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A missed train and saving grace

By By Carmen Elmendorf

Every day I am grateful that God redeemed me and I have experienced his goodness and grace since. In case you don’t know what this term “redeemed” means — to buy or pay off; clear by payment: to pay the ransom of a kidnapped victim. I was held captive to sinful, bad habits, but now I am free. My debt to God for all the bad I’ve ever done, and for all the good I neglected to do, was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. This is called the Good News.

I was glad when I heard this good news, because I grew up in a Spanish-Catholic family. I was taught that my works and my own sacrifices, and the endless penances and confessions, were necessary for entrance into heaven. Somewhere along the way I became restless in my spirit and discontent with the memorized, monotonous church prayers and rituals. I felt defeated by my own revolving-door confessional that left me weary and longing for something more; something with teeth, with truth and with power.

I asked Christ into my heart 30 years ago, after a Wednesday-night chapel service at a homeless shelter in Chicago, Ill. It was located near the railroad station where I had missed my train and was left stranded with my three-year-old son. Attending that chapel service was a requirement of the shelter to stay there. The pastor asked anyone who needed prayer to stay after the service.

Of course I needed prayer. During my visit to Chicago, I had just damaged beyond repair a college friendship. I had met my friend at West Virginia State where we were both students. She trusted me with her home and her car. My son and I had a few hours before our train departed so my friend loaned me her car to sightsee. I was supposed to meet her back at her apartment with it before I left. Time got away from me and I was panicked to catch that last train out of town. I told her on the phone that I was leaving her car at the station with the keys inside. Now, she never wanted to see me again and I missed my train back home to West Virginia to boot!

I stood on a street corner at a pay phone and looked through the phone book. Pacific-Garden Mission was the closest shelter to the train station. I knew how to find shelter because I had been a victim of domestic violence many years prior. Now this preacher man was asking me the toughest question I ever heard in my life, and it was a life or death question: “If you died tonight,” he said, “Would you go to heaven or hell?”

“To HELL” I answered, without skipping a beat.

As our talk concluded I said some simple words like “Jesus, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sins. I believe that you came and died on a cross to save sinners. I invite you into my heart to be my Savior. Amen.” Instantly, I was what the Bible calls “born again.”

“For you were born again, but not to a life that will end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, People are like grass, their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:23-25 NLT.

I began a lifelong journey that night and I’ve never regretted my decision to trust God with my very life. It has been as if I’m running a marathon and God’s grace has been my “Gatorade” — my energy and my constant hydration ... and heaven is the finish line.

Carmen Elmendorf may be reached at

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