Has it Been That Long?

By Lewis Willis

I would like you to indulge me for some personal reminiscences. (When I mentioned to Joyce that I was going to reminisce in this issue of the paper, her reply was: “I guess you realize that doing that means you’re old.”) And, she’s right! But, here I go anyway.

I made a decision at Christmas-time in 1958, that I would return to Texas after I finished my college work at Florida College. I didn’t have any idea what I would do for a living when I got home, but I felt certain I could find work that would support me, Frankie, and a child which was on the way. I had preached for a small Florida congregation for only one summer (twelve sermons), so preaching was not on my mind.

My brother, Cecil, was living in Kansas City at the time. He called and asked us to come to Kansas City to visit with them on the way back to Texas. Explaining that I would be pulling a trailer with all of our belongings, I tried to decline his invitation. He would not accept “No” for an answer.

Later that week, Cecil called and told me that he had to be in Macon, Missouri that week and he would like us to just meet him there. After explaining to me how to get to Macon, we headed into the cold, snowy “north” at the end of January 1959.

When we arrived in Macon, the small town of fewer than 4,000 people made less than a great impression on us. We finally located Cecil. He took us out to eat and to visit with some folks he knew there.

Well, these folks just happened to be members of the small church there. Not only that, but that little church did not have a preacher at the time. In fact, they were looking for a preacher to work with them and Cecil was trying to help them get a man. They had actually gone so far as to rent a furnished trailer for their new preacher — when they got one!

They could not fully support a man, but Cecil had gotten a congregation in Indianapolis to commit some support to a preacher in Macon. Coincidentally, Donald had got- ten the church where he worked in Houston to agree to send some support as well. Everything was fully set in place when they located a man to move there.

Are You Awake Yet, Lewis?

Sure enough, Cecil had convinced them to hire me — sight unseen — and he and Don had raised the necessary support to enable me to go there. And, there I was with my wife and all our earthly belongings, and I was looking for a job! It just so happened that I didn’t know I would find a job in a strange, cold place — preaching!

The same day that I realized why Cecil had insisted that I visit him in Missouri, he was pressing me for a response to the church’s invitation to work with them. After all, Cecil “had to get back to KC that night!” He felt certain he could wait to leave Macon — long enough to help unload the car and trailer! I had to decide that day.

So, that day, Thursday, I accepted “the invitation” to work with the church in Macon, Missouri. I was fully pre- pared for the challenge. After all, I already had twelve sermons prepared! I think I had attempted to preach per- haps 20 times in my entire life. Now, I was a “full-time” preacher — according to Cecil!

Because we were so young, Frankie and I were excited when it began to snow on that Saturday afternoon. How- ever, the next morning we had about twelve inches of snow on the ground, my “southern” car refused to start, neither of us could remember the name of a single person in the church there, and we did not have a phone to call a tow truck, nor the money to pay him if he came. Certainly calling a cab was out of the question.

So, in my best “summer” suit and a light overcoat, I started walking to the building. The temperature was in the teens, and it was only about a mile and a half to the building. I don’t know if you have ever tried to walk a mile and a half in twelve inches of snow, but I do not recommend it. I got to the building, but I was so cold that I could not even speak to the few people who were there.

After several minutes standing over the grate of the coal furnace, I regained my speech enough to ask someone to go to the trailer and bring Frankie to the building. And, thus I began my life as a Gospel Preacher, on the first Sun- day of February 1959 — 40 years ago today!

It hardly seems possible that 40 years have passed since that day. I have worked full-time during those years, except for two years when I supported myself while working for another small church. (I was co-owner of a telephone installation company that installed the original long-distance network for MCI, but I preached and taught all my regular classes during that time.) It has been an honor to be supported by God’s people, as I have sought through the years to preach what Paul called “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

Today, getting started in preaching is somewhat different. For one thing, you can’t raise support from one or two churches. It usually requires 15-20 other churches to help with your support, and getting that support is a daunting task. Many churches now hire young men who are wanting to preach, to work in a training program with their experienced preacher, as the young man learns how to do this work. That sounds preferable to me, after reflecting on my experiences through the years of my early efforts to preach.

A Word To Our Young Men

In closing, let me say a word to our young men. (Will you see that they read this article?) The world needs doc- tors, accountants, airline pilots, and computer experts. However, the world also needs to hear the gospel! We have some fine young men here at Brown Street who love the Lord. Already they have worked to develop their skills in the public functions of the worship. They have made talks in training classes. Are these young men just waiting on their parents — or their brethren — to urge them to con- sider preaching as a career? Parents, there is no calling so noble as gospel preaching. Your son will make you proud if you join others in encouraging him to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). Think about! Even after 40 years, I recommend this life to our young men.