“I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
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Brother Larry McClellan, an elder with the Clearwater Florida Bible Students, grew up in a Bible Student home. His earliest memory of being raised differently was at age 11. His mother, Sr. Hazel McClellan, was very diligent in reading him Bible stories as a child. He says, “When my sixth grade friend (now Brother) David Hauke, could not play with me on Saturdays until he sat down with me and listened to a Reprint article my mother
would read — then I knew I was different!” Although David was being raised as an atheist/evolutionist, David and Larry would get into many scriptural discussions over the years. Between those discussions and Sr. Hazel’s Bible readings, both boys made a consecration around age 17.
WITNESS LESSON: Your circle of friendship is one of your best opportunities for witnessing and having someone embrace the truth.
College years are formative for most, and Larry’s desire to share the “jewels” of truth continued. In 1970 he attended Michigan
State University. One day he walked down a resident hallway and overheard a gathering of young men discussing the Scriptures. He jumped in and began explaining God’s plan
for man. (Now Brother) Tom Gilbert walked into the room and they later discussed the Scriptures in Tom’s dorm room. Bro. Larry explains, “It was the Lord’s hand, and I was simply the instrument of that hand to find such a dear brother as Tom. Tom was very logical and the Lord opened his eyes very quickly to see two different beings in 1 Corinthians 15 where it speaks of God, and then Jesus turning the kingdom back over to God after he had subdued all things. There was no trinity — period. Tom subsequently went with me to a few conventions and totally embraced and loved the truth about the loving Father he had found, His wonderful son and the truly good news for all
Bro. Tom’s Memory of that Day
“I lived in a dorm room just down the hall from Larry. One evening, I went to the room of one of my friends to ask him a question. As I turned into his room, I had to come to an abrupt stop because the tiny dorm room was filled with 10-12 students listening to Larry sitting on the floor in the middle of the small
room. He was talking about the Bible, God, and Jesus. I stood in the doorway listening for 10 minutes or so until he finished talking and the guys filed out of the room. As Larry came out, I told him I appreciated the fact that he was talking about the Bible and its message, but he was mixed up about several things. He said he would be glad to have me point those things out to him, so we went down to my room and started talking. We talked for a couple of hours. He showed me things in the Bible I had never heard about or seen before! By the end of our discussion, he had persuaded me that the Bible did not teach the trinity ‘doctrine.’ We talked frequently after that, and I became more and more interested. I was impressed by how well Larry knew his Bible, and how poorly I knew mine. I could tell Larry what I had been told the Bible taught, but in many cases I did not know where to find it in the Bible. Larry not only knew where those things were, but brought in other Scriptures that shed new light on what they actually meant.”
Bro. Tom’s Background
Bro. Tom, now an elder with the Southern Wisconsin Bible Students, grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was raised in the denomination known as Evangelical United Brethren, or “E.U.B.” In 1968, the E.U.B. merged with the Methodist denomination, now called “United Methodist.” His family was very active in their church. His grandfather was the church custodian. His father was Superintendent of the Sunday School program. Tom was president of the church’s Youth Group for a few years. People who knew Tom could have well imagined he would grow up to be a minister. In fact, he scored highest in the “minister” occupation category on his high school aptitude test!
But Tom recalls he was searching for something. He tried attending a United Methodist Church adjacent to the college campus. He went to the Sunday evening student gathering several times, but was disillusioned one night when a female student said that God could very well be a “she,” not a “he.” “I said the Bible clearly presents God as masculine. One of the adult advisors was sitting there listening to our conversation. When I turned to her looking for support of my view, she was unwilling to say one way or the other. I never went to that Sunday evening gathering again.” Also at that
time, he wrote an essay for one of his classes describing his search for a deeper meaning to life. “In the essay I was on a journey looking for meaning in various aspects of life and the world around me, but I kept coming up empty.”
