Friday, March 30, 2018

The Boy on the Prospect List

Rock Island, August 1974

When I was growing up in Rock Island,  anyone who set foot inside the Nazarene Church for any reason, but didn't "get saved" and become a member, was placed on the Prospect List.

Even if they just came for Vacation Bible School, or to cheer for a friend at a Jump Quiz Tournament.

They stayed on that list forever, unless they asked to be removed or the Church Board decided to purge the list of names from many years ago.

Every August, about a month before the fall revival, our Sunday school teacher gave each of us the contact information for 10 age- and -gender appropriate Prospects.  We were supposed to make it our business to "win them for the Lord," or at least invite them to church.

During the next month, we received 1 point for each Prospect that we prayed for, 2 points for each letter or post card, 5 points for each telephone call, and 10 points for each in-person visit, plus an extra 10 point if they actually came to church.

You might think that the Prospects would be buried in letters or harassed by constantly-ringing telephones, but in fact most people settled for prayer. It's a daunting prospect to cold-call someone you don't know, who has been to your church just once.

During the fall revival, the kid, teenager, and adult with the most points received awards, usually Bibles, while the whole congregation clapped and yelled "Amen!"

During the summer after 5th grade, the first year I was eligible, I wimped out with "prayer only."

In 6th grade,  I sent a few post cards.

In 7th grade, I tried phone calls, only to get two "wrong numbers" (which didn't count) and one "You made a mistake -- I never went to that church."

During the summer after 8th grade, I decided to go all the way with a personal visit.

I was fascinated by a name that appeared on the Prospect List every year: Francis DePew, who came to Vacation Bible School one summer, but never appeared again. He was in the same grade as me, and he lived on the Hill, but he didn't go to Washington Junior High.

That meant he went to Jordan Catholic School!

The Preacher told us all about Catholics!  When they weren't worshipping idols and being brainwashed by evil priests, they were laughing in the face of God, drinking, smoking, dancing, playing cards, going to movies.  But their favorite form of sin was the sex orgy, men cavorting with other men's wives, teenagers having sex without being married, all manner of abominations, as in the days before the Flood!

All manner of abominations?  I had to meet this Francis DePew!  Maybe I could get him to the altar, where he would cry and apologize to God, and I could wrap my arm around his waist and hug him.

Besides, Catholics were as difficult to win for Christ as Muslims!  He would be good practice for when Dan and I became missionaries to Saudi Arabia.

During the August before 9th grade, shortly after we saw Brian writing secret messages on the wall of the junior high, Dan and I rode our bikes past Francis DePew's house nearly every day.

He lived a few blocks from the church, nearly across the street from the Saukie Golf Course that the Preacher was always complaining about.

A nice house, big but nothing special.  I got  a little frisson of dread imagining the Satanic orgies going on inside every night.

Then one Saturday afternoon, we hit the jackpot: a cute, muscular teenage boy, washing a car, with his shirt off!

We stopped. "Hey, cool car," I said.

"Thanks.  It's my brother's. He pays me a dollar to wash it, and when I get my driver's license, I can have it."

"Are you Francis DePew?"

"Frank."  He eyed me suspiciously.  "Do you go to Jordan?"

"No way!"  I exclaimed, offended.  "We go to Washington.'m on the wrestling team, and I thought I recognized you from a tournament."

"No, we we don't have wrestling.  I was on the football team last year, though."

"Oh, that's it! From a football game...I thought you had the build for wrestling."  Dan nudged me, signifiying that I had said too much.  Or maybe he wanted to be included in the conversation.  Why should I hog the cute guy?  "Um...I'm Boomer, and this is Dan."

"Hi."  Frank shook hands with us both.  "Do you play football?"

How was I going to get the conversation away from sports and onto church?  ", I'm too busy with Jump Quiz."

"What's that?"

"It's a great sport," Dan offered.  "You have to use your brain and your muscles.  Especially your legs.  We could teach you..."

And then invite him to come to a tournament, and get him saved!  I thought excitedly.  But the Jump Quiz was about the Bible.  The Preacher said that Catholics couldn't touch the Word of God -- the holiness zapped them like an electric shock.

"Do you know anything about the Bible?" I asked tentatively.

"Oh, I know a little bit."

A few days later, Frank invited us to his house -- my first time ever in a Catholic house. It wasn't scary at all, except for the "evil" crucifix in the living room.

We set up folding chairs on the patio, and took turns reading the questions and competing one-on-one, with breaks to throw a frisbee to his dog. Frank knew about as much about the Bible as I did, and his muscular legs made him a jump quiz natural.

After an hour, we declared the game a tie, and Frank's mother invited us into the kitchen for sodas and ice cream sandwiches.

"That was fun," Frank said.  "And it really gives your legs a workout.  We should use it for football training."

"It's a big deal at my church.  We have the local eliminations in October, and then the district, and you can go all the way to the Internationals, and get a college scholarship. You should...."  But Frank was being so nice that I felt guilty about the mercenary goal of winning him for Christ.  "You should start a team at your church."

So I didn't win the Prospect. Instead, he won me.

I met a nice guy, and I realized that Catholics weren't as scary and evil as the Preacher kept saying.   In fact, the first person I spent the night with, two years later, was a Maronite Catholic boy from Lebanon.

See also: Spending the Night with an Arab Boy

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