Charles Henry believes in getting the word of God out any way he can

Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 07:00:22-05

CINCINNATI -- Do you believe in a literal, fiery hell where people who've unrepentantly lived bad lives are eternally punished?

If so, you're not alone. A Pew Research Center survey taken two years ago found that 58 percent of Americans believe exactly that.

Count among them Charles Henry, a 70-year-old retiree whose face is deeply lined but whose hair is still mostly dark brown. The Montgomery resident not only believes in hell -- he wants to keep you from going there.

You might have seen Henry riding around Greater Cincinnati in a black Ford pickup with religious messages written on it in block letters, such as, "The national anthem in HELL is ‘I did it my way.' REPENT."

In the bed of the pickup is a large LED sign that displays scenes from Mel Gibson's 2004 movie "The Passion of the Christ," which showed in brutal detail the suffering of Jesus before his death.

Henry also sometimes hauls a trailer behind the truck with a sign depicting a person in anguish, surrounded by flames. It's captioned, "Where will you spend eternity? Hell is hot. Eternity is forever. Life is uncertain. Death is sure. Outside of Jesus Christ there is no salvation."

Those interested in leaving Henry a message can call a phone number displayed on the side of the pickup -- but not before they hear a recording of yet another repentance message.

Charles Henry became a Christian in 1977, after a truck driver told him about Jesus. Now, he drives his own truck plastered with religious messages. "I am not ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ," Henry said. Kevin Eigelbach | WCPO contributor

No one has ever called to say that seeing the pickup prompted them to become a Christian, Henry said, but many have called to thank him for "standing up for Christ."

Seeing the pickup could be just one of many things that help bring a person to faith, he added.

Henry spends about 30 hours a week just driving around town in the pickup, or trolling, as he calls it. That includes the time he spends getting coffee at local shops, or getting gas.

But he also drives the truck in local parades, even the Cincinnati Pride parade. He's not there to knock anyone's lifestyle, he said, but to tell people about his savior.

His message prompts a variety of reactions. Some turn their backs, especially at the Pride Parade. Some people give him a thumbs-up. Others give him the finger. Some see the truck parked outside his home and write letters to say he shouldn't be so outspoken.

But he feels compelled to do this.

"I am not ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ," he said.

Most Christians tend to care more about what other people think of them than they care about the reality that death and judgment are coming, said Dan Ferrell, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in West Chester, where Henry worships.

"When you get a guy like Charlie, he seems like a radical … because so few Christians take it seriously," Ferrell added. "They say we're hate-mongers, but that's not it at all … We're motivated by love."

Henry became a Christian in 1977 after a truck driver told him about Jesus and he realized he was going to hell. Before that, he said, he had known of Christ but never really knew him.

About eight years ago, that changed.

"The Lord got hold of me pretty hard. I surrendered, and I said, ‘OK, Lord, whatever you need me to do, I will do it,'" Henry said.

That's when he began trolling.

About the same time, the Vietnam vet began sharing his faith with other vets at the local Veterans Affairs hospital. That evolved into a ministry in which he helps vets get government benefits, takes them to doctor's appointments and even makes funeral arrangements for those without families.

That ministry led to another: Taking homeless people bread or pizza and giving them bottled water in the summer. He also gives them Bibles and hands out tracts, small pamphlets containing cartoons that, again, warn of hellfire awaiting those who don't believe in Jesus.

About three years ago, Henry met Dexter Bailey, a former Xavier University basketball star who lives in Mariemont. It was fortuitous for both, because Bailey wanted to hone his evangelism skills and Henry had wanted to share his faith with the local Hispanic community.

For about two years, they knocked on the doors at West Chester apartment complexes, finding out where the residents were spiritually and leaving them tracts, Bailey said. Henry doesn't speak Spanish, but Bailey learned when he played pro basketball in Argentina for 10 years.

He appreciates Henry, he said, because he's relentless.

"He has a zeal for the lost people, and people in general, and it shows," Bailey said. "You want to be around someone who has that zeal, burning bright."

Every Friday for several months last year, the two stood by the street a few blocks from the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester, wearing T-shirts that read, "I love Muslims."

"I wanted them to know that I care," Henry said.

They waved at mosque members who passed by, some of whom stopped to say thanks, or talk about the Quran. Sometimes, Bailey said, they gave away DVDs of the testimony of a former Muslim who became a Christian.

"On the whole, I think we helped bring down walls," Bailey said. "And showed love."