My dad, Jerry Bush, was a snake handling preacher at Jim Sizemore’s Holiness Church at Big Creek, Kentucky in the Fall of 1993. I had travelled with him far and wide earlier that summer in his little gray Toyota Tercel. We had attended services at several Pentecostal Holiness snake handling churches that summer and I had been a witness to many miraculous events. I saw people speak in tongues, pray for sick people in the name of Jesus and them be instantly healed, and handle deadly poisonous snakes and not be harmed. There’s nothing quite like a bunch of poor hillbilly holiness snake handlers playing rock-a-billy church music, feeling the awesome Spirit of God, and having the freedom to express themselves openly without rebuke and without reproach.
That summer was the first time in my life that I can recall where my dad and I really began to bond. Dad had worked in underground coal mining all of my life up until 1991 when he finally retired from Shamrock Coal Company. He worked day and night, many times six days a week for nineteen years. Needless to say, I did not see Dad very much during my early years. God had blessed him to survive a major mining accident before I was born in the mid-1970s. His body was scarred and battered by the time he retired and he gave his retirement to preaching the Gospel of Christ. It was wonderful travelling around Southeast Kentucky with Dad, talking, having fun, and being exposed to one of the richest and rarest cultures in the world.
All that summer I had been under conviction. I kept feeling God plucking at my heart’s strings. I would sit in the rear of the church and feel and insatible desire to run to the altar and pray. I held my peace, however. Fear always gripped my heart tightly at the last second. A voice inside my head would always tell me, “Everyone’s going to look at you. They are going to laugh at you. You don’t even know how to pray or what to say to God.” This was always enough to talk me out of it even when a preacher would look me dead in the eyes and ask me to pray. At home I would find myself in bed at night trembling underneath the covers. I was always afraid that I would die in my sleep without salvation in my heart and wake in an eternal Hell. This continued for what seemed to be an eternity that summer.
My birthday fell on a sunny Sunday on September 12 that year. Dad had decided to hold a revival meeting at our local church in Big Creek, Kentucky. My family had attended church there for many, many years and many members of the family were involved in snake handling within the church. Dad was a leader within this community and was held in high esteem among the congregation. That night he began to preach and his message of forgiveness and redemption drilled a hole right through my heart.
I remember going down to the altar to pray. Instead of everyone looking at me and laughing, they were all gathered around me, some kneeling with me, all praying with me and for me. I had never felt so much love in all my life. My heart felt like it would explode with this love. As we prayed and wept bittersweet tears of sorrow and repentance, I began to feel the heavy burden of sin fall away. It was as if someone had taken a great stone off from my back. I remember raising my eyes towards Heaven with uplifted arms and tears streaming down my cheeks, thanking God for my salvation. I stood to my feet and looked around at the people’s faces in the crowd and they seemed to glow with pure love. I loved everyone in the whole world with one pure love at that moment and I knew that I had been born again to love.
The shifting sands of time have swept most of my past into obscurity. I left my homeland and most everything that I ever knew to explore a new world and a new life. I carry with me traces of what I used to be and often look at the tattered fragments of my youth and fondly remember the good times I had in that old country church.