During a week-long spiritual revival at Langston’s Auntie Reed’s local church, Langston, who is just thirteen, finds the salvation of the Lord but not in the fashion that he has expected. The week long revival is punctuated by much elated singing, preaching, and worshipping, and it has resulted in conversions that phenomenally multiplied the membership of the church. As part of the event, the pastor leads an evangelistic service especially for the children in hopes that they would come to Christ and be saved. Auntie Reed brings Langston to the mourner’s chair where the pastor prays over for them.
As a child, Langston was taught by his aunt and some of the church elders that when one is about to be saved, one would see Jesus coming to him as a bright light to reside in his heart for the rest of eternity. He believed this story. He believed the words of the elders and continues to believe so. He sits patiently on the mourner’s chair, sincerely waiting for the arrival of his Savior. The preacher drowns the church hall with thunderous whining about hell and the love of Jesus that seeks out every child in the congregation. He admonishes them to march forward and be saved.
Some of the children respond, but a few ones remain. Church members surround those who remained with spiritual songs as they coax them out of their chairs. Despite these compelling invitations, Langston sticks to his seat because the Jesus he is expecting has not yet arrived. Finally, two children are left on the bench: Westley, a rounder’s son, and Langston. It has become unbearably humid inside the church and Westley, who is growing impatient, suddenly stands up mumbling that he has had enough of the waiting. An uproar shook the church as Westley marches forward to be saved.
Aunt Reed and the entire church join forces, praying over Langston, singing and weeping to him and encouraging him to follow suit. After asking Aunt Reed of Langston’s name, the pastor calls him personally forward. At this point, Langston realizes how late it is and feels ashamed that he has been keeping everyone waiting for him. He wonders why Westley, who is now grinning mischievously at him from the stage, is not punished by God for lying. Langston is sure that Westley did not see God. So, to end everybody’s trouble, Langston decides to stand up and lie about seeing Jesus.
The congregation bursts into ecstatic rejoicing as Langston leaves his seat. His aunt hugs him out of her overflowing joy. The pastor leads him by hand to the stage where he blesses the little Lambs of God in the name of Jesus Christ. As the excitement subsides with the people gathering to their seats, a congregational singing follows the pastor’s blessing of the children, capping the night with one joyous celebration. That night at their house, Langston thinks about the lie he committed before God. He is so grieved by his act that he cannot help crying.
He buries his tears beneath his bed sheets to muffle the sounds and keep his aunt and uncle from hearing him. But Aunt Reed notices him sobbing and tells her husband that the Holy Ghost has come upon the boy and has overwhelmed him to tears. Little did Aunt Reed know that Langston is grieving not only because of the guilt he feels out of deceiving everyone and lying about seeing Jesus, but also because of the fact that, at that point, he no longer believes in Jesus Christ.
Hughes, Langston. “Salvation. ” The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Ed. Joseph McLaren. Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2001. 41-43