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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Elder Leiske and the Testimony of Roma Barnes

I vividly remember the warm Sabbath Afternoon in Keene, Texas, when Roma Barnes gave her testimony. 

At the time Southwestern Union College (the college later changed it's name because the girls wouldn't buy T-shirts with the school initials on them) was captained by Elder Leroy Leiske, a lovely man. He didn't have a Ph.D. and was scorned by some of the more stuffed of shirt among the church's leading lights at the time. Despite his lack of academic credentials, the man nearly doubled attendance at the school, boosted the numbers of marriages among students, beautified the campus and put the school on solid financial ground. He remembered the names of every one of his students and there were better than 600 of them. We all felt special. He's the only college president I ever saw get a standing ovation from students for walking out on stage in a chapel service. The kids loved the man.

One of the things Leiske attended to particularly well was the spiritual health of the students. He believed in the power of unstructured religion and held semi-regular testimony meetings at the church and in the college auditorium. He always seemed to know when we needed a recharge and would hold one just in time?

It had been a beautiful service and as we were nearing the end of it. Roma Barnes made her way up to the front to wait her turn to testify. Roma was basically our little town's resident odd duck and one never quite knew what she was going to say. Elder Leiske, who had fielded Roma's contributions to the service before, tried roll things up before she could get up front.

Unfortunately for the spiritual atmosphere that day, Roma refused to be denied. It became obvious that she had a burning desire to speak and looked so pathetic that anyone who didn't know Roma would have thought Elder Leiske was being mean not to let her speak. Finally, he motioned her forward and Roma took the mike. Native Keeneites took a deep breath.

I remember Leiske whispering to her about time and keeping it short. Finally, he shrugged helplessly and stepped aside. Roma wasn't entirely of this world at the time and she took the microphone with this very solemn look on her face. She wore a beige dress that hung like a sack on her down to her knees. She must have been in her late 40s or 50s by this time and she didn't believe in beauticians nor beauty products. This is not to criticize her appearance but to set the stage for her testimony. Simply put, Roma was a strange old bird. Roma's stern gaze swept over the congregation.

"I have had a terrible problem for many many years," she began. "I've struggled with it and prayed about it and finally the Lord has revealed to me what was causing my terrible problem." She paused dramatically. You could have heard a pin drop.

"Spices!" she announced shaking her head sadly. "They made me too sexy!"
Leiske went pale. A vast collective snort went up from the congregation and several crass individuals actually laughed out loud. I remember Ted Ramirez, our student body president and his buddy, Tee Chincheretta, sitting over to one side, doubled over in pain, their whole bodies shaking. Roma turned and left the podium, her warning to the saints well and truly delivered.

Elder Leiske's closing prayer was heroic!

© 2014 by Tom King

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