When asked what was so appealing about the message Larry gave to him, Tom replied, “The plan of God to save all people sounded wonderful, and it became clear that Jesus could
not be the same as Jehovah, and Larry showed me scripture after scripture to prove it. God was no longer an aloof being to be feared, but a merciful being who had the wisdom and power
to bring about the restoration of the earth and all mankind.” He added, “It was hard to break off the conversation late that night. More and more questions came to my mind and I wanted
to know the answers.”
Another Witness Opportunity
One summer a young man asked if Larry wanted to join a softball team. This young man was (now Brother) Ken Osterman, today with the Grand Rapids Associated Bible Students.
Initially hesitant that it might take too much time away from his studies, Larry signed up. At this point they were just acquaintances.
As a way to witness, Larry hung posters and tracts on bulletin boards around the campus with his name and room number. Bro. Ken recalls, “As I was walking through the residence hall to have supper, I passed a bulletin board and stopped to read the posted items. I don’t remember the exact content, but one
item posed questions about world events and why God permits evil things to happen. It advertised some literature that offered answers to these dilemmas. A room number was given so I went and knocked at the door and was totally surprised when Larry McClellan opened the door! I told him that I had read the item posted on the bulletin board and was interested in the literature that was offered. I was not interested in discussion but simply wanted the literature. Larry gave me a book (the First Volume) and I left. The encounter was very brief.”
Bro. Larry remembers, “On the way back from softball games, I would talk to some of my teammates and eventually started a little Bible study group. Ken joined us, but he didn’t say much. He was the one I thought least likely to embrace the truth because of his quietness and what I thought were some bad habits. But I didn’t know what was going on in his head and
in his heart.”
WITNESS LESSON: Never be presumptuous about who the Lord is going to call — no matter what their background or habits.
Bro. Ken’s Background
The comparison of Bro. Ken’s and Bro. Tom’s early life is interesting. While Bro. Tom grew up entertaining thoughts of becoming a minister, Bro. Ken had interest in becoming a
Catholic priest. Ken faithfully attended CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) and attended four years of Catholic school. He was an altar boy for six years.
Bro. Ken shares, “At a very young age, a scripture repeated weekly by the priest at the end of the Sunday gospel reading stuck in my mind. Matthew 24:35, ‘Heaven and Earth will
pass away, but My words will not pass away.’ That was my only memory of any specific scripture from the Catholic system. I knew the Bible stories as taught by the church, believed Jesus was God, believed the trinity because the priest and nuns taught it, believed in limbo, hell, purgatory and indulgences, prayed to
Mary the mother of God and to other saints and practiced confession, repentance and the mass. I was a good Catholic.”
However, Bro. Ken’s teenage and young adult years were difficult. He was plagued by childhood injuries, insecurities, and depression. The flames of hellfire always seemed to be licking
at his heels; and as much as he longed for light, guilt and despair continued to pull him down. He started and dropped out of college three times and was rejected by the Army trying
to enter the Vietnam War.
Ken was 21 years old, mentally exhausted and feeling hopeless when he knocked on Larry’s door for literature. “I was desperate for a lifeline,” he explains. He had developed bad lifestyle habits that made him ashamed, but he was unable to stop. “I came to grips that God was arbitrary and unfair. I totally rejected God
as a loving God and frequently cursed God and told Him that if I am going to hell, I was going to enjoy life now so that He can justly condemn me.”
Ken recalls specific scenes in his life he now sees as stepping stones to help him receive the message Larry was giving. Two of these were:
● “In high school, I had a Baptist minister for one of my classes. One day I mentioned purgatory. He mockingly laughed and
challenged me to show him in the Bible where purgatory is
mentioned. I asked my CCD instructor and he referenced 2
Maccabees 12. In retrospect, this planted a seed of doubt toward
my Catholic doctrine, but also a seed of truth. Was this
coincidental or providential?
● “A few days prior to responding to Larry’s poster, two students knocked on my door. They were witnessing for Christ and asked me if I knew Jesus Christ as my Savior. I replied that I knew
Jesus Christ, but I could not and would not serve a God that tortured people in hell. They were a bit surprised at my tone and response and tried to persuade me, but I abruptly terminated the discussion and told them to leave. Was this also coincidental or providential?”
