The following weekend, when another large group of Wilkinsonians had gathered at Timberlake Park, Russell called his friends together and told them, “I feel sorry for all these people and my heart goes out to them, because they are here to understand the things of God, yet they have nothing to eat. If we send them away, I’m concerned that they will attribute their hunger to a lack of provision from God, and might give up on the idea of faith.”

“How can we fill and satisfy the need of every person, every time we get together, especially out here?” asked Peter Longley. “There’s not a restaurant for miles.”

“How many sandwiches do we have left?” asked Russell.

“Seven,” answered Thad.

“Tell everyone to sit down in the grass,” Russell said. He then placed his hands over the sandwiches and thanked God for whatever way He was about to provide for the people.

“They’re out there again,” the lanky golf pro informed his boss in the Timberlake management office. “This place is becoming a regular revival center.”

Mr. Webster watched Russell in the picnic shelter pray over a pile of sandwiches, marveling at the youth’s determination to prove the existence and accessibility of God. “Never seen such a thing,” he said to the golf pro. “What’s he going to do with such little food?”

“Don’t know. I heard him talking last time he was here. I think he’s a little whacko.”

Mr. Webster turned to the pro. “Oh no, Bob. He’s not crazy. He just lives a life on a different plane than us. He’s got my daughter Debbie counseling at a crisis pregnancy center. I couldn’t even get her to talk to me in the past. Now it’s like she’s been born all over again. She’s so different and it’s making me different.”

“Huh,” snorted the golf pro. “That stuff ain’t for me. I like my life just the way it is."

“Bob, call Buddy over at the Smoky Pig and tell him to rush me out…” Mr. Webster made a quick estimate of the crowd’s size, “…about five hundred barbecue dinners. Tell him he’s got free golf for the next month if the order is here in twenty minutes.”

Bob dialed the phone, thinking some alien had abducted his old boss and replaced him with an insanely altruistic clone.

Within nineteen minutes the crowd of people were feasting on plates of pulled barbecue and coleslaw. When they finished, Russell’s friends picked up seven plates of leftovers.

“You’ve been filled by God tonight, my friends,” Russell told the satiated mass. “Now go home.”  


At once he got into Tom McLaughlin’s van with his friends and went to an arcade near the Greyhound bus station. A couple of seminary students present at the Timberlake feeding, followed them and once inside the arcade began to argue with Russell and question him.

“You think that was some kind of miracle or something out there?” one named Jerry challenged. “Because all I saw was a generous barbecue driver, coincidentally driving by, take pity on a group of hungry, misguided people.”

“Really?” said Russell, sliding a quarter into a pinball machine. “Is that what you saw? Then you’ll never witness the miraculous.”

“Why don’t you tell God to do a miracle for us right now?” Jerry said. “If you’re so close to Him it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Russell doubled up in pain, feeling as if he might vomit. He laid his head down on the glass surface of the pinball machine. “What is the motivation of your heart that demands a sign from God? People like you will never, never witness the miraculous.”

Struggling to stand upright, Russell stumbled out into the parking lot to breathe the cool night air. When his friends joined him, he ordered them into the van. “Let’s get away from here.”

Driving north on I-95, Tom and the boys decided on a trip to Rocky Mount to see a movie.

“Oh shoot,” said Jude. “We didn’t bring the barbecue. We must have left it in the arcade. All we got is one plate.”

“Speaking of food,” said Russell. “Watch out for the fast-food religion that some of these seminaries and churches try and cram down your throat.”

“What does that mean?” asked Andy Pittard.

“It’s because we forgot the barbecue,” answered Johnny.


Russell slammed his hand against the armrest, causing the others to jump. “Why do you think I’m talking about barbecue? Don’t you understand yet? Are your hearts in a settled state of hardness?”
 

Peter said, “We just don’t know what you’re taking about sometimes.”

“You’ve got eyes. Can’t you see? You have ears. Can’t you listen?” Russell pressed his back up against the side of his seat so he could see all the passengers. “Have you forgotten the things you’ve seen God do?”

The van was silent; each boy afraid to reply.

“When we prayed for food for the first group at Timberlake, how much was left over?”

