In 1959, I transferred to Birmingham-Southern College from a school in Georgia. For a brief time, I lived with my sister Patricia and her husband James, and we all joined West End Baptist Church. It was my introduction to Southern Baptists.
No sooner had we joined the church than I discovered the Baptists of Birmingham held a thriving twice-a-month gathering for their teens. On the first and third Saturday nights, upwards of 500 young people would gather in some Southern Baptist church for an inspirational program, followed by a fellowship time with refreshments.
I had grown up in rural Walker and Winston Counties of Alabama and although our little Free Will Baptist Church loved its young people, we had nothing like this.
I ate it up.
Soon, I was promoting the gathering among West End’s youth, encouraging ours to be the biggest group present. Some nights we would have 50 or more on the city buses which the church hired to transport us. (It was on one of those buses where I told the lovely Margaret Ann Henderson for the first time that I loved her. The date was December 3, 1960. She was 18 and I was 20.)
One evening, I was approached by Larry Andrews, our church’s music minister (and the father of best-selling inspirational author Andy Andrews). “Joe, I was talking to Bob Ford. He’s the associate pastor at Ensley Baptist and pastor advisor for the youth rally. Would you be interested in becoming program director for the rally?”