After the first verse and chorus, the missionary began the altar call, with the group singing softly behind him.
"Some of you have gone far to long, living your life without Jesus and his wonderful gift of salvation." He said, "Here at the mission house we have offered many of you gifts of food, shelter and articles of clothing. You accepted those gifts, and we're glad; but a greater gift is being offered: the greatest gift ever offered to anyone. The free gift of salvation. And with that gift, another wonderful thing comes to pass: you are adopted into the family of God and become joint heirs with Christ."
Melinda found herself walking down the aisle to the altar in front of the podium. Her face was streaking with tears. A lady knelt beside Melinda and hugged her; then took her Bible and quietly explained how she could give her heart and life to Jesus and be saved. Melinda repeated the sinner's prayer.
There was "joy unspeakable and full of glory" in Melinda's heart as she left the mission house. When she started from home, there was a warm sun shining, but now a cold rain was pouring down. Melinda knew she would be punished for being gone so long and worrying her parents.
By the time she arrived home, her pretty dress was drenched, and her blonde curls hung limp down the side of her face. She shivered.
Melinda's mother angrily jerked her around to face her. Plying her with questions about where she had been so long. Her father came in with an expression on his face that scared Melinda.
Finally, she spoke, "Mama - Daddy, I'm sorry I worried you by being gone so long, but I have something wonderful to tell you. I heard some pretty singing and music, and went inside a building. They told me all about Jesus dying on the cross. Mama - Daddy, I gave my heart to Jesus and........". Melinda was interrupted by a loud anguished sound coming from deep in father's throat. He uttered blasphomous profane exclamations, and became as a man possessed. Melinda had never seen her father like that.
Then she saw him strip off his heavy belt and approach her.
Melinda's mother wept in loud cries as her husband beat her daughter until she fell to the floor, mercifully passing out.
For two days Melinda was confined to her bedroom. The harsh beating had left not only bruises, but some lacerations too. Her mother applied ointments and alcohol rub, saying very little, sometimes with tears in her eyes.
The morning of the third day Melinda awakened with a raging fever and raspy breathing. A doctor was summoned, his diagnosis being double pneumonia. Those were the days before penicillin was available.
The fever raged on, and Melinda moving in and out of consciousness; sometimes murmuring bits and pieces of the wonderful things she had heard at the mission.
Her mother sat by her bed patting her forehead with a cold cloth. The doctor came be briefly, leaving the room sadly shaking his head.
Just before dark Melinda sat up in bed and called for her mother. Her mother had lost a lot of sleep, and had dozed off when she was awakened by Melinda's call. When she saw her sitting up in bed it gave her a happy start. She thought the fever had broke and there would a chance for Melinda to recover after all.
"Mama." Melinda said softly.
"Yes, sweetheart, I'm here", replied her mother.
"Mama, I want you to bring me the dress I was wearing that day."
"No honey." Her mother groaned. "You don't want to see that thing. It was soiled and torn and had some blood stains on it. I threw it in the trash."
"Please Mama, go get it for me."
"But why Melinda?" Her mother protested.
Melinda's father appeared in the doorway of the bedroom with guilt and grief written all over his hagged face. Melinda had lain back down again, closing her eyes. She hadn't seen her father enter. She spoke softly, but loud enough for both parents to hear her final words on earth.
"Mama, an angel came and told me I would be going to Heaven soon. I wanted to take the dress with me so I could show Jesus that I shed some blood for him."