WILL YOU WALK WITH ME

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 I read in my hometown paper today, The Ballengee Record, a short notice that brought back some treasured memories. It’s a small town paper and after all these years you still can get a subscription for a mere .25 cents per copy. The article was posted near the last page, page three to be exact. After reading I felt that I should like to share it with you.

The story as I have lived over and over again finds a small town boy romping through an innocent childhood with the greatest fears being the darkness of his own bedroom. That monster beneath the bed, the creak of an old wooden door shifting in the draft of a lonely dark night, stirs the fear with in a child’s imagination. It is a wonderful time when a young boy does not realize the cares and trials that lay ahead in adulthood. Also an impressionable time when the spoken words of an adult are accepted as nothing less than truth. Children are willing beyond sound reason to accept the word of an adult. Small towns also award greater acceptance for friends. You go with what is offered, as the choices are fewer. I think this is good, as we learn to accept people as they are and not as we wish them to be. We also have to be careful in our weaker moments as everyone knows who you are and also who your Father is. The reputation is a valuable commodity.

Back then only the well to do had a TV and if one was to be seen it was in the window of Lou’s Five & Dime store. The TV was a major curiosity and if taken to town I would have to be dragged from Lou’s Five & Dime store window on Ball Street. Heroes seemed to be of greater dimension. You read about them and hear others speak of them but the chance to actually see or meet one was extremely rare. I remember once the Governor came to Ballengee. He was just passing through but everyone lined the streets just to see him pass. I guess it was a big thing to happen in Ballengee but I was disappointed by it. Just a long limousine with its license plate that read number one. I was too small to see inside the car as it passed and didn’t like waiting for what seemed eternity for just a passing car. I would have rather stood in front of Lou’s Five & Dime store and watched TV.

Early spring one year, even before school had let out for summer, posters were put up all over town announcing the coming of a Billy Graham Crusade. I had heard of Billy Graham much as I had heard of Billy Sunday. I thought all traveling preachers were named Billy. I even thought that maybe they were related perhaps like father and son. Billy Graham was one of those famous people right up there with the Governor. All one could hear people talk about was how Billy Graham was coming to Capitol City this summer. The excitement of going to the Capitol and seeing a real live famous person was as much a dream as I could have at that age. But there was no way we were going. Capitol City was 80 miles away and back then that was a journey not to be taken lightly and required resource that we could not afford. Least that is what my parents said. I remember my Grandmother going to Capitol City once but that was for medical reasons.

There are five churches in Ballengee. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, First Methodist Church, James Street Presbyterian Church, The Church on the Knoll and Grace Baptist Church. I had never been to the Catholic Church but had visited the Methodist Church once. The preacher there was a neighbor but we went to the Presbyterian Church. Our preacher, Rev. Wheeler, was a kind man who always had a smile and a warm handshake. It seemed he always went out of his way to speak to everyone each Sunday and always had a word for me. I liked him very much as most adults didn’t have time for the little people as I was often referred as. After those Billy Graham posters went up he would talk about going to the Crusade every Sunday. It would get me excited and Sunday evenings when I went to bed I would dream about going. I don’t think Rev. Wheeler could get enough people together to go, as he never said how we were going to get there.

My friend Johnny Crawford went to Grace Baptist Church and they had a bus. He was going and I tried to talk my parents into joining the Baptist Church. Come on Dad, I would plea, we could go there just for the summer. But no, we had to go to our church. As the time drew near Johnny invited me to go with him to the crusade on the Baptist bus. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of going to Capitol City, the Crusade and actually seeing a famous person like Billy Graham. My parents were excited also for me and it was all set. The day we were to leave my Dad gave me Five Dollars to spend. Five Dollars! I had never seen so much money before!

When we all loaded on the bus, some folks had to stand. I wanted to stand but Johnny and I were given seats near the front. I got to sit by the window. That was great now I could see all the countryside between Ballengee and Capitol City. Before we pulled out a man at the front of the bus standing led every one in a prayer. It was a short prayer asking God to protect us during our journey and bring a great revival in our community. After the prayer the bus began our trip and the man in front lead us all in some really spunky Gospel songs. He was a very enthusiastic man and I liked him. I thought maybe he was part of the crusade and asked Johnny who he was. Johnny said his name was Brother Ricky D and that he was the youth pastor of his church. Latter on other people got up and told stories of how God had helped them in their lives and changed them from the bad people they once were. The stories were really neat to listen to and after each one Brother Ricky D would say a prayer thanking God and lead us in another song. I had never experienced a long trip before but this was more than I had ever imagined. I couldn’t wait to see what the world outside of Ballengee looked like and I did look out the window now and then but the excitement inside the bus was of greater attention.

