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Scott Free: Chapter 6

CBN.com – In many ways, the work at CBN was everything I'd wanted. The talk-and-music show caught on, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the talk part, that is. College students would call in and we would rap over the air. People were meeting Jesus and getting help with their hang-ups right on the program. The letters that came in were unbelievable. Last Tuesday night I was thinking about suicide. But I heard your program where that blind woman called in, and I decided maybe my problems werent so earth-shattering after all. Or from a 16-year-old: I'd been on speed for three months, afraid to come down off the high because the low was so awful. The first night I tuned in your show, I came right off and I never did crash!

It really freaked me out, thinking of the possibilities in a show of this kind. But I almost had to forget the music side of my format. I just couldnt find any Christian sounds that I liked. It was all Hammond organ and bird-whistle music. I couldn't believe how bad most of it was. I'd sit in the studio with the earphones on, playing record after record, trying to find something I wouldn't blush to put on the air. Not only was the music awful but the lyrics spoke some kind of private language only a real in-group could understand.

One morning after staff prayers at the studio, I complained about how bad the music was.

"Have you ever heard of Ralph Carmichael?" Pat said.

"Sort of."

"Try some of his music."

And it was good, certainly the closest to a contemporary sound I could find anywhere. But how much Ralph Carmichael can you play? Then I had an idea. I remembered a conversation I'd had recently with Noel Stookey the Paul of the folk group Peter, Paul Mary. When I'd told Noel about the new show he seemed to understand what we were driving at. What if I talked about that visit with Noel on the air, then played some of the trios music.

Wow. The first record was still on the turntable when the call buttons on the phone lit up like a computer panel; it seemed like every parent in Virginia was calling to complain about protest music going out over a Christian station.

But phone calls were not the end of it. A little later the studio door bust open and a red-faced, furious guy rushed in and jerked my power-supply cords out of the wall. "You . . . you . . . if you play any more of that sin music may God strike you dead!" We finally got the guy out of the studio but when Pat heard about it he made the decision: No more Peter, Paul and Mary.

Pat seemed to accept this kind of thing as part of the job, but I seethed for days. It was just as well it was time for me to go up to New York where Nedra was due to enter Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Right then I couldnt have cared less if the whole state of Virginia dropped into the Atlantic Ocean.

September 29th, 1967, we discovered whom Nedra had been carrying it wasnt Christian, it was Christina. Nedra Kristina we named her. I couldn't get over how tiny she ways, lying in that little cart thing, so alone. I had to go right back to Portsmouth; Nedra and the baby would go to her mother's for a couple of weeks when they left the hospital.

I was on the air the evening of October 4th when the telephone call came from Nedra.

"Scott , something terrible . . . terrible . . ."

Between sobs, I got the story. Nedra's mother is a practical nurse: almost as soon as Nedra and the baby reached her apartment she had spotted something peculiar about Nedra Kristina's eating pattern. When she phoned the hospital a nurse tried to reassure her that babies were often upset after being moved. But when Nedra Kristina began to vomit, Nedra and her mother didn't ask any more questions. They wrapped the baby up and took a taxi to the hospital where the doctor re-examined her. "Scott, there's something wrong . . ." Nedra began to cry again. She's all twisted inside. They may have to operate, and they say there's not. . . . Her voice broke off.

I went back to the microphone and, my own voice none too steady, told our listeners what I'd just heard. And all over the state, people who a few days earlier I'd consigned to the bottom of the sea, began a round-the-clock prayer campaign for our baby. As I set out for the airport, the staff of CBN again formed a circle around me in the hallway. "As the body of Christ we send you on this mission," said Pat. "Under Him you have authority in your family. Use that authority to stand against the evil attacking your child."

Authority. We send you as the body. Once more I had the feeling I had witnessed something I could not understand, but something that was important. What did Pat mean by...the telephone rang.

"For you, Scott. New York."

It was Dr. Francis Roe, the head of pediatric surgery at Columbia Presbyterian. He wanted permission to operate immediately. "It's the only chance, "said Dr. Roe.