Silence.

“How much?” Russell screamed against the noise of the highway.

“A lot,” one of the boys mumbled.

“And this afternoon? How much was left over?”

“Seven plates,” Peter said quickly.

“Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand?” Russell kept asking them.

But none of them answered because none of them did understand.

When they arrived at the Rocky Mount Cineplex, Tom pulled the van into a spot next to a silver Ford Mustang. Inside the Mustang a girl was struggling against the advances of an overzealous boyfriend.

Russell jumped from the van and pulled open the passenger door of the car, catching the girl as she scrambled to escape.

“What the hell?” called the boyfriend, disengaging his large frame from the driver’s seat. He stomped toward Russell with massive, clenched fists.

Russell’s friends circled the angry, varsity star, dreading another of Russell’s hazardous confrontations.

“I’m going to break your face,” the athlete warned Russell.

“Your lust has made you blind,” Russell shouted. “Don’t you want this girl to care about you?”

With cat-like speed the rudely interrupted teenager swung at Russell with enough force to topple a concrete post. Russell dodged left, avoiding the blow and circled behind his attacker. Spitting in his palms, Russell clamped his hands over the eyes of the assailant, temporarily immobilizing him. “Lord, let him see what’s really happening here,” Russell prayed aloud.

The hefty youth broke free of Russell’s grip and spun to face this odd opponent. Before he could speak, Russell said, “Look at the girl and tell me what you see.”

“What? Huh?” the confused youth stammered. “I see a girl that looks a lot like she wants sex.”

Russell jumped at the teenager once more, fastening his hands over the boy’s eyes. The combatants swung in lumbering, elliptical orbits around the Mustang, until they both fell, exhausted to the asphalt.

Amazed, Russell’s friends watched as the varsity star rolled off their friend, laughing hysterically. “You are the craziest kid I’ve ever met. You fight like a girl.”

Russell brushed bits of gravel from his shirt, breathing hard. “Really. Look at her and tell me what you see.”

Leaning back on his elbows, the boy regarded his date more seriously. “I see Linda. We’ve known each other since first grade but she hasn’t been allowed to date. She’s very religious and…I don’t know…I guess I saw her as some kind of challenge. But now that I’m looking at her like this, I see her more clearly.” He rubbed his eyes. “I’m an idiot.”

The couple climbed back in the Mustang, where an apology was offered and accepted.

“Let’s go to my house and watch TV with my family,” the girl suggested.

As they were pulling out of the lot, the coupled hollered thanks to Russell, after which he warned them not to tell anyone what had happened.

After the movie, during the drive back to Wilson, Russell asked, “Who do people say that I am?”

They said, “Some people get you confused with Johnny Witherspoon, and others think you’re a kind of prophet to Wilkins.”

“But who do you guys say that I am?”

Peter said, “You’re a guy who’s really living the life God intended in your true identity.”

And it was then, on that Saturday night in October, that Russell first told his closest friends that anyone who was really living the life must suffer many things and be tested and disapproved and rejected by the town’s religious leaders and be put to death, in order that he might be raised again with God. He was very explicit in speaking about himself and his friends did not miss the point.

In the parking lot of a Taco Bell, Peter took Russell by the hand and pulled him away from the others. “Stop talking all this crap about giving up your life for God. You can serve Him without dying, can’t you?”

Russell covered his ears and turned his back on Peter. “Get away from me, Satan. You’re not interested in God’s will, only in doing what makes you look religious without being uncomfortable. You are not on God’s side, but that of a wayward humanity.”  

    
Walking into the Taco Bell, Russell said to everyone in the place, “Anyone who wants truly to follow God must disown and lose sight of themselves, and take up whatever purpose God has for their life in their true identity. Whoever tries to protect or save their own life, will lose it. But whoever gives his life to God will save it. How does it benefit you if you gain all the things in the world you think you want and forfeit your soul? What can you give in exchange for your soul? If you’re ashamed or embarrassed of God’s plan for your life, then God will be ashamed and embarrassed of your plan for your life when you meet Him face to face in heaven.”

After saying this, Russell went out and sat in the van.