Saturday, May 16, 2015

Jerry Falwell - His Mark Still Changes Lives

Jerry Falwell I Love America Tour

It was almost thirty years ago.  She’s my ex-wife now, but back when the news came that her father had passed in the night, we’d been married just about a year, and she was pregnant with our first child, something about which we were, at the time unaware.

We were in college at the time, or at least I was.  That was her father’s one stipulation in agreeing to allow his daughter to marry – she had to finish college.  I still had a year to go after she graduated.  It wasn’t that I was slow or anything – I was just, shall we say, dirt poor.  I had to work my way through school with the aid of a few low level grants and a college loan it took me ten years to repay.  That, plus I took two years off of school when I graduated from with my Associates Degree from Miami Dade Community College.  You might very well say that my plan was to cram four years of college into six.

At this point in my life I was going to school full time and working full time at the warehouse the college used to store the salvaged furniture bits they purchased from the huge military depot in Roanoke until I could transform it into something that was functionally usable in a classroom or dormitory.  That was my job – take the stuff and turn it into something usable.  Sand, strip, paint, glue, nail, repair, whatever it took.  It came to me a truckload at a time and I spend my non-class and non-studying time turning junk into usable furniture.

That morning, the one her father died, I was there at the warehouse after seeing her off at the airport.  I had to – I’d been reminded a number of times by the director of the school’s Work-Study program precisely how many other students at our college needed jobs.  Besides, I didn’t have classes scheduled that day.  I’d put my wife on an airplane back home earlier in the morning, and was planning to fly out myself later that evening.  When the phone rang, I was the only one there so I answered.

The caller identified himself and asked for me.  Both the identity of the caller and that he was calling for me were highly unusual, or so I thought at the time.

He explained that he’d gotten word regarding my ex-father-in-law’s passing, and wanted to ask a few questions about arrangements as well as offer his condolences.  He explained that he’d already instructed his secretary to send flowers to the funeral home, which in itself was extraordinary – I didn’t have that information at my disposal yet!  He went on to tell me how much he admired and respected my wife’s family, what he knew of them.

He also wanted to know why I was answering the warehouse phone and not in Michigan with my wife and her family, all things considered.  He explained that if it was a question of money, that could, and would be taken care of.  I explained my concerns about what had been explained to me regarding the work-study job, and he said he would make certain that my job was waiting for me when I returned, take as long as I genuinely needed, but to ‘not milk it.’

He took the time to instruct me about the importance of the need of my family for my presence at this time, and in a sort of father to son way, told me that he fully expected that I would be on the flight which he already knew was scheduled to depart Lynchburg’s small airport at 6:15 that evening, that he would know if I wasn’t…and would expect a very good reason for my not being on that aircraft if I wished to deflect his formidable, if loving and fatherly wrath.

I assured the caller that all was taken care of and that I would indeed be outbound that evening on the aforementioned flight.

He ended the conversation by taking a few moments to ask my permission to pray with me.  I agreed.

Here’s what’s significant about all of this.

My wife and I were really no one of great or even minor importance around the college campus or church that sponsored it.    She worked off-campus, and I attended classes and worked.  We lived off-campus, and neither of us were on any of the musical outreach teams or athletic teams.  In short, she had been, and I was still, just another unremarkable student finishing up college and working to pay the bills.

Yet, on this difficult day, the needs of our family were important enough to this caring individual to take time out of his very busy day to make certain that my personal, individual needs, and those of my family were met during this time.  This was how he conducted business at ‘his’ college and the ‘young champions for Christ’ he and his 20,000 ,ember strong church were helping train, from pre—school right through a doctorate in Seminary, if the Lord so lead!  No one was unimportant to him.  Where there was a need, or where one of ‘his’ was hurting, he attended to the need himself when he could, much like the loving shepherd who left behind the 99 sheep to go in search of the one that was missing or injured..  Many words and many hours of film have been devoted to this individual in the media over the years, but you’ll never hear a story like this in mainstream media. You won’t hear them talk about the faithful husband and father who never strayed from his wedding vows, or took a nickel for himself from the offering plate. It serves the fuels of media fire more to talk about his role in politics and other things, or to criticize his stands on political and moral hot-button issues.

That man passed away this morning* in his office at the school he founded and loved so much.

His name was Jerry Falwell.  He was my Pastor.  He was the Founding Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, a church whose growth he oversaw from the original 30 members to 20,000 members, now Pastored by his son, Jonathon. He was the Founder and Chancellor of my college.  And yes, he was my friend.

*This was originally written the morning of 15 May, 2008, when I first received news of Jerry Falwell’s Homegoing. Today is the Eigth Anniversary of Jerry’s call to Glory, and comes just six days after the 42nd convocation of his beloved Liberty University! 

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