Nedra met me in the hospital foyer. The operation was over. Together we went up to the recovery room. Nedra Kristina lay on her back in an incubator, intravenous tubes lacing that tiny body. Her eyes were closed and she was panting. Airtight vents were built into the sides of the incubator. I put on sterile gloves, reached through these and placed my hands on my baby daughter. "Lord Jesus," I prayed aloud, "I don't understand it, but I take this authority I have from You, and I claim complete wholeness for this little girl."

Next morning after Dr. Roe's rounds, it was too early to tell. The next day and the next he remained non-committal though the very burr of his Scottish accent was comforting to me. By the time I returned to Portsmouth at the end of the week he had progressed to . . . some months in the hospital before we could let her go home.

And all the while our radio family was praying the Storming Prayer. "Storm heaven with us, won't you, folks?" Pat would say, "Nedra Kristina is making progress."

At the beginning of the third week, Nedra phoned that Dr. Roe was bringing other doctors around to visit Nedra Kristina. I want everyone to see, he'd say, picking up our baby. This is a miracle I'm holding in my arms.

What a day it was when Nedra and I were able to go on CBN-TV and show everyone the baby they had been praying for. "Why was our child spared when another one dies?" I said into the camera. "I don't understand that. I only know that you and Nedra and Nedra Kristina and I will always belong to one another because of your prayers."

As soon as Nedra got to Portsmouth we'd gone house-hunting. Although a few people gave her deep-olive complexion a double take, no one refused to show us an apartment. We found a three-floor townhouse complete with cathedral ceiling in the living room for only $75 a month. The only catch was, it was unfurnished.

If anyone has a spare orange crate, let us know, I told the people down at CBN.

I didn't know what I'd said that made everyone start laughing. "It's Jesus," Pat explained. "The way He does things. Last week CBN bought an old house with some furniture in it no one knew what to do with. Help yourself."

So we came into a set of chairs and a dining room table and a sofa and some lamps and a mattress. No bedstead, but he mattress went fine on the floor. And it was in our new home, during my prayer time in the morning, that the strange thing began.

I was still reading the Bible before work each day, but now in the quiet time afterward, something new was happening. Words would keep popping into my mind. Urgent, forceful words, with a funny feel to them, almost as if they were alive and trying to be born. One day three quarters of the way through the book of Job, I came across a perfect description of what I was experiencing. Behold, my heart is like wine that has no vent; like new wine skins, it is ready to burst. I must speak that I may find release; I must open my lips and answer.

That was exactly what it felt like. At the office I described the feeling to Pat. He leaned back in his chair.

"It could be what the Bible calls prophecy," he said. "You know, speaking for God, God's words using human throat and lips. Why don't you experiment and see? Let the words come out. You'll find out quick enough whether or not they come from God."

With this encouragement, I found out all right. I found out what an idiot one human being can make of himself. It was a few days before Christmas, 1967, and Nedra's folks were coming. Nedra was really into Christmas and birthdays and family times like that, and she wanted the place to look as nice as possible. The trouble was, even with the furniture from CBN, the rooms were still pretty empty. One day I came home from the office, opened the front door, and there towering over me was this young sequoia, a Christmas tree, thirteen feet from the floor to the living room ceiling.

Nedra was standing on a chair stretching up on tiptoe to hook a popcorn chain over one of the branches. "Oh Scott, here! Help me. Isn't it great!" She handed me one end of the chain. "We may not have a bed but we've sure got a Christmas tree! Doesn't it look fantastic!" On and on she went, excited as a child.

As I walked around the tree, looping popcorn, I saw how Nedra had thrown herself into this thing. She had glass balls and tinsel icicles and cranberry ropes and colored lights and all sorts of stuff all over it. I could tell how much it meant to her, which made what happened next all the more appalling.

For the next day at work I had a phone call from a woman complaining about hearing The Christmas Tree Carol over CBN. The custom of decorating trees, she informed me, was a heathen practice which the Bible specifically condemned. Well, I thanked her for calling and forgot it. You know, we got all kinds of weird calls.

But that night, with a sleet storm howling outside, I sat in our living room looking at that giant tree. Again those urgent, compelling words started forming themselves in my head. They even had a faintly Elizabethan ring.

