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Welch recounts battlefield testimony Easter Sunday night

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Blood pours from his chest and mouth. The AK-47 round ripped through him like hot, molten lead. His battle mate assesses the gaping holes with grim resignation: The jungle warrior faces certain death. As a backslidden Christian, he’s sure he will soon face a holy God and is overwhelmed with shame.

All the medivac choppers have left. There are no more coming. But through the fog of descending death, the stricken soldier sees two ethereal figures approaching –- one a little taller than the other. They seemed almost joined, side-to-side.

“Oh, no,” he thinks. “It’s the Father and the Son coming for me.”

“God help me. God help me. That’s all I could say,” said Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the evening of Easter Sunday, March 27, at Holiday Heights Baptist Church in suburban Nashville, Tenn.

On Easter Sunday morning, he preached at Highland Park Baptist Church in Columbia, Tenn., voicing the same appeal from Jeremiah 8.20 he’s preached in recent weeks across middle Tennessee in his effort to recruit 10,000 volunteers from across Tennessee and the country for a June 18 evangelism blitz prior to the SBC’s June 21-22 annual meeting.

That Sunday night, however, Welch preached about himself, using the New Testament story of the prodigal son in relating his near-death ordeal in Vietnam and his eternal life encounter with Jesus Christ.

Welch explained he didn’t want to appear before God in his carnal condition, so he asked that God would clean him up, somehow, before he appeared before his Savior.

“So I muttered only those six words. I said it twice, ‘God help me. God help me,’” Welch recounted.

Now a huge spotlight dances on the ground around the bleeding soldier. The elephant grass reciprocates in the whirl of a landing helicopter -– a chopper that appeared unexpectedly. Welch’s rescuers throw him atop three other dead men. One of the rescuers says, “He’ll die before we get there.” Obviously, he didn’t.

For about seven days, Welch doesn’t remember exactly, he could move no body part while recuperating except for his eyeballs. But after about a week, Welch asked his nurse for some water and his Bible.

Welch sipped the water, wrapped his hands around a camo-green New Testament and promised God, “‘The next time you come for me, I’ll be ready. You’ll never, ever again find me far from you.’”

Welch delivered these remarks after what many would call “rip-snortin’, hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’ good music” presented by The Whites and accompanied by noted bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs.

Skaggs’ connection to the secluded neighborhood church, Holiday Heights, comes from his wife, the former Sharon White, a member of the famed singing trio, The Whites, who made Holiday Heights their church home since the early ’70s. However, the Skaggs family now are members of another Nashville-area Southern Baptist church.

After expressing his gratitude for the music, Welch recounted his boyhood, teen and college days, none of which honored God. At least not until he met Maudellen, his wife, when the two were young teens.

“Now some would say that was puppy love. But that’s pretty important if you’re a puppy,” Welch said.

Welch described standing outside of the church with the smokers and then noticing that the lights in the auditorium went out. “You know what they were doing in there –- but I didn’t. So, I ventured in one night to see a baptismal service,” he said of Maudellen’s home church.

With candid talk and humorous vignettes, Welch described his courtship of Maudellen and the way she pointed him to Christ.

Eventually convicted of his sin by the purity of Maudellen’s life, Welch went to visit her pastor. “I didn’t even know the right questions to ask, so here’s what I said -– and get this, this is precious –- I asked the pastor, ‘Is there any way my life could become like Maudellen’s?’”

The pastor then led Welch to Christ using a red Gideons’ New Testament.

Despite his conversion to Christ, Welch said he eased away from God while attending college. Welch completed the ROTC program and soon asked to be put on active duty. He was. And after training, he went to Vietnam to lead a reconnaissance patrol, leaving God far behind, or so he thought.

Volunteering for his assignment, as did 28 other men, Welch and the patrol he led were to extract about 130 other soldiers who had walked into a Viet Cong ambush point -– a large field dotted with seven hidden bunkers. The bunkers formed a sort of horseshoe shape, Welch said, and the soldiers walked smack into the middle of it. Many were dead or bleeding to death, and the rest would die unless Welch reached them.

Dividing his men into groups of four, Welch set the plan: Charge the bunkers and clear them out. And that’s what happened. After the successful campaign, Welch was shot by an enemy sniper, a “stay-behind soldier,” he said, describing the universal warfare tactic of leaving a few soldiers hidden for the express purpose of picking off enemy soldiers whose guard might be down after a skirmish.

That’s when it happened. “The bushes ahead of me exploded in a flash. The bullet hit me. My head flew back. My feet came off the ground. I spun 360 degrees and landed face down,” he said. “I laid there with my head on my left arm, watching this pool of blood on the ground getting bigger and bigger.”

Choking back the tears and across trembling lips, Welch said, referring to the prodigal son and himself in the same breath, “When he came to his senses, mercy came running.”

Welch appealed for any of his listeners who might be prodigals themselves to come to their senses and be embraced by the mercies of a loving heavenly Father.

Holiday Heights’ old-time prayer rail at the edge of the platform was soon full. And there was Welch, first kneeling and then on all fours, his tie dragging the carpet. He’d come full-circle as he prayed a life-saving prayer — only the pronoun had changed: “God help us. God help us.” He said it twice.

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller