A. A. Allen was a world renowned Christian evangelist in the 1950s-60s. In his book 'Born To Lose, Bound To Win' (pages 67-71), the captivating story of how Allen found Jesus was published shortly after he died.
As a 23 year old young man, he was known as "one of the worst sinners" in the region. He'd already served time in jail, had a common-law wife, been an alcoholic, smoked two packs of Camel cigarettes each day, he was the host for the lucrative Saturday night bootlegging dance hall where he and his mom would sell the illegal moonshine they sneakily brewed stovetop under the cover of night. All this changed when God got a hold of him. Here is the story as told by Allen:
"One day Lawrence Alkins, a friend of mine who lived on the next farm, told me that eight miles east of us at the Onward Methodist church a lady evangelist named Nina DePriestes was holding a revival.
He suggested we attend, a suggestion which amazed me since I had never heard Larry (or anyone else) ever speak of religion. As a full-fledged moonshiner I had become more notorious than ever in our neck of the woods. I doubted that I would be welcome at the church, even if I wanted to attend.
But God had His hand on me. I found myself telling Larry that I'd go to the revival with him.
Onward Methodist was an old country church. The frazzled sign that hung outside the entrance-ONWARD-was painted erratically in white on a piece of castoff wood. The inside didn't look like much either. Maybe two dozen people, a few rows of cob-rough benches and a big wood-burning stove.
So we would be as inconspicuous as possible, Larry and I took seats on the last bench. I was grateful that the big stove partially hid me from the lady evangelist, who was already preaching.
She was talking about things I didn't understand-that the wrath of God would visit His judgement on sinners, that a sinner had to be born again to enter Heaven. Sister DePriestes paced the pulpit and so the stove couldn't completely hide me from her penetrating stare. It seemed that everything she was saying was aimed directly at me.
I was hearing the first sermon of my life and, strangely, it began to stir something inside me.
Sister DePriestes was a local woman, the wife of a man who ran a trucking line. She preached whenever she heard the call. And since she was from around our area, she undoubtedly knew all about me.
She was barbed in an angelic, gleaming white dress. She seemed the purest, prettiest woman I had ever seen. And there was a purity and cleanliness, too, about those scattered through the church. Everyone was smiling, everyone seemed happy, their eyes riveted to the pulpit, hanging on every word that flowed from Sister DePriestes.
She was through, finally, and made an alter call for sinners to come forward and meet God.
What was stirring in me was confusing. I had never felt this way before.
But I knew one thing-I didn't want to get close to that woman in the white dress. A promiscuous twenty-three-year-old, an ex-con and a practicing bootlegger just didn't mingle with a lady like Sister DePriestes. I wasn't fit to touch the hem of her beautiful white dress.
I didn't respond to the alter call.
I entered the Onward Methodist Church that night a sinner, and I left that night still a sinner.
But hearing the Gospel preached for the first time in my life was having a deep effect on me. I began thinking through the sister's sermon.
It was clear I was a sinner, though no one had ever pointed that fact out to me before. And no one, as Sister DePriestes had said, ever told me that Jesus had died for my sins.
Jesus? Who, what was He?
Could Jesus wash away my sins?
Was I worthy of being saved?
Could God so quickly cancel all my transgressions?
What did the new life in Christ of which Sister DePriestes spoke so eloquently really have to offer me?
Out in the field the next day, picking strawberries alongside some of my young friends, everyone was talking about the sister and the revival. They didn't think much of her or the services. The consensus was that all Christians were hypocrites. My friends were bitter and couldn't see that Christianity related to their lives in the slightest.
As for me, I was taking a hard look down the road of my life, and all I could see was more anguish, trouble, purposelessness.
Was Sister DePriestes really offering a tangible alternative to all that?
If so, it was a miracle.
Still undecided, my emotions jostling against each other, the molehill of goodness inside me struggling against the mountain of evil, I went back the second night of the revival to hear the sister preach again.
And again she preached the wrath of God and damnation for all those living outside His kingdom.
Her message was powerful and persuasive. Yes, she was offering me an alternative, an alternative that forty-eight hours ago I didn't know existed.
"Anyone here who's a sinner, stand up," I heard Sister DePriestes say commandingly.
There was a hush in the Onward Methodist Church, a hush of expectancy, for the souls who might now be contemplating the transition from Hell to Heaven.
I found myself on my feet!
Sister DePriestes shot an unbelieving glance at me.
Only one other person in the church was standing, a young girl.
"Those on your feet come forward." From the corner of my eye I saw the young girl sit down. But I moved to the altar bench at the front of the church.
"You're the Allen boy who runs that dance hall and sells liquor! I know all about you. You're the worst sinner in these parts."
"Do you really want to be saved?"
"I find it very difficult to believe you. You'd better not be mocking God. You better mean business,"
"I do, I honestly do."
"Then kneel at the altar bench."
"I didn't know you had to kneel."
Fire lighted Sister DePriestes' dark eyes. "If you're treating this as a joke, if you came down the aisle to make fun of me, make fun of God, then you'd better turn and head straight out the door to Hell, which is where you're going if you don't get right."
I kneeled. I hadn't been reluctant to fall on my knees. Knowing nothing about church, I simply wasn't aware that it was required to kneel.
Sister DePriestes asked God to come into my life. As she prayed, my lips moved with hers, repeated the call for salvation.
And it happened that quick. God saved me in a moment! And there in church, in front of everyone, I cried like a baby. I had never bawled that much in my life. But in that moment the old A. A. Allen died and in his place was a new man.
That was the magic of it.
That was the thrill of it.
That was the power of it.
I was saved.
Saved! Saved! Saved!
I was going to Heaven.
I was committed now to leaving the old life behind, which I was more than anxious to do.
Sister DePriestes and some of the others in church welcomed me warmly into the bosom of God.
I was so overcome I could barely utter a word of thanks to the sister and my new friends in Christ.
When I got outside, from force of habit I pulled out my cigarettes. It would be wonderful, I thought automatically, to relieve the tension, thrilling as it had been, by dragging heavily on a Camel.
But I couldn't bring myself to light up. I had never heard a sermon about befouling the temple of my body with tobacco. Then I heard a voice say, Son, you're a Christian now. You don't have to smoke any more.
I threw the cigarettes to the ground. No longer would I puff my way through two packs a day.
I have never smoked since.
I have never cursed since.
I was never promiscuous again.
I never sinned in any way again.
When I reach home, I told Mother our dance hall was out of business. I said I'd just been saved, that I was a new Christian. She took the news calmly. Perhaps she thought that I had some ulterior motive for accepting Christ, that it would at best be a temporary thing. But I thought I could see a smile dancing across her lips and hope shining from her eyes.
God had done a first-class job with me.
He had scattered before me a tray of precious stones and metals.
The ruby of His shed blood.
The diamond of faith.
The pearl of great price.
The sapphire of salvation.
Jasper for the love of Jesus.
Beryl, carbuncles, the sardian stone, onyx, silver and gold-the treasure that comes from being born again.
On that night of June 4, 1934, in the heart of the Depression I was suddenly the richest man in the world."