On a cold, dreary night in the 1970’s, a young hotel executive was driving to Washington, D.C. With his career taking off and in love with his future bride, one might think there was nothing Shahn Wilburn lacked. However, deep inside his heart, Shahn knew something was missing. On that night, he began to ponder the question, “If I were to die, where would I spend eternity?”
Raised in the rural community of Kimballton, Virginia, Shahn grew up going to church with his parents. He regularly attended Sunday School, adult worship services, and church ice cream socials. Important values like responsibility and working hard were instilled into Shahn by his parents. In the summer of 1966, he started his first job working as a dishwasher at a resort. He continued working summers there while he attended school. Upon graduation from college, he entered a career in hotel management, quickly rising to sales manager of a major hotel property.
Somewhere in all of his ladder climbing, Shahn had let church slip out of the picture. However, between his successful career and lovely fiancé, he began to realize just how blessed his life was. He began to feel obligated to “balance the good fortune” by going back to church. He also began trying to study the Bible.
It was during this season of his life that he found himself questioning what was waiting for him beyond this life. As he drove toward Washington D.C. on a business trip, the question, “If I die, where would I spend eternity?” kept circling in his mind. “The answer was obvious and one I did not relish,” says Shahn. “For the first time in my life, I felt as if my soul was laid bare before a holy God.”
“For the first time in my life, I felt as if my soul was laid bare before a holy God.”
As he approached the nation’s capital, rain was pouring down, and Shahn was pouring out his heart to God. “I remember praying and feeling a tremendous need to be heard by the Lord. After weeping over my sin and talking to God about my life, which at that moment seemed so empty, I sought assurance from God that He was listening.”
Shahn arrived at the hotel. He trusted there would be a Gideon-placed Bible in the drawer of his hotel nightstand. To his surprise, there wasn’t. “In nearly eight hundred hotel rooms, I suspect that was the lone room with the Bible missing.” He called the front desk and notified them his room did not have a Bible. Shortly after, the bell captain arrived at his door with a Gideon Bible in hand.
“There beside my bed, burdened by my sin, I needed to know God as I had never before known him. I opened to the inside page and read John 14:6, which says, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
He read other passages that night as well, trying to determine exactly what his responsibility was in attaining his soul’s salvation. After all, he grew up learning anything worthwhile could only be accomplished by hard work. He came to discover that God’s plan of salvation was not based on what Shahn could accomplish, but rather what Jesus had already accomplished on the cross.
“I could not find that I needed to do anything but believe that Jesus died for my sins, was buried, and arose the third day to give eternal life to all who would accept Him.” Shahn dropped to his knees and trusted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. “It seemed as if a weight had lifted from me, and I felt at peace with God.”
“I could not find that I needed to do anything but believe that Jesus died for my sins, was buried, and arose the third day to give eternal life to all who would accept Him.”
When he returned home, he shared his life-changing decision with his parents, friends, and his fiancé, Juanita. In the months to come, he would grow in his walk with the Lord. That spring, the couple married and continued to grow in the Lord.
A career change allowed Shahn to balance work with attending Piedmont Bible College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Then, doors began to open for him to fill in part-time for some pastors.
God’s timing always fits a bigger plan. One of the doors that opened was with a small congregation of less than 20 people at Riverview Baptist Church back in his home county. Soon after Shahn’s first sermon, the pastor retired for health reasons. The congregation needed a pastor and offered the position to Shahn. He accepted.
Now, more than 35 years later, Shahn and Juanita are still serving at Riverview. The church has grown to over 1,100 people, several of whom are Gideons.
“And to think, it began in a hotel room with a Gideon Bible,” says Wilburn.