For 57 years I knew him. It was the longest I had ever known any man in my life. From childhood my memories of him were etched with a broad smile, twinkling eyes and arms that held me close for as long as I wanted. He walked with an aura…well, maybe two. Whenever he entered a room it immediately lit up, and when he departed, he left behind a strong presence of cologne. He was my joy.
He didn’t always understand me, and that frustrated him, especially when I was navigating the rough waves of my teenage years. Many were the times we did not share the same appreciation for style, fashion or music. He would shake his head when he caught me dancing along with American Bandstand or Soul Train. Then he would try to torture me by singing Charlie Pride ballads.
No he didn’t always “get” me, but he knew me. He read me well when I told the truth or when I lied; he felt my pain when I hurt and tried very hard to match my intensity when I was serious. Usually, though, he just tried to lighten me up by making me laugh.
That preacher-man Papa of mine was a man of few words at home. I don’t remember long lectures with sage advice. After listening to my ponderings and angst, he would usually just state the spiritually obvious. He wasn’t a man who entertained too much “gray area” contemplation. He took every word of the Bible at face value and lived his life accordingly. In the turbulent, questioning times of my life, his simplistic approach was often my greatest comfort, because deep inside I always knew he was right. He was my plumb line.
Like so many who knew him, when he preached I paid attention. His voice was captivating; his stories, compelling. Although I heard him tell certain ones hundreds of times and could recite them verbatim, I never grew tired of hearing them. With anticipation I would smile as he approached the climax of an extraordinary testimony, knowing when and how the audience would respond. Like clockwork, although I had heard it for the 250th time, I would be right there laughing, gasping or crying with the rest of the folks as he came to the dramatic conclusion.
Nothing was quite as thrilling as watching God work through him. No matter what message the Holy Spirit directed him to preach, whether it was about faith, fear or finances, Dad always took time to deal with the hearts of men and women. He would not close before leading lost hearts to the point of decision. He told about his own salvation story; shared about those who missed God; talked about the man who was saved from hell when he raised him from the dead. Then, he would give the call for salvation and count to 3 over the next 30 seconds: “counting down to eternity,” he called it. They would come running by the thousands. Big, burly men who looked like ex-cons; youngsters painted and pierced from head to toe; and some, swirling in semi-drunken stupors, all flocked to the altars, with tears coursing down their cheeks, kneeling in the sawdust or sand.
When I followed the call of God to the Bronx, NY, for 9 years, my mother prayed and Dad sent money. He knew my pioneer spirit, but he also knew in a place like NY, starting from scratch was hard work, and I needed encouragement. About once a week, he would call me and say, “Donna, do you have a pen?” I knew exactly what he meant. He was going to read to me from our favorite commentary, one written by Scottish theologian, Alexander Mac Claren. I would run to get a legal pad and pen and then ask him to read slowly, because I knew I was going to receive a deposit of spiritual gems over the next hour. I cherished those times like no other.
One day, he called me to say, “Donna, I need you.” He was asking me to come and work with him in ministry as his general manager and afternoon speaker. That was 21 years ago…and that is how long I have been serving alongside him.
Almost immediately I was thrust into global evangelism, visiting Uganda first, and then planning meetings in Scandanavia, Moscow and Far East Russia. We conducted training seminars for ministers and pastors, planted churches and saw miracles of healing in every crusade. My travels with him took me to 40 nations of the world and I became an eyewitness to the supernatural. Legendary stories rose out of the Kamchatka, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Mexico City and Nigeria crusades. His trust in me to help plan those meetings and learn cross-cultural gospel communication was invaluable to the work I am now doing as the ministry continues.
Dearest to our hearts were the inner-city tent crusades, particularly in the boroughs of NYC. The people were our extended family; many we knew by name. Dad’s trailer would be laden with banana pudding, pound cake, fried chicken, apple pie, and all kinds of goodies baked by our favorite cooks: Mom Harris and Sister Chandler. My brother Bob always sneaked the banana pudding away, so Mom Harris started to bring 2–1 for Bobby and the other for the rest of us.
It seemed to us, no one could worship like inner-city folks. We loved preaching in NYC, because no one ever had to preach alone. The folks just preached along with us. The services would go for 10 days, 17 services, usually in the blaring heat. They were long days, longer nights, but oh so exciting! Every night God did something outstanding–so many addicts delivered; so many cancers disappeared; so many deaf ears opened; so many healed by the power of Almighty God. As Dad often said, “Bible Days [were] here again!”
I suppose I would be writing for eternity, recounting the glorious times we shared over the past 57 years. Yet, in all the times together, I remember a regular man, who didn’t believe his own press report, loving on people, preaching his heart out and ministering until he almost passed out. He never quit. He always showed up. He kept the faith. He finished his course.
Still, with a year passed, I struggle to believe the one constant in my life who connected with me on so many frequencies is gone. The scent, the look, the smile and the voice of my father, friend and favorite co-laborer have been taken from me. Yet, I have great comfort, that his heart lives on as the ministry he labored hard in continues to impact nations and call people to Jesus. His passion lives on, as we on an ongoing basis, disciple leaders to carry the gospel around the world.
In my heart there is an ember of his love still glowing. For the rest of my life I will be quoting him, laughing at him, and remembering the life-time of moments we shared. I am permanently branded with the brilliance and tenderness of his one-of-a-kind, kind of love.