"Verily, I do not look gladly upon this tree in the house of My people for this tree is an abomination in My sight."

As Pat had suggested I spoke the words out loud, then glanced uneasily toward the kitchen where Nedra was feeding the baby. I could just see her face if she were to hear her beautiful tree called an abomination. I sighed and turned back to the days stack of Christmas cards. Seasons Greetings from Your Diaper Service. I looked up at the tree again. It was a creepy kind of night, windy and cold with sleet rattling on the windows. It seemed to me almost as though there were an unwanted presence hovering in the room.

"Yea, the presence you yourselves brought in with that heathen tree!"

The wind moaned around the corner of the house. I sprang up from the sofa, groped among the branches of the tree 'till my hands closed around the trunk, and without even stopping to unplug the light cord from the wall, started dragging it toward the front door. Balls fell off and broke beneath my feet, tinsel got in my mouth. Nedra, with Nedra Kristina in her arms, reached the room in time to see me haul the tree over the threshold and send it crashing down the front steps, electric cord trailing behind. It skidded across the frozen sidewalk to the gutter and I stepped back inside, brushing off my hands against my trousers.

Only then did Nedra find her voice. "Scott Ross, have you gone stark, staring MAD?"

"Not mad, my dear. Prophetic. God spoke to me very clearly just now about that tree, and I have been obedient."

She stared at me. "He spoke to you about my tree? My lovely beautiful Christmas tree?" She was too angry to cry. "And you acted, just like that, without even discussing it?"

"You don't understand about prophecy, Nedra. Prophecy means that God has spoken and when God speaks you don't run around checking it out with people."

"Now Mr. Scott Ross is into prophecy. What's my mother going to say when she sees our Christmas tree out on the sidewalk?"

Even I could see that this scene was bouncing off the wall. I picked up the few balls that had not broken and tried to decorate the mantel. But when Nedra's mother and father, her Aunt Good-Good and her Aunt Oretha arrived later in the week, it was to find a bare living room and a very confused young couple.

Nor was that the end of it. Just a few days after the tree episode I caught a newscast at the station which told of a group of American Indians trapped in a snowstorm out in Arizona. On the talk show that evening I made an appeal for clothing, and it was then that I received a second prophecy. Right in the middle of the show I got another word from the Lord: I was to chuck everything and go out personally to Arizona to minister to the Indians.

When I came home to Nedra with this incredible piece of news she looked at me as if she truly feared for my sanity. Here we were with a brand new baby and a brand new home, and I suddenly announce that we are going to leave Portsmouth, abandon all our radio and music training, and got out to work among people show problems we know less than nothing about.

But sure enough, while I was on the air the next night talking about the Indians a man telephoned to say that he too had just heard from the Lord. "You, Scott Ross," he intoned, "are supposed to go out to Arizona to work with these neglected children of God."

What else did I need! I'd had a word from the Lord and here was the confirmation of what I had heard. The only thing that bothered me was the logic of it. I knew a lot about people who were alienated from the traditional churches, and in radio I was finding a way to reach them. But what did I know about Arizona Indians? The farthest west Id ever gotten was West Virginia. I didnt bring this doubt up with anyone, though; I had taken a stand. The Lord had spoken, we were going to obey.

And then little Nedra Kristina exploded the whole house of cards.

Nedra was valiantly trying to cope with parents, aunts, friends dropping in, no furniture, no Christmas tree, a new baby, and Mr. Scott Ross who was prophesying. One evening there were more guests than chairs so we all went up to our bedroom and sat around on the big mattress on the floor, singing Christmas carols. Nedra Kristina lay on her back in the center of the group, fists and feet waving.

And all of a sudden into my mind popped a portion of scripture I'd read in Matthew that very morning: Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.

I looked at Nedra Kristina.

I let my voice drop an octave and pronounced that out of the mouth of this babe we were about to hear the praise of God. In English.

Nedra Kristina gurgled.

Nedra looked at me. Her mother and father tried not to. The aunts folded and unfolded their hands. I repeated the prophecy: this very night God was going to bring perfection from those tiny lips.

The baby hiccuped.

And all at once Aunt Oretha, that wonderful, wise and gentle woman, threw back her head and laughed. "I don't know what kind of voice you're hearing, honey, but it sure isn't God's. Why He's just got better sense."

