Go Ye Therefore
PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ETERNAL THINGS
The problem with writing a book such as this is that you can never include all the names and places and events that make up the totality of one's life. For every memory I've recorded, I've had to leave out so many others. But in this, the final chapter, I will try to tie up some of the loose ends I see. Of course, in doing so, I'll invariably introduce more loose ends and leave out more key names, places, and events. But, hey, give an eighty-two-year-old preacher a break. I've done a lot a living!
There are so many partners in ministry who, for one reason or another, did not make it into the previous chapters. These are people who have labored alongside me, supplied me with key moments of needed encouragement, or served as role models and quiet sources of inspiration along the way.
me with my introduction to real missionary work. Upon my arrival in Liberia in 1957, Bill took me deep into the African bush country, where I received an education both on the desperate needs of the people hidden in the interior regions of the country and the need for the evangelist to not just kick back and broadcast the gospel from the comfort of the radio station, but to personally take it to the people where they live.
prayer. As we prayed, he kept a hand on my shoulder. When we were finished, he said, "Howard, while I was praying, the Lord revealed to me that you will have a great ministry in Africa." I didn't know what to make of that remark at the time, but years later I looked back on that moment and thanked God for Torrey's special word of encouragement. Torrey passed away in 2002.
Oh, the places the gospel will take you. A rundown of the crusades and conferences on evangelism in all the places I've visited would take more pages than I have here, but allow me to dash off some highlights: Southern Rhodesia, Swaziland, Berlin, Switzerland, Amsterdam, South Korea, the Philippines, Jamaica, the Caribbean. And the list goes on.
On the crusade trail, we faced all types of governments from oppressive regimes and Communist hotspots to democratic nations and those still searching for a permanent system of governance. But no matter the nation or government, the people are all the same. They hunger and thirst for real hope and greater meaning in their lives. and the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to all they've been searching for whether they recognize it or not. The evangelist's job is to help them recognize it.
In January 1980, I was pleased to participate in a series of crusades sponsored by churches in Jamaica and the West Indies. Ralph Bell was a featured speaker on that tour, along with associate evangelist Roy Gustafson, musical soloists Walter Arites and Steve Musto, pianists Ted Cornell and Edward Thomas, and my son David, who sang, played guitar, and generally took good care of his dad.
We conducted smaller crusades in locations such as Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, before converging on the city of Kingston for an island-wide event led by Ralph. All through the tour, it was my privilege to meet many people of all races who listened to my radio program in Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean over TransWorld Radio, in Bonair in the Lesser Antilles. Wherever we went, thousands of people turned out and God's Spirit motivated great numbers to come forward to commit or rededicate their lives to Christ.
By God's grace, tens of thousands of souls have come to Christ through these and other crusade events. And it was my privilege to be a tiny part of what God is doing in the hearts and minds of people from around the globe.
Though the international crusades were often the more
prominent ones, my work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association frequently brought me to points throughout the United States and Canada. In addition to massive regional crusades, there were smaller citywide campaigns and numerous local church meetings. My domestic crusades sent me to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington, California, Nebraska, and on it goes.
One of my most memorable domestic meetings took place circa 1973 in a little town called Winner, South Dakota. I had been invited by a group of white evangelicals to lead a community revival. Their hope was to invite the local Native American community. Unfortunately, when the white pastors contacted the Native churches on the Sioux reservation, they said they didn't want to be a part of any event because, culturally speaking, it was "a white man's crusade." However, when the white pastor explained a black preacher from Billy Graham's team would be speaking, the Native American leaders wanted to meet me.
After ministering to the larger crusade in Winner, I journeyed out to the Sioux reservation to speak to a crowd of two hundred. It was a wonderful time, and I was invited back to an evening powwow. I was saddened, though, that there was still such a wall between the Native and white populations in that area. A few Native Americans did eventually attend the crusade meetings, but there clearly was still a long way to go. At the least, the white evangelicals were pleased that the seed planted in Winner three decades ago was able to take root and grow into a reconciled Christian community.
AND EVERYTHING ELSE
I continued to do my weekly Hour of Freedom radio broadcast for the Graham Association until 2001, but I officially retired from the BGEA in 1994. I will be forever grateful for the clout my connection with that organization allowed me. Being the first African American on Billy Graham's team probably will always be the first thing listed on my "resume." However, the reality is that I am connected in varying degrees to a variety of other ministries as well.
