Have a conversation; change the world

Recently, my wife and I drove to Birmingham for lunch with my sisters and brother and their spouses.  Arriving a little early, we took a minor detour so I could show Bertha where I had lived in college.  The neighborhood is going downhill fast, and in fact, my college announced earlier this year they will cease to operate after graduation in a few days.

The boarding house where I lived for perhaps six months 1959-60, in the 1100 block of Graymont Avenue West, lies empty now, but I took a snapshot of the front porch.

I have a story about that front porch.

Three blocks down the street we shot a picture of the small apartment house where I lived the next three years. The neighborhood is in trouble now and you would not want to be stranded out here at night.  But back in the day, it was a safe place and I could walk up the hill to college and a mile to my girl-friend’s house without a thought about safety. I logged a lot of miles walking back and forth.

Back to the front porch.  Here’s what happened.

One Wednesday night I was sitting on the front stoop waiting for my ride to church.  Bill Dempsey was my Sunday School teacher and his wife Marguerite worked in the church office.  Great folks, and forever friends.

The six men who roomed with Mrs. Pope had had dinner and two or three were lounging on the front porch.  Joel Davis sat on the swing reading the newspaper.  Following his recent discharge from the Navy, Joel had moved to Birmingham for a job with Roadway Express. One of our residents had invited Joel to room with us.

From the swing, suddenly Joel looked up from his newspaper.  He said, “I just realized something. It’s Wednesday night . If I were back home in LaGrange, I’d be in prayer meeting!”

I said, “Come go with me. I’m waiting on my ride right now.”

He did.

In  short order he joined the church and became a member of the choir.  As I was also a choir member, we became great friends. And since Joel owned an almost-new 1958 Chevrolet, he quickly became a popular member of the young people’s group at church.

One evening as I entered the house, Joel pulled me aside. “There’s an apartment building two blocks down the street.  We can rent a furnished apartment for seventy-five dollars a month, and share expenses.  What do you think?”

I was making $42 each weekend working at the railroad terminal, so that was doable.   And that’s what we did.

Joel and I were roommates for two years, until I married Margaret Henderson in April 1962. Joel was best man.  The next year Joel married Wilma Cooper whom he had also met in our church.  His brother Henry had lived with us a while after being discharged from the Navy, and he had fallen in love with Margaret’s maid of honor and lifelong best friend Myra Buckner.  They married and gave the world some lovely children. Joel and Wilma had two sons, Kenny and Keith.  Margaret and I had two sons, Neil and Marty (and later adopted Carla from Korea).

For many years I pastored Baptist churches in various states across the Southeast.  Joel worked as an engineer for a national firm and on the side directed music in churches.  After moving to the Atlanta area, he and Pastor George “JoJo” Thomas founded Annistown Road Baptist Church in Tucker, just east of Atlanta.  Joel led worship there for years and in retirement served as senior adult minister.

Joel, Wilma, Henry, and my Margaret are in Heaven now.  They served God long and served well.

And to think it all started with a conversation on the front porch.

We never know when a casual conversation is going to turn into something everlasting.

We look back and realize it was “a God thing.” Which is to say, the Lord was engineering that, even though we had no clue at the time. We were being faithful to the best of our ability. And He used it.

No, we were not puppets on a string.  We had minds of our own–did then, do now.  But had we known what the Father was doing, we would have been thrilled and worked to be even more obedient.


What this means is that since we have no way of knowing what casual conversation, what idle word, God will be using to do eternal things, we must stay focused. Stay in the Spirit.  Stay close to Him. Stay faithful.

We will never know the full story until we get to Heaven.  There we will learn what amazing things God did with our poor efforts and our small gifts, our casual conversations, our feeble attempts to serve Him.  And we will wish we had been more faithful, more hopeful, more persistent.


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