HARVEY BANKS

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 Here in Ballengee it was another beautiful Sunday morning coming up. It is fall now and the weather has turned chilly and I rose early this morning to build a fire in the old stone fireplace. On these chilly days I like to be curled up by the fireplace listening to the snapping fire giving of its warmth. I remember those cold mornings after Dad had built a fire I would toast and turn until the whole body was warm. As a kid I used to take an empty milk carton and place it in the fire and watch the smoke come out of the open spout. Silly I know but I was amused by it. There is something very captivating by a fire. There are three things that totally capture my attention and rob me away from the activity of that around me. A starlit night, a fire and television, the latter being something I gave up many years ago. This morning I enjoyed the warmth and also created that image with the milk carton for my own children to also remember in the colder moments of their lives.

As the family came into the living room one by one to dust the sand from their eyes and toast and turn themselves by the fire, I had that old milk carton there at the ready. Should anyone wish to find the same amusement I once had but I left no hint for its purpose. Now at the end of the day I set in my chair close to the still burning fire staring at the milk carton. I could not resist but to take it up and place it upon the fire. As the smoke danced out from the spout being captured by the rising heat it was carried away to places unknown to search for its own destiny. Much as we when we were children leaving the nest. Guided by the warmth of family we charge into this world filled with our hope and aspirations bound to build a good life and change the world. Each one who has made the journey and those yet to go have a story to write on the pages if human history. Each a part that must have been played without which we would not be as we are today.

Today, we gathered the family and I, for our morning’s journey to the Church on the Knoll in the stunning beauty of the mountains standing in their glory here in the Ballengee countryside. And those mountains! What beauty nature displays with the changing of the seasons. The leaves with their colors of gold, red and orange are a display of nature at her best. The leaves swaying in the autumn breeze against the sharp clear blue sky. A crispness in the air that brings out the comfort of a treasured sweater snugly placed around the body. The breeze nipping at the ear and fingertips awakening the blood and invigorating the body. The faint smell of a wood stove burning off in the distance flavoring the air with a sent from long ago childhood memories. Capturing us in a time of simpler means filled with joyful moments. Oh yes fall, a favored time of the year to be in the mountains. To hear the voice of the wind as it whispers in the ear through the hollows of the mountains, “I am a mystery for you to explore.” Perchance a hike up the path to a golden meadow beside a chattering brook with the water swirling about the rounded stones as the water fleas skim across the ripples. An opportunity to place the checkered tablecloth and open the famed picnic basket. Oh the gooey peanut butter sandwiches with the apple jelly, which always collects in the corner of the mouth. Not so cold cola with a moon pie for desert or perhaps a cream filled oatmeal cookie. We strolled together each exploring the sight of what an awesome God has given for our pleasure and stewardship.

This Sunday at the Church on the Knoll was special, as brother Simms had relinquished the pulpit to a former preacher from years gone by. This Sunday the word was to be given to us by the Reverend Harvey Banks. I had heard him preach once before several years past down by the river near the bottoms. Now this Sunday Harvey has come to visit us at the Church on the Knoll and I have looked forward to it since hearing of his visit.

Harvey is retired now and lives in Hilldale a community that sets not far up the river from Ballengee. Hilldale is a small collection of cottages snuggled in a wooded area overlooking the Greenbrier River. The folks of Hilldale gather at a small store ran by Junior Dunn each day and discuss the issues that face the leaders of the world. Most folks there are retired and their politics are from an era that if reviewed by them was a simpler time to live. The gray areas between the left and right were less definable and you were either the one side or the other. Harvey was not always a resident in this community filled with statesmen of leisure, as in the days of his work he lived in Abbyville.

Harvey’s days in Abbyville were filled by his commitment to a prison ministry at Stonehouse Prison. Stonehouse a Federal Prison was the whole existence of Abbyville. Stonehouse is the focus of and the substance of Abbyville. It is amazing to me that the twenty-five hundred inmates of Stonehouse generated about twice that number living in Abbyville to support them.

At first Harvey concentrated his ministry towards the inmates only but later expanded it to the families of the inmates as well. This expansion caused Harvey to have to travel some and at times he would even have to leave the sate to visit family members. As Harvey’s ministry continued to grow he would have to go and visit inmates that had rejoined the society outside of Stonehouse. As a result of his travels Harvey decided to start a tent revival crusade each time he was drawn away from Abbyville. This came about by Harvey meeting on one such trip a bandleader by the name of Preston Morgan who had a rich baritone voice. The two teamed together and formed the Morgan-Banks Evangelistic Tent Crusade. As the years of this partnership rolled on the popularity of their tent crusades grew until it became a much-anticipated event to have the Morgan-Banks Crusade come to town. It was at one of these tent crusades that I first heard Harvey Banks preach. It was a stirring service and many came to know the truth. I too was moved by the mighty baritone voice of Preston Morgan as he sang that glorious song Amazing Grace and one could feel the power of God from each and every word that left Harvey Banks mouth. I was there with Fred Medders who invited me and is a childhood friend of Harvey. After the service Fred and I spent some time with Harvey and Preston and I was completely taken in by the magnificence of their personalities.