By this time, Larry had enough interest from his tracting activities to form a little Bible class that Ken attended. “Larry always had a scriptural answer to our questions. The Bible
seemed to have all the answers. In my Catholic upbringing, I had not read the Bible nor been encouraged to do so. The priest, nuns, and catechism had been my source of doctrine. Then came my big question that I posed to Larry, ‘What you say about the kingdom is so wonderful! But what about all those who
God condemns to hell? God is not wise and He is so vengeful!’ Larry’s answer was simple and clearly stated, ‘What the churches teach about hell and what the Bible teaches about
hell are far different teachings.’ He gave me the pamphlet ‘The Truth About Hell’ and I immediately drove to the local Catholic bookstore and bought my first Bible. (Several weeks later
in Bible study with Larry, Tom, and others, I quoted a beautiful Scripture that Larry had never heard. When I surprisingly referred him to the Book of Baruch, he suggested that I get
“I studied that pamphlet word for word. I looked up every scripture. I could not believe what I was reading! It contradicted everything I had believed regarding God’s purpose of hell.
Not only did it contradict my terrible belief in hellish pain, but it used the Bible as its source of proof. The burden that was lifted from my spirit was immense. But this was private. Larry did not
sense the hope that had taken root in my heart. He only saw
someone who continued to come to the group discussions
and participate seemingly on the fringe.”
Bro. Ken finally started reading that First Volume Larry had previously given him. He studied it page by page just as he had
done with the pamphlet, proving the truth to himself.
Larry remembers, “Both Tom and Ken had good teachable hearts, the good soil Jesus talked about where a seed would germinate. I emphasized the kingdom message with them and how there could not be a fiery hell from a true God of love, always giving scriptures to support these teachings. I seem to recall that Ken enjoyed math, so one weekend I left him with a
Second Volume. He enjoyed it and wanted to know more. The more he learned, the more he drew closer to the Lord, eventually making a consecration and leaving the bad habits behind. The Lord had richly blessed me once more.”
In May 1971, both Ken and Tom were immersed with nine others at a convention in Chicago.
Bro. Tom Shares a Memory
“One of my favorite stories about Larry is that the very first weekend of a 1970’s fall quarter, he invited me to go with him to Merrillville, Indiana so he could visit his girlfriend, (Sister) Debbie Ledwinka. We were taking a train, and as soon as we pulled out of the station Larry reached down into one of his bags
and pulled out a huge stack of tracts. He split the pile in half, handed me one half, and said, ‘You go that way through the train cars, and I’ll go the other way, and hand out these tracts to
anyone who will take one.’ I was a mere ‘babe’ at that point and had never ‘tracted’ before. I was quite an introvert and I was terrified! But I dared not disappoint Larry (let alone my
Heavenly Father), so I did what he asked. I don’t remember much about how it went. I just remember my terror, but I survived the experience.”
A Larger Campus Witness
Tom and Larry thought that putting on a witness effort on campus might draw some others to the truth. Brother Chuck Ryba had joined them at the dorm by then. Brothers David Doran, Carl Hagensick, and George Tabac spoke at various public witness events. The young brethren passed out tracts and put up posters to advertise the talks. They were often
laughed at or ridiculed. But at least one person looked at the tract very carefully, (now Brother) Bob Davis, now an elder in the Jackson (Michigan) Bible Students. He attended the presentation of Bro. Carl. Tom, Chuck, and others helped lead Bob to eventually make a consecration. Their efforts now yielded even more spiritual fruitage.
Bro. Bob Davis’ Story
“My path to the Lord started with my mother, a very good person who was not particularly religious. As a child of four, I was dying from peritonitis and given little hope for survival. My
mother and father spent the night in the little chapel of the Catholic hospital praying. She did not ask the Lord to spare my life, but if He did, I would be his. When they returned to my room in the morning, my father felt that my legs, which had been turning cold, were now warm. Mother did not relate this story to me until I had found the Lord in college, although
occasionally — and strange to me at the time — she would gently encourage her worldly son to become a minister.