And with the sound of her laughter it was as if a clean, fresh wind blew through the muddle in my brain. Of course God had better sense than to desire a three-month-old infant to converse like an adult. That had been my own far-out interpretation of the Bible verse. Every bit of it had been me the Christmas tree, still lying forlorn and frozen at the curb, the brainstorm about going out to Arizona. All a great big head trip.

"I'll make coffee," said Nedra. And no one in the family mentioned the scene again.

But the first thing I did when I got to the office on Monday was to shut myself in Pat Robertsons office and pour out the whole tale of error. So much for prophecy, I summed up.

To my annoyance, instead of apologizing for his role in the whole debacle, Pat nodded as though this were a perfectly predictable turn of events. "I told you to experiment," he agreed. "And when you did, you got stung. Satan stepped in and nearly scared you off altogether, didnt he?"

Satan stepped in . . . The words didn't sound so much like a figure of speech as they once had.

"Don't you know Satans the great counterfeiter?" Pat went on. "He can whisper the most plausible ideas youve ever heard right in your ear. And he's the slickest old Bible quoter there is."

"Then then how do you know prophecy from a big lie?"

"There were three ways," Pat said. "Not just one of them, but all three together were the way God confirmed His word to us. Satan may trump up one of them, or even two, but he's too chaotic a character to get all three working together."

"The written Word," Pat went on, "was the first test. Check every voice you hear against the Bible. Where in the Bible does it say, for instance, that you shouldn't have a Christmas tree?"

"I don't know where, exactly. The woman who called said the Bible said you shouldn't decorate trees. She said it was a heathen custom."

"Of course it was a heathen custom to start with! Most customs were. Don't take anybody's word about whats in the Bible. Check it out for yourself.

"Next," said Pat, "test the prophecy in your own spirit. Bring everything you have to bear on it experience, commonsense, your own past history, your inclinations. Our spirit is to test the spirits, you know.

"And finally," he said, "when scripture and your own spirit agree, lay your proposed action before the body of Christ. Not some guy you never met who calls up on the telephone. I'm talking about the recognized elders of the church, my friend. Recognized local leaders who will hear out your prophecy and give a mature judgement like it says in First Corinthians. Remember how ..."

But I was no longer listening. Words like elders and leaders were banging around my head. Then where was freedom? Where was the Spirit? Where were the things Nedra and I were looking for when we signed on for this Christian trip?

If I was going to have to start taking orders now, checking it out with some kind of committee every time I wanted to sneeze, I might just as well be back in one of those narrow little churches I'd grown up in, with a list of rules ten miles long and everyone minding everyone elses business. The ones that picked my father to death with their gossiping and spying. No thanks. I wasn't going to listen to anyone but Jesus.

Those other two tests, though your own inner witness and what the Bible had to say they sounded okay. And six months later I had a chance to try them out.

It was a hot afternoon in July when I bumped into Pat in the hallway of CBN. In his hand he held a letter.

"Interesting, Scott," he said, handing me the letter as we passed. The letter was from a man named Andy Andersen and it described a chain of FM station in upstate New York. My eyes raced ahead. There were five stations, linked into a little network. An unusual network too, for they overlapped and today FCC regulations would prohibit this. You could drive a car all the way from Buffalo, New York to Albany, New York and never be out of range of these overlapping stations.

And these facilities were for sale. They were currently owned by a telephone company, but a recent court decision required it to sell. Andersen wrote that he thought they could be bought for half a million dollars. A good price, he said. A half-million-dollar bargain! I knew Pat and his associates had about zilch dollars in the bank.

I put the letter on Pat's desk. But I couldn't so easily get it out of my mind. I wondered if this was what it meant to have your spirit witness to a thing. I had often heard the phrase, to get a burden for something. That was exactly what it felt like. The sensation I felt in my heart for those five radio stations was like a weight. Heavy, but not unpleasant. The stations were my responsibility; I must pray for them.

Which is just what I did. Sometimes I prayed for a half a million dollars, other times I prayed they wouldnt cost that much. Just, God, let there be some way we can bring those stations into the CBN network.

"Think of it, Nedra," I said one evening as we sat propped up on our mattress-bed with Nedra Kristina asleep between us. "Upstate New York. Dozens of colleges and universities. All those kids. And suddenly five radio stations are waiting to be bought. Just sitting behind a microphone we could talk to students at Cornell and Syracuse and Rochester and Rensselaer and Colgate. We could talk straight. We could let it all hang out. It would be something brand new."

"What does Pat say about it?" asked Nedra.

"What Pat said, of course, every time we talked, was, 'Wheres the money going to come from?'"

But then one day he had an idea: "Look, Scott," he said, "if the phone company is going to have to sell those stations for cash and then pay a tax on the transaction, why dont they give them away to CBN and claim a charitable deduction?"

We stood staring at each other. "It might work," I said. "It just might work."

By the end of the week Nedra and I knew it was going to work. Friday night we got a baby-sitter and went out to a little coffee house. While we were sitting there a young man came over to our table.

"You're Scott Ross, aren't you?"

"That's right. Do we know each other?"

"No. I saw an article about you in the Pilot."

So we sat around making small talk.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Upstate New York."

Nedra and I exchanged glances. We told him about the network of FM stations we were praying for.

"Oh, those stations," the young man said. "Sure I know them. I used to listen to them while I studied. Most of the students do, because they play background music. You know, not a lot of talk. Listen, if you got those stations youd have a built-in audience."

"I still can't get over it," I said to Nedra next morning at breakfast. "What are the changes of running into that guy and his bringing up the business about students and those stations? I tell you, love, God's in this thing!"

Nedra buttered some toast. The words Christmas tree and Arizona were never spoken between us, but they had made both of us shy about proclaiming what God did or didn't want.

Check everything against the written word . . . The Bible beside the teapot. What if I were to open it, just anywhere, and see if it confirmed this idea.

Feeling embarrassed because I wasn't sure it was okay to use the Bible this way, I flipped it open somewhere in the middle and stuck my finger on the page. My finger landed on Isaiah 55:12:

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

I read it again, scarcely believing it. "Oh, wow, Nedra. If this is God speaking to us, were going to be going up there, you and I, and there's going to be singing and the whole place celebrating because of what's going on."

Nedra took the Bible from me and read the verse herself. "Are there really lots of hills and trees in upstate New York, Scott?"

"Nothing but."

She picked up Nedra Kristina from her wicker basket. "You've got a kooky daddy, honey." But as she said it she was dancing with the baby around the green metal table.

Monday I told Pat about the Isaiah verse. Pat was excited in his unflappable way. "I hear it, Scott," he said. "In fact, let's get on the morning show right now and tell people about this."

"We've made a definite proposal to the telephone company," Pat said into the microphone, and then laughed. "That is, we've asked them to give the stations to us. And now here comes this scripture which the Lord gives Scott. If we're hearing God correctly, the Rosses are to go forth and the very hills around Ithaca will sing. Will you pray with us right now for those stations?"

It was two days later that Pat was waiting outside the studio when I got to work.

"They've accepted, haven't they?" I said.

"They have!" For once Pat's cool was undone. "It's just a matter of the paperwork now. The stations are ours! When can you leave?" He ran on without a pause. "We can swing a twenty-five dollar raise for the higher cost of living up there."

I must have looked hesitant because he started telling me all over again what a great opportunity the stations were. "I know the money's not great, but if you got along on a hundred dollars a week here, you should be able to make it on a hundred and twenty-five up there."

But it wasn't the money. Just, somehow, I'd never really pictured what it would be like to pickup and move, baby and all, to some place we'd never laid eyes on, and now that the time was actually here I was scared.

But Pat had been right when hed said that God's signposts, when they come, never come singly. Everything but everything suddenly pointed us away from Portsmouth. Even the townhouse where we'd been so comfortable, all at once wasn't comfortable any more.

It happened when some of Nedra's family came down for two weeks in August. Funny how no one had ever noticed their skin color before. Now we began to get comments from the neighbors.

"You know, Mr. Ross, it's not that we have any objection to these people, but I'm going to be selling my house soon, and you know what happens to real estate values when . . ."