Much has happened since I last heard Harvey preach and Fred Medders has told his story to me and I share it with you now. Harvey Banks who is now 76 years old several years back had a serious accident, as we call strokes here in Ballengee. It happened while he was in the hospital in Capitol City having surgery to replace a vein in his neck. During the operation a clot broke loose and caused the accident. Harvey was left without use of his left side and was not able to speak understandably. Harvey also suffered short-term memory loss and was most times disoriented and needed constant aid in staying current. It is admirable that his wife Charlotte never left his bedside during the weeks he was in the hospital. Fred Medders went to Capitol City nearly every other day to check on Harvey that too a task, as it is an eighty mile trip each way. Charlotte and Fred where there to support Harvey but they came from the experience encouraged and Fred has said to me his life has been enriched by Harvey’s trial.

As Fred has described and history has proven, Harvey from the start of his ordeal believed the he would recover and preach again. The doctors said Harvey would make some recovery through therapy and hard work but they would be minimal. Harvey’s chances for walking again where slim and with a walker at best and his speech abilities would not show much improvement. The loss of his tongue would make it difficult to pronounce most words. Also the memory loss may clear up as the mind has the ability to channel different routes. The doctors did not paint a possible picture for Harvey’s dream of returning to the pulpit as a likely reality. So Harvey’s battle began and he fought it with his faith.

Brother John gave me a definition of Faith. Faith is grabbing hold of something that is not there and holding on to it until it is there. This is what Harvey did, he believed that he would once again return to preaching and through his faith in that belief he fought against the odds of the doctors’ prognoses. It was not an easy battle for Harvey and years of physical therapy showed very little progress as time passed on. Many a therapist said this is the best it will be and walked away until all had given their best. Yet Harvey went on without them working the exercises that he had been taught. Many hours of practicing words over and over again. At first only those who were close could understand and then as the years past others were able to hear what Harvey was speaking. The trials of a step and falling into the supporting arms of Charlotte and Fred or the arms their children who came often to help him. A step then two and three followed by a walk across the room. Fighting one step, one word and one thought at a time. Constantly working on his memory trying to speak a sentence without forgetting its meaning before the end. A phrase, a sentence a paragraph at a time till the mind found new channels of communication. Harvey never lost his faith and refused to be discouraged and those close to him were lifted along with Harvey, as they shared in the celebration of each small victory born of many defeats.

This day, this Sunday amidst the handiwork of a great God we went to the Church on the Knoll to witness another great handy work of God’s that Reverend Harvey Banks would preach His word to us all there.

I must tell you that if I were only one to critique the abilities of Harvey’s oratory I would have said this speaker would have been better to have written his message upon the pages of a book. The message lasted for fifteen minutes and could have been written on one page of a high school notebook. Knowing the story of his trial and that which Harvey Banks had overcome I was absorbed by each and every word Harvey spoke. He wasted not a word nor expression and he delivered his message from Isa. 40 verse 31. “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

As I now gaze into the fading flames of the milk carton in the fireplace, the real message of Harvey Banks begins to settle into my mind. Harvey began with an audience that was held captive and in the end captured the audience. A small gratification in tribute to a long and miraculous career in the service of his King. But the real story is found in the measure of Harvey’s faith.

So many of us sit upon the bench of our lives wishing we could play but a bigger part in the whole of this world. We sit there knowing we have a larger part of ourselves to give and that if given the chance we could to make a difference in the outcome of mankind’s history. Yet we fail to see the opportunity and wonder why we are not called. Have we not lived a life in preparation for a grander cause than just getting through this journey here? Is there not more that we have to offer than our labors for food and shelter and what leftovers we can contribute? The answer too often escapes many of us and we remain on the search with the hope that someday our call will come. We are taught that each one is a member of the body and we each have a vital part to perform and sadly we somehow miss that we are to do. I have so much of my time sat upon the pew waiting for my call and wondering is there not a place for me. How sad this is that opportunity constantly knocks upon our door and we never seem to notice.

Harvey knew that accomplishment is not given but is taken and he set out to make his way on nothing more than faith in what he was about to do. Harvey grabbed a hold of a dream and lived as if it had come true. In the end for Harvey his dream did come true.

With an act of faith Harvey believed he could reach the hardest of souls, and he did. With faith Harvey believed he could reach the inmates families, and he did. With faith Harvey believed he could reach whole communities with the gospel, and he did. With faith Harvey believed he could overcome the physical obstacles and return to his life’s work, and he did. If our faith is only in the shallow water where our feet can stand on the ground then we will never know if we can swim. If we are to prove our faith in an Almighty God then we must reach beyond the known capabilities, beyond what is believable and live as if God has answered our prayer. How else can we prove the capabilities of our God and our belief in Him? We are then as the smoke which soars from the mike carton, lifted by the fire of our faith, reaching heights unimaginable seeking His Glory as we go.

 Copyright: 2001 Thomas N Kirkpatrick

Durant Bible College

 

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