A crisis at college prepared my heart. My search for the Lord started with a false witness. A recently converted Christian friend advised me to ask the Lord for a miracle and He would
surely grant it. I first asked for a simple miracle which was not granted! I then prayed, with as sincere a prayer as I have ever prayed, for the truth. I told the Lord I was but a child and did
not understand. Would He show me the truth? Soon thereafter, He did give me the truth, and still does, in basket and store. This is how it happened:
Several paths to the Lord reached dead ends. Then one day a worldly roommate, knowing I was seeking the truth, handed me a tract he picked up on campus. Tom Gilbert and Chuck Ryba, two members of the Michigan State Bible Students, were tracting there. The tract advertised a talk on the Lord’s presence
given by Carl Hagensick which I attended. The talk made little impression since I did not know about the Lord’s first presence, let alone his second. After the talk, the scenic cover of the Fort Worth Divine Plan Magazine caught my attention. After reading only 35 pages I was impressed with the wonderful sense it made. I thought, ‘this is God!’ At the end of the magazine there was an encouragement towards consecration which my spirit, at the objection of my flesh, followed. I ordered the six volumes of
Studies in the Scriptures from Chicago. The Chicago brethren alerted Tom and Chuck, who then paid me a visit at my college apartment. I immediately became a member of the Michigan
State Bible Students and soon traveled to conventions.
Tom Gilbert was instrumental in my consecration process. I had plans to spend the weekend at a beach with a friend, but Tom proposed going to the Chicago convention instead. My flesh battled with my spirit, but Tom’s gentle persuasion won the day. That was a turning point.”
WITNESS LESSON: Just living a separate or different lifestyle is a strong witness. “Later, Tom again gently encouraged me towards baptism which occurred at a small Grand Rapids convention. I was late for the service, so
I sat in the back until Carl made the call to come forward. You can plainly hear the footsteps in the recording as I answered the call.”
The Witnessing Spirit Continues Long After College
Larry continues his story, “After graduating from college and getting married to Sr. Debbie Ledwinka, I picked up a teaching assignment in Columbus, Indiana. The school I worked at
happened to have another special person the Lord wanted to find the truth, the eventual principal, (Sister) Gracia Reid. I was in her office one day and saw a book amongst her belongings
entitled, ‘How to Know God’s Will.’ I used that topic to springboard into a witness. I related how I tried to determine God’s will in my life and then shared some of the beautiful
things in God’s plan for man that had inspired me. Gracia was moved by God’s wonderful plan and after further discussions, came out to meetings and consecrated her life to God. I had
the special privilege of immersing her. Gracia is a sister who now attends the Orlando Bible Students class. How very humbling to have so many rewarding opportunities and being used as an instrument to help these dear ones see our beautiful truth.”
Because of Larry’s willingness to share his faith, he has helped many brethren find the Lord. He continues to speak to anyone with an ear to hear. We asked for his suggestions to use in our own witnessing. He offers the following:
(1) Speak mainly about the kingdom on earth and the hope of the Abrahamic Promise.
(2) Have some scriptures typed out on various topics that you can leave with your interested party. Be prepared to prove everything you address with a “Thus saith the Lord.”
(3) Be prepared to address key scriptures on both sides of the question of hell and the trinity.
(4) Be understanding and approach your remarks in a loving and non-condescending manner. Be patient, be kind, sincere, passionate, and joyfully enthusiastic about your hope
in the kingdom message.
(5) “Paint the picture,” share the vision of God’s true character of love and justice for all.
(6) Wherever possible, use the logical question approach. Get them thinking about what they believe and if they have a scriptural basis for believing it.
(7) If they are interested, offer an appropriate piece of literature or even offer to have a Bible study if they want to know more.
(8) Pray to the Lord for opportunities to witness the truth. Then watch for them.
“Keep in mind, it is not how many come into the truth because of your efforts in witnessing. It is the effort put forth that the Lord looks for. Leave the results with God. The Father will draw them if they truly have ‘good soil’ to receive the seed of truth.”
Categories: 2017 Issues, 2017-July/August