No U-turn. No runaway ramp. Ahead there was only a headlong plunge to the foot of the mountain.
The 1985 fall day had yielded another truckload of firewood cut from the lush forest. Five cords stacked tall in the old 1950s two-ton pickup.
With thoughts of lean times and the extra cash this last run would bring, Greg Smith and a buddy approached the steep grade above Heppner, Ore. As the faithful, but aged truck began to nose down the winding two-lane road, gathering speed, Greg braked.
Nothing. The pedal slammed to the floor.
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Faster and faster they raced down the narrow mile-and-a-half road, careening from one side of the mountain to the treacherous drop-off on the other. If an oncoming vehicle were to appear around a curve or the truck rolled, it meant certain death. Their thousands of pounds of cargo would shift, crushing the cab or exploding deadly shards of wood.
"I prayed out loud," the Tri-Citian remembers, “asking God to protect us and anyone else on the uphill lane."
Almost 10 hairpin turns later, the truck coasted to a stop, the end of their terrifying ride. Not one car had been on the mountainous road—an anomaly for the time of day.
“I jumped down from the truck,” Greg recalls about the moment the wheels quit turning, “and I kissed the ground saying, ‘thank you, Jesus!’”
Quite a turnaround for a young man who had once used the name of Jesus as a swear word regularly.
“I was rebellious, disrespected authority and into the alcohol and drug scene,” a changed Greg says of his early adulthood, spawned by an abusive father. “I wanted to make a lot of money, be in charge.”
Greg saw his rock band -- he was the lead singer -- as the way. When an invitation came to be the opening act for the well-known group, Head East, it was a step toward fame.
"Our group was happy to ‘help raise a little hell’ on tours," Greg says about the infamous lyrics from Head East’s hit song. "We only had one more solo concert, then we would be into the big time."
But God had other plans for this talented singer.
Just before his band took the leap into the national tour scene, Greg moved to a new daytime job to help with expenses they would incur on the road. Within his first week, he made friends with a guy named Micah who wouldn’t let up on talking about God.
"He promised if I’d just go to church on Sunday one time, he’d quit," Greg says with a smile. "I remember standing in the back row of the church and wishing I could get out of there -- and then shut Micah up about Jesus on Monday."
Long-haired and in faded denim during an era of suits and dresses, Greg and his wife, Vonda, hoped to go unnoticed. But what they found was a God more interested in hearts than outward appearance.
With head bowed and feet pointed toward the door, Greg remembers the moment like yesterday.
“I heard an audible voice say, ‘I love you,’ and I instantly knew it was God,” says Greg, recalling how God even reassured him with the words, “I know all about you and I love you.”
The bandleader’s thoughts of unworthiness had been answered with an overwhelming feeling of intense unconditional love.
“I’ll never forget the touch of God,” Greg says passionately. “My transformation was immediate.”
He cut his hair, quit his secular band and went on to start a cutting-edge Christian rock band that toured the Northwest, introducing churches to a new concept.
Now a music worship leader and frequent singer at community events, Greg and wife Vonda know firsthand how God changes lives.
For Greg, it was a U-turn at the cross of Calvary.