The old Ford jostled from side to side along a lonely unpaved stretch of road in upstate South Carolina. The cramped quarters of the trunk space were made even more confining by the presence of the gas tank. Those hangers had rusted off several years before.  My friend, George, had kindly given me this “rust belt trophy.”  The old ’64 Ford served me well, and I had no serious problems with the tank in the trunk—until tonight.

As a newlywed, I was training for the ministry and working second shift in a nearby factory. One January night in 1972, I was stopped at a railroad crossing. I hardly noticed three men in the shadows until one of them opened the passenger door and said, “Goin’ that way?” motioning toward the plant. I said, “Yes.”  They climbed in, and I drove. Then I felt the cold steel of a muzzle against my neck and heard the unmistakable “click” of the safety switch of a semi-automatic handgun. “Not that way. Go straight!” The gunman in the back seat, a teenager, did most of the talking. I complied.

Other victims of crime will well understand the adrenalin rush. I thought of everything from using karate to jumping out of the car. “If you guys were Christians, you wouldn’t be doing this,” I managed to say. Unhappy with my response, they grunted and cursed.
During that ride, the three men repeatedly threatened my life. I was resigned to die if that was God’s will.  When one of the men said, “Stop the car and get out,” I thought, surely this was my “appointed time.”(1)
At age fifteen, I had faced the fact that I had sinned against the “glory of God.”(2)  I understood that the remedy for my rebellious heart was not self-reformation or culture or even religion. I needed the remedy that God clearly sets forth in the Bible. I needed Jesus! As the Bible says, the “wages” for my sin is death.  The rest of the verse says, “…but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” (3) But just knowing these facts will not give us eternal life. One must RECEIVE that promised GIFT.(4) When I truly understood the Gospel (good news) of God, I accepted God’s Son as my personal Savior. He saved me, changed me, and made me ready for Heaven.

Listen to the interviews with Gordon Terpening (below)

That night, I truly thought I was going to Heaven. But my captors drove off. The driver, unfamiliar with a manual transmission, stalled the car several times. As I watched this spectacle, I was even more surprised when the driver found reverse, and rapidly backed up to where I stood in awe!

The gunman put me in the back seat with him. We headed out of the city. I spoke to him as though he were my captive, not my captor. “You can be a changed soul as I am. You don’t need to live a life of sin.” He attempted to silence me by striking me in the face with his gun.
“Take your clothes off,” he whispered.  Repulsed by the thought, I said, “I’ll have to take my shoes off first.” Since I had escaped death to this point, I wondered how or IF God would spare me again. But God had a plan.

Laying my shoes up behind the rear seat by the window, I placed them where they wouldn’t fall through two empty radio speaker holes. “What’s that?” asked the gunman. I replied, “That goes into the trunk.”
In retrospect I believe God used my comment to spare my life. Later, he said, “Stop the car! Let’s put this guy in the trunk.” On a residential street, the driver unlocked the trunk. The gunman motioned, and I obliged. Now here I was, in this dirty, gasoline-smelling trunk at the whim of three criminals. Why hadn’t I escaped when I had a chance?
But God had prepared me for this night. Months earlier, I was frustrated, when one hot summer day, I couldn’t open my car trunk. But since I had some perishable food in the trunk, I had no other choice but to remove the rear seat. Flashlight in hand, I climbed over the gas tank. Seeing how the lock mechanism worked, I turned the inside activator, and the trunk opened. Interestingly, the lock never failed to work again.

Why hadn’t I jumped earlier?

I had no flashlight now, but the taillights lit the inside. Holding the lid, I turned the activator. The trunk opened slightly, and I peered out. This was no place to jump out of a speeding car. I was shoeless. No houses were in sight. Realizing that the car was slowing to a stop, I closed the trunk.  The doors opened and I heard footsteps. The trunk opened and the three stood there silently. I expected to die.   Why hadn’t I jumped earlier? What were bruises compared to bullets? Suddenly another car approached; they slammed the trunk on me and sped off again.
This was my third chance; I was not going to ask God for a fourth. After obtaining my shoes from near the speaker holes, I put them on and opened the trunk. The car stopped; I jumped out and ran zigzagging toward a lit farm house. I heard shouts and curses. I expected to hear gunfire, but instead they left.
On the porch of that house sat a man who looked at me with suspicion. I told my story to this old gentleman, but I saw fear in his eyes.
Suddenly, I heard someone running toward us. My heart sank. Someone shouted, “What’s up, Gramps?” These two men were not my captors! Instead, God had caused the old gentleman’s grandsons to witness my crisis. With mouths agape, everyone listened to my story. After being convinced of the truth of these events, one of the grandsons called the authorities who picked me up, took my statement and returned me home.  Later, I found out that the criminals had used my car to rob a convenience store.
After the men were caught, I was called as a witness. Testifying against the criminals, I told the judge my story, including the parts of giving my captors the gospel of God’s forgiveness. The judge told me that I had the right answer. But it is really God’s answer for our sin problems. We are all sinners who need God’s saving grace! I escaped the penalty of all my sin at fifteen. I do not know if my captors ever escaped that penalty by accepting God’s payment for their sins.  Jesus paid the penalty so that we would not have to pay for our sins in hell forever.
How about you? Have you escaped the penalty of your sin? You can escape as surely as I. But “how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”5 God has an escape for you too, and He is lovingly reaching out to save you. Escape today before it is too late!

1 Hebrews 9:27
2 Romans 3:23
3 Romans 6:23
4 John 1:12
Romans 10:9, 10
II Corinthians 9:15
5 Hebrews 2:3

Listen to these audio interview with Gordon Terpening to hear more about this remarkable story:

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  1. What is Your Life? | Glimpses of Calvary - [...] whether is it a diagnosis of cancer, an automobile accident, kidnapping, or a nuclear holocaust ,we know life is short.…

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