Rebecca West: Words & Music

Fiction or Reality?

by Bob West

March 31, 2010.

Adam's family and unseen spirits

Do you believe there is such a thing as a real devil?
Forty-seven percent of those who consider themselves evangelical Christians, 69 percent of Catholics, and 65 percent of mainline Protestants don't. They think Satan is just a symbol of the evil that exists. (George Barna, "What Americans Believe" (Ventura, CA, Regal Books, 1991), 204-6.))

Joe Beam writes, "Believing there is a devil who is served by angels and demons is not popular in the religious world of modern America. But denying the devil's existence gives him unacceptable leverage in his efforts on earth today. It is true that our faith must be in God and our reliance on Him. But blindly facing the attacks of a real and vicious enemy unarmed is foolhardy, unnecessary, and extremely painful. God Himself tells us in the Bible that Satan exists, warning against his deceit. Paul counseled that awareness of Satan's schemes keeps him from outwitting us (2 Corinthians 2:11) and that putting on the full armor of God enables us to stand against the devil's schemes (Ephesians 6:11)." (Joe Beam, "Seeing the Unseen" Revised (Howard Publishing, 2000), 38.)

Spiritual warfare is real, and it has been going since the Garden of Eden. My Our Father's Children comic strip is a graphic history of that conflict. It was not intended to be just another illustrated Bible story for children. It is a message for all -- especially adults, both young and old. It is about reality, not fiction. And responses from readers like the following have let me to know my mission has been successful: "I enjoyed your OFC strip and some of the Theophilus and the Powers of Darkness strips. You definitely have a awesome way of making us aware of the reality of the spiritual side working and influencing our world around us. I haven't seen such a perspective on the spiritual realm since the likes of C.S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters."

A Lifetime of Preparation

Recently I realized that God has been preparing me my entire life to tell the story of my journey to freedom. Even before I knew Him. I have told some of that story in my comics. Now I will share more of it in these memoirs.

I grew up in rural southern United States during the Great Depression. I learned at a young age to work hard, and to the best of my ability, to help with our family's living expenses during hard times. Even if it meant working in cotton fields in the hot sun from sunup to sundown. But I liked drawing pictures better.

I did not realize back then that my drawing aptitude was a gift from God to be developed over time. However, art classes were not part of the curriculum where I went to school. But God provided a way. One day I noticed oil paintings on display in the front window of Flowers Foto Shop and discovered that Jo and Dick Flowers had graduated from an art school in New York City. Dick was nice enough to give me art instruction after school and allowed me to learn a little about the photography business.

I prepared cartoons for the high school newspaper, visual aids for classrooms, and posters for the library. I became very interested in the serial adventure comic strips appearing in newspapers. Some had good suspenseful stories. Some had great illustrations. Some had both. One of my favorite cartoonists was Milton Caniff, who had finished 12 years of writing and illustrating daily episodes of Terry and the Pirates and was now doing Steve Canyon. I spent some time studying both his drawing and storytelling techniques.

A contact I made while doing the scenery for the senior play landed me a job with the local Coca-Cola bottler after graduation. Painting signs was among my various duties. A few months later Art Craft Sign Company offered me a job where I could paint signs every day.

My friend Milton Cook, who also liked to draw, talked me into going into the Air Force with him. The Korean War had begun and men were being drafted. We imagined that the Air Force could use two additional artists.

Milton changed his mind at the last moment. I had already quit my job, signed up, and there was no turning back for me. I went into the Air Force alone. I had never been away from home. Now I was on a train with strangers, going to a military base in Texas hundreds of miles away, not knowing what to expect. I was frightened. And I felt betrayed and abandoned by my friend.

Many years later, after I started listening to the Lord, He let me know that He had used Milton to get me to leave home. Milton didn't go because it was not his time to go. He would enlist later. The Lord wanted me to forgive Milton. And I did.

After basic training, I asked to be assigned as an artist, but they trained me as a clerk-typist instead. Even then, the Lord was preparing me with the skills I would need in order to do what He had planned for me later in life. (A couple of years later, I was able to change career fields and become an illustrator.)

When I finished technical training, I was assigned to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, where I worked in a training squadron orderly room assisting the First Sergeant. I took care of Morning Reports, Special Orders, Military Correspondence, Filing, and the Mail Room for the instructors, staff, and about 500 air rescue and survival students. I really enjoyed this assignment, but it was about to get even better.

Three months later the entire squadron moved to the base at West Palm Beach, Florida, which turned out to be more of a blessing than I could have imagined.

Sylvia Buteau was born in Warwick, Rhode Island. Her family were members of the Roman Catholic Church. It would seem very unlikely that a shy country boy who had grown up in a small southern town in Tennessee and who was a member of the non-instrumental Church of Christ would ever meet and marry a Roman Catholic girl who lived in a large New England city. However, when she was 12 years old, Sylvia moved with her parents to West Palm Beach. Nellie Hansen, who lived nearby became her best friend. Nellie invited Sylvia to attend the First Methodist Church with her. She did and soon became a member. And that is where I would eventually meet Sylvia.

After I settled at my new base in West Palm Beach, I had a desire to attend church, but had no transportation. Some other airmen were going to church and one of them had a car. They invited me to come along. Over the next few weeks we visited various churches. At the First Methodist Church we found a youth group with others our own age who were enjoyable to be with. When we began to attend regularly, they asked me to be the worship chairman of the youth group, even though I was not a member. I accepted.

This period of time was one of my happiest, in spite of the fact that one of my aunts (a member of the Church of Christ) wrote to tell me I was going to hell for attending the Methodist Church.

The people at the First Methodist Church seemed to accept me just as I was. I felt loved without having to earn it. But the best part is -- this is where God brought Sylvia into my life.

I had never kissed a girl and had few dates prior to this. I guess I was afraid of rejection. I was also afraid of girls. Sylvia and I started dating in April. One night in June I heard someone who sounded just like me ask, "Will you marry me?" And I heard someone who sounded just like Sylvia say, "Yes!!!"

I would not be surprised when I get to heaven to learn that the Holy Spirit used my tongue to pop that question, for He would have known that I was too shy to do it without help.

We were married on December 1, 1953. Three days later I got my orders to go to Korea for a year. While I was gone, Sylvia lived with her parents and our daughter Suzanne was born. After my year in Korea was over, I was assigned to Altus AFB, Oklahoma for the few months left on my enlistment.

In Altus we made a fresh start. I was away from familiar surroundings, and so was Sylvia. I had begun to feel guilty about not attending the Church of Christ, but I was too timid to explain my convictions to Sylvia. I suggested we visit around and see which church we liked best, already knowing which one I preferred.

The Church of Christ had a cry room where a mother could attend to a small baby's needs. The Methodist Church across the street had a nursery where you could leave your baby while you were in Sunday school and church services. Apparently the nursery was the main difference Sylvia saw between the two churches. I was unable to convince her that God wanted her to go to the Church of Christ. Therefore, on Sunday mornings we went our separate ways, at least for a few weeks.

When Sylvia turned to her pastor for encouragement, he assured her, "Those people have their minds made up. There is no use trying to reason with them."

Meanwhile, I turned to my preacher for assistance. He gave me a tract about the Methodist Church versus the Church of Christ and I gave it to Sylvia. She read it and looked up the Bible references. When I came home from work the next afternoon, I was overjoyed to learn that she wanted to be baptized. In the Methodist Church she had been sprinkled, not immersed.

Little did we know at the time that the Lord had brought Sylvia and me together to accomplish His purposes for us, and that He was preparing us for a spiritual journey that would change our lives and for a ministry that would use my art studio at home to reach people around the world.

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