The Summer Of 1982
The summer of 1982 was full of life changes for me. I made decisions that year that set the course for my life. The time-period from mid-May through mid-September was filled with God’s dealing with me, directing me, and transforming me.
I sensed God’s calling on my life even as a young boy. I remember my Sunday School teacher, Faye St. John, asking each of us in her class what we wanted to be when we grew up. I am guessing I was about the age of ten or so. I also remember responding without hesitation, “I am going to be a preacher.” I lived the next nine years with that idea playing in the background of my mind. Wherever I went and whatever I did, regardless of how foolish or immature my choices, I knew God had a specific plan for me that involved being a preacher.
In May of 1981, I went to a church camp with the youth from my church. The preacher at the camp that year spoke as if he was speaking directly to me. I left camp that year with the absolute certainty that God was calling me, but also with the determination that I would not give in or surrender to what I knew. So, for the next year I ran from God. I ran from His calling to be saved but also from His call to preach. I don’t understand it and can’t fully explain it. But I knew if I ever became a Christian, I would also become a preacher.
In the spring of 1982 around March, I had a serious conversation with my mother about the direction of my life. I had just turned nineteen…I hated my job…my girlfriend had broken up with me…many of my friends were either in college or had decent jobs…I was running from God…and I was miserable. I told my mother I was going to join the Navy. Mother stunned me with her response. Call it a mother’s intuition or the Holy Spirit’s leading, but what she said left me speechless. She said, “You can go wherever you want and do whatever you please, but you will never get away from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.” She was right.
Fast forward to May of 1982 I was back at that same youth camp I had attended twelve months earlier. Only this time I was listening, interested, and tired of running. I remember praying with the camp pastor that weekend about giving my life to Christ. But I am not sure that I was saved that weekend. But I made sure just a few days later. On my way home from night classes at the local junior college, I took a detour toward the Point Mallard Prayer Chapel at Point Mallard Park in Decatur, Al. Sitting alone, on a bench in that chapel at around ten at night I prayed something like this… “God is this is you and if this is real, I want all that you have for me. Save me. Forgive me. Come into my heart. I give my life to you…” It is a wonderful memory I have replayed in my mind over the years. I can tell you now, it was God, and it was real. And it still is.
The next three months or so, the summer of 1982, was filled with changes in me. Changes in my attitude, my language, the company I kept…Changes in where I went and what I did on the weekends, changes in the way I spoke to my parents. I bought a new Bible and began to read it every day. I began to pay attention in church. And unintentionally, as I listened to the preacher, I began to imagine how I would say that if I was preaching. It sounds kind of weird now, but I began to see myself preaching. And it all felt very normal.
In late summer I decided to visit a retired pastor in our church to confide in him about these thoughts of preaching I was having. His name was Coleman Whitten. I remember sitting in his home on a Wednesday night after church and telling him I felt like I was being called to preach. He responded, “I know.” I asked him, “What do you mean you know?” He said, “I’ve been watching you at church and I felt like God was calling you.” Wow. At that point I wondered who else knew. My mother knew. This retired pastor knew. And then a couple weeks later, as if God was making sure I was listening, my pastor asked me if I would be willing to share my testimony at church on a Sunday night. His name was Odie Gregg, and I pulled him aside and asked him if he had been talking with Bro. Coleman. He said he had not. I asked him what he wanted me to share? What was I supposed to say? He just kinda laughed and said, “Whatever the Lord leads you to say.” So, in that same conversation I confided in him that I felt like God might be leading me to become a preacher. He scheduled me to speak on an upcoming Sunday in the coming weeks. What a crazy summer. What a crazy yet wonderful summer.
I stood to preach for the first time on Sunday evening September 19, 1982. The church house was packed. I was as nervous. Scared. Trembling. But absolutely certain. And I was also brief. I spoke all of about five minutes. On that night I had some friends who arrived a few minutes late and missed my first sermon. I preached from 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 where Paul writes about finishing what was started a year ago. I told the congregation that night that I had sensed the calling of God to become a preacher. That I had been running. And that I was committing to do what God was calling me to.
Several family members were in attendance. Many friends from high school and the community where I was raised were in attendance. The church family came out that night. It was wonderful…and again, I was finished in five minutes. Ha! But then something else wonderful happened. The pastor asked if anyone had something they’d like to say… And many people did, like for the next forty-five minutes or so. It was, as we used to say, a testimony meeting. Some folks stood and spoke encouraging words to me. Some stood to recall their own personal commitment to God. Some wept, some laughed. It was a night I will always remember.
And so began the journey that I have been on for the last forty years. During that time I have pastored three churches for a total of thirteen years and I have traveled as an evangelist for the other twenty-seven years. It has been a wonderful journey so far. I look forward to all God has for me in the years to come. The summer of 1982 was wonderful. But I have to be honest, the summer of 2022 ain’t all that bad either. I am blessed.