Yeah. Anyhow, I believe the Lord let this happen as an added direction signal. Nedra and I had an easy time packing, since most of our furniture belonged to CBN anyhow. We'd sold Nedra's car to pay Nedra Kristinas hospital bills. We rented the smallest U-Haul truck available and took the highway north.

The needle of the Empire State Building rose out of the industrial fog of New Jersey as we approached New York City. I remembered the first time I'd seen that spire, a lonesome kid of sixteen, riding up to the observation tower to dream dreams of glory. Here I was, twelve years later, my worldly possessions not filling the back of a small U-Haul . . .

Ithaca is 250 miles northwest of Network. On September 1, 1968, Nedra and I pulled the truck to the crest of a hill overlooking the town. A fabulous world lay below us. Geologically, the land was glacier country. Huge ice fingers had gouged out the area, leaving long slender valleys which filled with water. Ithaca sat between two parallel ranges of hills, at the southern end of one of these deepwater lakes. Here and there already a scarlet tree announced the oncoming fall.

Our only contact in Ithaca was Andy Andersen, the man who had been running the station and acting as intermediary between the telephone company and Pat Robertson. We located Andys house and got a big welcome. He and his wife Robin couldnt wait to drive us up to the transmitter.

What a site for a radio station! Chipmunks, woodchucks, a porcupine and a deer ran to cover as Andy's car crunched up the gravel road. Years ago some farmer had built himself a house way out here. The network had purchased the property and erected a transmitting tower in the back yard. The farmhouse was now studio and office, and to run both there was only a skeleton crew headed by Andy.

The Andersens insisted we stay with them until we could work out living arrangements of our own. And so began our search for a home, the search which though we didnt suspect it at the time was to lead to so much more.

Each day we poured over the real estate columns in the local paper. There were very few rentals, and what did exist was out of our range. Using the textbook rule of one-weeks-pay-for-the-rent, we could spend $125 a month for housing. There was never anything near this price. Then one day Nedra said:

"Scott, look at this. Under MOBILE HOMES: Trailer for rent. $90.00 And its furnished!"

Andy looked at the address and nodded; the trailer was on the very road that led to the transmitter. That same afternoon we all drove out to take a look at it. The trailer sat catty-cornered on a lot next to an isolated farmhouse. It was small and tinny and I wondered how it would stand up to the deep freeze of Ithacas sub-zero winter. But inside it was cozy and homelike. Twenty minutes later we signed a month-to-month rental agreement.

That night I phoned Pat to report progress. The plan was for me to stay at the transmitter until the beginning of 1969 when the Christian programming could begin.

"That's over three months off," Pat said. "You won't have anything to do except play records. Know what I suggest you do with your time, Scott? Read the Bible. What an opportunity! Wish I had it myself."

And that's exactly what I did. For three months, for twelve hours a day, from six in the morning until six in the evening, I played background music, breaking in occasionally to read the news. But basically, I knew, I'd been given this time to find out what God said in His Word.

During this time too I settled on the kind of program I wanted once CBN officially took over the stations. I got out a map of New York state and drew circles around the five outlets Ithaca, Syracuse, Schenectady, Rochester, Buffalo each circle representing the FM range. It was true that you could drive across the whole state and never lose the voice of CBN Northwest.

My dream was to reach my kind of people with a contemporary sound. Instead of the usual back-to-back preaching of most Christian radio stations, our's would have varied programming. Mine would be the evening show, and I'd call it Tell It Like It Is. In between good records people could call in to talk about their problems; I knew from my experience in Portsmouth that there was no better setting for a natural lead-in to Jesus. The show would be reaching into bars and automobiles and dorms and drug-scene parties: the market place where my kind of people hung out, hungry and thirsty for something they couldnt define.

And afterwards, when they found the answer what then? The ones Jesus would call, the ones He would heal: where would they go? To some red brick church-on-the-corner, dressed, like the man said, in appropriate attire?

I didn't have any answers to that one. I wasn't sure anybody did.

Read Chapter 7.

 

This excerpt from Scott Free is reprinted with permission from the author. Any use of this material without written consent of the author is strictly prohibited. 

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