One of the ministries of which I'm most proud was the Christian Family Outreach Camp, which was launched by members of my family in 1978. The camp, which was located fifty miles from Cleveland near Rock Creek, Ohio, provided weeklong camping opportunities for young people and families from around the region. Many of the camp attendees (there were about one hundred each week) were inner-city youth who would not otherwise have a chance to take part in a genuine summer camp experience. Often the kids arrived complaining that they did not want to be there, but by week's end they were crying because they did not want to leave.
The weekly agenda consisted of devotions, classes in Bible, arts and crafts, music, horseback riding, swimming, and a variety of sports. Most important, we saw many young people give their lives to Christ during one-on-one time with counselors.
The camp was truly a family affair. Andre Thornton was the President, I was the Vice President and Treasurer, Pat Kelly the Executive Director, Wanda Jones the Program Director, Lutrell Hill the Secretary, David Jones the music Director, and many others were also on the staff.
Our involvement in the camp lasted until 1991, when we turned the ministry over to another group that continues it to this day, though under another name. Still, the legacy of those thirteen years continues. Many of the kids who attended the camp have gone on to graduate from college and lead productive lives, overcoming the odds. Some of the kids have even entered into full-time ministry.
In addition to our work with Christian Family Outreach, Wanda and I traveled to several Alliance youth camps throughout Ohio and across the nation to share the Good News with young people.
Of course, my history with The Christian and Missionary Alliance Church predates anything else I've done in my fifty-nine years of public ministry. I will always be thankful for the solid foundation the C&MA provided me as a young Christian. In a day when most evangelical denominations quietly bought into society's segregationist mores, the C&MA was earnestly reaching out to blacks and other minorities. That's not to say the denomination has been perfect in it's race-relations efforts. There still need to be more African-American pastors and missionaries within the ranks of the C&MA, and the group can do better at planting churches in the inner cities and other non-suburban areas. Still, I applaud the denomination for the groundbreaking moves it has made.
In 1984 the Alliance Church invited Wanda and me to tour several French-speaking African nations, including the Congo (formerly Zaire), Gabon, Mali, and Cote d'lvoire (formerly the Ivory Coast). Those were some of our most exciting meetings, and hundreds of hearts were won for Christ.
Wanda had many opportunities to witness for her Lord. She was the first woman ever to speak to the faculty and student body
of the University of Kinshasa, Zaire. In other engagements, she spoke about her conversion and her ministry to her family. Women of various racial and social backgrounds asked questions about marriage and the home. Some women, with tears in their eyes, sought counseling for their personal spiritual problems. As a result, in one country two women decided to organize a Christian women's club to meet on a regular basis.
I discovered in my public and private meetings with pastors, evangelists, and missionaries that they also needed prayer and encouragement from the Word of God for spiritual issues in their lives and ministries.
Throughout our six-week journey, many people confessed that they wore various charms, rings, and bracelets to protect themselves from the power of Satan. They had basically carried over elements of former pagan beliefs into their newfound faith in God. But after hearing our message of salvation and deliverance through the power of Christ's blood, they were able to discard those pagan idols and depend wholly on God's protection.
Radio and television enabled us to carry the gospel to thousands of people. In Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, our evangelistic team was on the popular Protestant Hour, viewed by some 3 million people throughout the nation. My messages were translated and recorded on cassette tapes and bought by people who went on to use them in home Bible studies. What's more, special concerts by the Zaire Nsangu Malumu Trio were outstanding. Thousands were blessed by the singing and guitar playing of these gifted young men.
Our final crusade was in Bamako, Mali, where some 16,000 people packed the stadium. During the event,
Dr. Dieke Koffi, president of the Alliance churches of Africa, presented Wanda and me with the colorful African chief robes, gave us African names, and stated that this honor bestowed on us was the highest given to any guest who had ever come to his country. We thanked him and gave him a big "soul brother and sister" hug, as the crowd roared with appreciation.
Later, Wanda and I were invited to visit with an American missionary couple who did Bible translation work. The wife, whom I'll call Linda, was particularly eager to chat with us. We sat together over dessert and debriefed about the various meetings. As we sipped our tea, suddenly tears began to well up in Linda's eyes. She pardoned herself as she dried her eyes with a napkin. "I'm sorry for being so emotional," she said. "My husband and I have been missionaries in this part of Africa for more than twenty years; however, in all of our time here, I never believed that American blacks would be accepted in Africa as missionaries because of the cultural factor. But tonight, as I saw the way they honored you, I was shocked with joy."
She dabbed at her eyes some more with the napkin, then continued: "Then, Howard, when you preached that powerful message and the people came forward in droves, I knew I had been wrong in my thinking about American blacks as missionaries. God showed me tonight that effectiveness on the mission field, or any other place, depends on His anointing them with His Spirit, not on the basis of their color or culture. Please forgive us for our prejudice."
