Thursday, November 18, 2010


Brother Milburn Spence and Me!
Yesterday was a truly great day for me and Virginia.  On the way home from visiting with our youngest daughter we stopped by to visit with a very special person to me.  He was the first pastor who seemed to see in me some potential for a call to ministry, though he was honest in saying he just didn't know if that shy young man could ever "cut the mustard" in the pulpit! 

Now 82, he admits to having some difficulty getting around, for he uses a wheelchair (owing to the lack of good control of his right leg).  He has been in a care facility for some years, and admits to sleeping more now,  but has not lost his humor and wit and long-term memory for the most part.  The evidence of his recall was more evident the more we rehearsed together those early years of our acquaintance.

You see, when I was in high school in the late fifties, it was the Gaither Baptist Church that our family called our home church.  And it was there, in the Community Building the church used for services in those years, that I surrendered my life to Jesus as my Saviour and Lord.  I remember walking down the aisle that Sunday morning at the invitation, accompanied by my sister, Jo Ann, and taking Brother Milburn Spence by the hand.  In those few moments at the altar, he led us in our confessing of sins and inviting of Jesus into our hearts.  (You see, a week before that, I had stood in the sanctuary at the invitation time, holding a "death" grip on the pew in front of me, and knowing I needed to step forward, but didn't.  Returning home, I shared with my mother about my delimma, whereupon she told me that at the very next meeting, I should go forward and talk with Bro. Spence.  She added also that Jo Ann had expressed the same delimma that morning, and she had given her the same instructions.)  

Needless to say, Bro. Milburn became a very important person of influence in my life.  It was the summer before my senior year in high school.  Following that day's significant step, we had a revival meeting scheduled at Gaither with an Indian Evangelist from Oklahoma named Eldon Dicus.  It was under his preaching that my mother discovered that her childhood baptism had not been a true experience of heart, so she, too, came forward to be led by Brother Milburn to a personal experience of salvation.  Following that revival and the conversion of another lady named Maxine Colston, a baptism was scheduled to take place at the customary Krooked Creek "swimming" hole.  Again, Brother Milburn Spence was the officiator in our public profession by baptism.

(The pictures didn't scan the best, but it was time of Brownie box cameras.  I'm just delighted to still have photo memories of the occasion.)

My baptism was not the last of my special contact with Bro. Milburn.  Besides being my pastor, he took me on in a mentoring way before the term ever became an "in vogue" thing!  You see, Bro. Milburn was a part-time preacher, what we now call Bivocational ministry.  He drove a tanker "milk" truck for Campa - he would leave on Sunday nights after church and drive to Little Rock with a load and return the next day, and repeat that through the week.  He would always be back on Wedneday nights for services and on weekends to take the young people out for an outing on Saturdays or Sunday afternoons, in addition to preaching in the am and pm services.  On occasion he would ask me to ride with him in the truck to Little Rock on Sunday nights, to keep him awake!  Actually, keeping him awake was "listening to him practice his sermons at the top of his lungs" - for this was also the day when the diesel rigs were not equipped with the "soundproofing" against motor and road noises!  Needless to say, what he preached on Sundays I received as a double dose on those trips.  Little did I realize, but I was gaining a lot of understanding about what ministry was and was not!

Needless to say, yesterday Brother Milburn and Virginia and I reveled in some of these and other memories for a while, laughing and sighing over the good times.  You see, he had also been the pastor at one time of the Burlington church where Virginia and her folks had attended.  So we had some memories of her folks to recall and enjoy.

My own experiences with Brother Spence were not concluded with my graduation and subsequent joining the Navy for four years, however, for upon my return home in 1964,  I became pastor of the Gaither Baptist Church as my first ministry.  (I had begun preaching and was licensed before leaving California on my discharge.)  During a homecoming event at Gaither, Brother Spence returned to be with us.  We recalled his comments when he heard me preach for the first time.  Nervous at his presence, I continued to comment, "do you know what I mean?" throughout my sermon.  Going to the fellowship meal afterward, he had placed his arm around my shoulders, and with a tinkle in his eyes, he quiered, "Jim, what did you mean?"  I never forgot that!  Some time later, I was asked to preach a revival in Ward, Arkansas, nearby where Milburn was then pastoring, and he attended the services.  I again remembered his words.  "Jim, there was a time when I wondered if you were going to make it! I now have no doubt that you have!"  No one's words have meant more to me than those!

Of course, as many of you may know, now that I have retired, I am back at my old "stomping" grounds and, yes, pastoring that same Gaither Baptist Church. And now, I'm the Bivocational preacher!  I'm wondering whose life I may be touching that I don't yet know about!

Well, all too soon our visit needed to end, and as we joined hands for a prayer together, I told him that anything I may have accomplished in my ministry was due to the good beginnings I had with him.  Years before I had told him the same thing, but the tears beginning to well-up in his eyes and his words reflected that it had meant a good bit to him again.  We promised to keep up and visit again, and made our way home.  Indeed, a blessed visit!

On that note, by way of challenge and encouragement to you who may read this blog, I want you to think of those people who have been significant in your life.  If they are still with us, they may need a word of encouragement, a word to let them know that their lives have made a difference.  Think about it! But DO IT!  BE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO SOMEONE WHO HAS ENCOURAGED YOU!


Jo said...

I remember Bro Spence with great fondness. He was such a personable man, a wonderful paster, and he did make a difference in my life, too. So glad you went to visit him. I'd like to see him again myself.

Amber said...

So glad that you had such a great visit. Sounds like an amazing man.

Glad you got to visit here, too!!

Angie said...

Sounds like you all had a wonderful time!
Friendships built around a common faith only grow stronger with time.
You know what I mean?
(wink, wink)