Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. Clifford Stine. Brad Bradford. Jimmy Draper. And Mama Rose.
The Billy Graham organization sends out a prayer card with the famous evangelist’s photo and dates of telecasts so we can pray. I post it on the fridge with a magnet and almost daily pray for him. I have told here of the time Dr. Graham spent an hour or more in my office, just before the funeral of his beloved friend Dr. Grady Wilson. As we chatted, I asked myself, “Do you pray for this man?” Realizing I didn’t, I asked why not. My answer was the weakest thing: “He’s a world-wide evangelist. And I’m only one person.” Instantly, something inside me said, “And do you know anyone who is two?”
Ever since, I’ve prayed for Billy Graham. Even if–and perhaps because–he is a world-famous Christian leader, he needs the prayers of God’s people. Particularly, in these days since the homegoing of his wife Ruth, I’ve lifted him up.
Monday night, I decided to type in the name “Clifford Stine” to a movie-star search engine and see what came up. Sometime in the early 1970s when I was on staff at the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, I met this gentleman. He and his wife joined our church, and if memory serves me correctly, I baptized them. They were retiring from the motion picture industry in Hollywood, his wife had relatives in Jackson, and so they moved there. I picked his brain somewhat about what movies he had worked on and still recall the answers.
He was not an actor, but a director of photography and sometimes director of special effects, spending his whole career with Universal. The first movie he worked on was King Kong. Really. And in the 1950s when Universal was turning out all those scary sci-fi movies, Stine directed special effects on them. “The way we did the ‘Incredible Shrinking Man,'” he said, “was by making larger and larger furniture.” Low-tech by modern standards, but hey, it worked.
So, last night, his name came up and I learned that, yes, he worked on King Kong in 1933 as “the second assistant camera.” He was 27 at the time. He worked on Gunga Din, Spartacus, Patton, The Hindenburg, two Abbott and Costello movies (“Meet the Mummy” and “Go to Mars”), and Doris Day’s Pillow Talk. And about fifty others.
Mr. Stine assured me there were plenty of Christian people in the industry. According to the internet record, he worked on a number of projects in the late 70s, by which we may assume they did not remain in Mississippi long, but returned to Hollywood. Anyway.
Brad Bradford checked in this week. He was a kid 21 years ago in Columbus, Mississippi, when I departed, after pastoring the First Baptist Church there for nearly 13 years. He reminded me who he was, of his mom and his sisters, and then said, “I was in the movies for eight years, as an actor and stuntman. Now I’m living in Fort Worth and breaking and training horses.”
You never know.
Dr. Jimmy Draper spent all day Monday with the seven students and seven pastors (and a few of us intruders) who are members of Bill Taylor’s Unlimited Partnership. Sitting around tables in the Leavell Center of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, we picked his brain about a hundred things. Draper pastored some of the largest Southern Baptist Churches–the FBC of Del City, OK, and Euless, TX come to mind–then headed up Lifeway Christian Resources for many years, and served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention 1982-84. He has a perspective as few others in our denomination.
He was reminiscing about going to one of our SBC seminaries just after being elected in 1982. The president had invited him to speak and be interviewed in an open forum by students and faculty. “It’s the only time in my presidency my wife cried,” he admitted. There were perhaps 150 of them gathered in the large room. During the give-and-take, someone asked Draper, “What is a liberal.”
He said, “Well, I preached last Sunday on the passage in Joshua 3 where the Israelites crossed the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua. The Bible says the waters were cut off and the Lord’s people walked across as on dry land. So, I would say anyone who denies that is a liberal.”
On the drive to the airport, one of the professors in the evangelism department said, “Jimmy, had you said a liberal is anyone who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus, you would have nailed 85 percent of the faculty.” Draper was stunned. What an indictment on our denomination as it was then.
Later, I told Dr. Draper that a ministerial student enrolled in that seminary in the mid-80s wrote me those very words, that he had a professor there who did not believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Readers will recall from John 21 and other places, this is a direct contradiction of Scripture.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you the SBC Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s was just “a power play by the fundamentalists.” This denomination was headed into oblivion, and some courageous people laid their lives across the railroad tracks to try to stop that train. My observation is they made their share of mistakes, but they pulled it off. (Note ten years later: I have friends who graduated from some of our seminaries back then, and their testimony is that their professors were strong and Bible-believing, and that a lot of wonderful saints of God were run over on those railroad tracks. We will leave this for the Lord to sort out–what a job He has!–but this is my story from 2007.)
The challenge today is to stay alive in Christ, to make our churches healthy and to keep the denomination Christ-honoring and mission-minded.
It’s not a new thing, but so many churches in this denomination–and I suppose all the others–are led by unhealthy people who do unhealthy things. Bill Taylor gave his testimony to the group. He said, “My father ran a nightclub. I was never into that lifestyle, but I grew up around it. I was 19 when I came to Christ, and later the Lord called me into this work.” He paused a moment and said something that stabbed my heart. “Until I got on a church staff, I don’t recall anyone ever being mad at me.”
What an indictment. But some churches are alive and making a difference in ways that matter forever. Here’s one.
“Mama Rose gave her heart to Jesus yesterday.” So says Pastor Greg Hand from our French Quarter congregation, the Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church. In his internet newsletter of Monday, he writes, “Get ready to rejoice–we had three professions of faith in Christ yesterday! It is with great joy that I share this information with you. Rick, Victor, and…Mama Rose! Yes, Mama Rose gave her heart to Jesus yesterday. Today is day 16 sober (for her) also! Please pray earnestly for her today. Mama Rose has been on the streets for 37 years. This is a breakthrough.”
This tiny congregation is an assembly of street people, residents of the Quarter, people who live elsewhere and work there, and outsiders who drive in. Greg Hand is God’s man for that work and what a blessing he and his wife Wren have been. They are continually hosting outside church groups who want to witness and minister in the French Quarter.
He writes in his newsletter, “We have two groups this week, one from Tennessee, and the other from Georgia…. Next week, we have a group in from Alabama and another from Tennessee.”
Greg asks for prayer for their ministry over the Labor Day weekend, something they’re calling “Warfare Weekend 2007.” “This year’s theme will be ‘Wielding the Weapon of Praise.’ We plan to have some training in street evangelism.” Then he says, “Please ask the Lord if He would have you attend this year’s event.”
Interested in being a part of that? His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our “adopted” (and much beloved) daughter Mary Baronowski Smith of Baton Rouge shared a cottage with Anne Graham Lotz during a BSF training week some years back. She says, “Sometime during that week, some of the women were oohing and ahhing over how much they admired Anne’s father. She listened to all that and said, ‘That’s good, but the real saint in my family is Mother.'”
Ruth Bell Graham, recent resident of Heaven. After her death last week, someone remarked that she was the intellectual in the Graham family.
I once sat in a hospital waiting room with her and Dr. Graham. We sat quietly and prayed and spoke rarely as we waited for news from the operating room where doctors were working on Dr. Grady Wilson. Ever the opportunist, I picked up the notepad by the phone and handed it to these two dear people. “Write your favorite Scripture and sign your name.” He wrote, “Psalm 16:11.” Mrs. Graham said, “Mine is always changing. She wrote, “Proverbs 8:19-31” and then signed her name in that backward slant which handwriting experts say is a sign of an introverted personality.
The two notes are framed and hanging above my office bookcases. Reminders of fleeting moments with special people.