At the crusade I found myself surrounded by more people than I could imagine existed. Cliff Barrows opened the service with prayer and then a choir the size of the town of Ballengee sang. I felt as if the heavens had opened up and all the Saints were singing at once. Then some other folk’s spoke about what Jesus was doing all over the world and Cliff Barrows came back. He spoke awhile and then introduced George Beverly Shea. Mister Shea sang what has become my favorite gospel song, “How Great Thou Art.” I had never heard anyone sing with such a powerful voice. To this day I believe God Himself sang through the voice of George Beverly Shea. Then at last Billy Graham came to the front and began to speak.

First I was taken in by the fame of this person. I had heard of Billy Graham all of my life. I had heard people talk about him, heard him on the radio and read about him in the Ballengee Record. Now I was in his presence and he became completely real and not just an icon like Roy Rogers or Captain Kangaroo. Billy Graham became very real and much bigger than the mystic that preceded him. I wanted so much to become a part of what Billy Graham was doing and the powerful God that he was speaking about that it overwhelmed me. I don’t really remember his message that day but somewhere during it I made the connection that my desire to be a part of his work was the model of the desire that I should have to be a part of God’s. That through our lives we are given opportunity to hear the Gospel and we should follow Jesus with all our heart. That someday we will be taken up to see Jesus much like I was now seeing Billy Graham. That someday our names shall be read as a part of the team. Oh how sad it will be not to hear our name called. While dwelling in these thoughts Billy Graham began his invitational at the end of his service. I felt as if my name was being called right then. But I was just a kid of ten years lost in a mass of humanity and afraid. I had doubt that I could find my way. Suppose everyone left and went back to Ballengee without me. Yet I wanted to go and meet Billy Graham and his Friend Jesus.

We so often ponder our way past a present opportunity. So many times I have heard the still call of His voice. Yet I have paused and said I will give this plea some serious thought. God’s work moves forward and will be done. We can be apart or we can bend with the wind. We are His Sheep and know His voice and have no reason to question other than our lack of faith. Oh how this must hurt Him who gave His full measure of love for us. We shall never know the measure of that which we also deny ourselves. It is as incomprehensible as the reward is unimaginable in that glorious day when our name is read aloud in the mass of humanity. How awesome the joy to hear “Well done Thy Good and Faithful Servant.”

A hand rested upon my shoulder and in near tears I looked up the see Brother Ricky D looking down at me. “Will you walk with me?” he asked. How did he know? Brother Ricky D a man of God already in the Book of Life and serving the Lord would ask me to go forward with him. He surly didn’t need to go forward yet he wanted me to go with him.

I wonder how many times we have this thought to reach out to a stranger and ask them to walk to the altar with us. So many times during an invitational I am drawn to the attention of a twisting and fidgeting soul. Yet I shamefully admit I ponder my way passed the opportunity. I have often wondered why an extra verse is sung during the invitational. Perhaps a patient Father is waiting on some stubborn children? Another day, hour, minute or second that one should wonder through life lost and in peril of an eternity without God’s Love. I could have been that tool used by God to Altar that lost one’s future. I have squandered much of the talent that God has given me. Someday the Lord shall hold an accounting of that talent.

Yes Brother Ricky D I shall go forward with you for we are sheep of His pasture and sowers of His seed. For we are instruments of His Holy Spirits work and I shall not deny Him who denied me not upon the cross.

I read in the Ballengee Record today that Brother Ricky D has gone on home now. He’s there where peace and joy abound. He’s with His Father now and I feel so very happy about that. I never met Brother Ricky D after that wonderful day at the Billy Graham Crusade. Our lives never again crossed. But I know we shall again someday meet as I am still walking with him. I am walking with His master, as He is also mine. I thank God so much for Brother Ricky D. In that pivotal moment he shared his courage and walked with me down that wondrous road to Calvary where I found the truth and forever set free.

Copyright: Thomas N Kirkpatrick 2001

Durant Bible College

 

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