We thanked Linda and her husband for their honesty and kindness, then prayed with them. We left there feeling that we had made a new friend and helped shatter a sad misconception that was once embraced by many white members of the C&MA and other denominations as well.
I am still a member of the Alliance Church in Oberlin. Our pastor, Reverend Charles Mayle is ninety-four years old, retired, but still active in the church. Occasionally, I will preach on Sunday or teach a midweek Bible service. The work of the church is still in my blood, and the little Alliance congregation is home.
I have received various honors over the years. One of the most memorable is the Hall of Fame award bestowed upon me by the National Religious Broadcasters in 1996. I was the first African American to receive this award. Then there's the honorary doctorate that I received from Huntington College in Huntington, Indiana (my son's undergraduate alma mater). Things like these always help to boost one's spirits (and his ego, if he's not careful), but I try to keep these types of tributes in perspective.
Perhaps one of the greatest honors of my ministry career was the Howard O. Jones Chair of Evangelism established by Crown College in St. Paul, Minnesota, during the late 1980s. I had been a regular speaker at Crown's chapel services in the 1970s before becoming an adjunct faculty member and teaching occasional classes on evangelism, preaching, and racial reconciliation between semesters. So it meant a lot for that school to bestow that honor upon me.
Each year, the Chair grants a generous scholarship to a student who feels led to go into missions or evangelism. I'm proud to be involved in the training and education of our future leaders on the mission and evangelism circuit, and that's probably why this honor stands out a little bit above the others.
When you're a cut-and-dry evangelist, it's easy to get lost in the crowd of dynamic preachers. Many of the top preachers today are known for homiletical flair or colorful teaching. My preaching has always been defined, first and foremost, by the simple truth of the gospel.
As an evangelical preacher, I loved what I did. I loved to share the Word of God, and I did it with as much gusto and passion and emotion as I could muster. But never did I enter that colorful realm of whooping or hooping (depending on where you're from). I was from Ohio, after all. That's not to say I couldn't get into the spirit of it; it just isn't who I am. I'm a more understated preacher who lets the Word of God do the serious shouting. In my ministry, I was always just the conduit, the channel by which God could either blare or whisper His words.
In 1965 I was named the second president of the National Black Evangelical Association (NBEA; founded in 1963); I served that organization faithfully until two years later when the Black Power movement emerged as a dominant voice in the black community. I had always been a strong supporter of civil rights in the vein of Dr. King; however, the Black Power movement demanded a more aggressive and nationalistic stand on issues of racial justice and a black man who worked for Billy Graham clearly seemed out of step with the direction the movement was going. Not everyone in the NBEA looked down upon my affiliation with Billy. But the small number of folks who did made a lot of noise, and I decided to leave that post in 1967.
In those days, I lost a lot of black friends who thought I should leave Billy's organization. But I knew the right thing was to stay. My black brothers and sisters who accuse Billy of
not being vocal enough against racism and other social issues have not seen what goes on behind the scenes at the BGEA. They do not know Billy's heart.
I may be accused of being "old school" or a Graham loyalist, but I believe my record on issues of racial justice should speak for itself. I've never forgotten that I'm a black man working in a predominantly white world. In fact, I've been confronted with that fact one way or another each day of my life. The question is, What am I going to do with that reality? Some folks choose bitterness and division; I believe in grace and reconciliation. I believe that is how Christ would have us respond.
Rather than curse someone's flickering light, I think we should go out of our way to encourage positive things being done. For instance, one of my most important and heartrending trips with the BGEA was our 1973 mission to drought-stricken nations of North Africa, where more than thirteen million people were starving to death. The Graham organization raised more than $100,000 (a pretty good sum back in 1973) to help aid famine-relief efforts in Mali, Chad, Upper Volta, Senegal, Niger, and Mauritania. Those are the kinds of constructive efforts sadly overlooked when one sees the world with a myopic vision that is eager to criticize but slow to praise.
WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR?
But don't get me wrong. I think there's a place for an honest and intelligent critique of the American evangelical church's efforts in areas of diversity and social justice. The truth is, we haven't done enough to build solid bridges between the races. We have not done enough to minister to the
poor and needy in our own country. If evangelical churches had been as devoted to reaching the American inner cities fifty years ago as they were to reaching Africa and other international spots, the United States would probably look a lot different.
I don't think a church has any justification for being in existence if it's working overseas among a people of color yet cannot marshal the love to work among their counterparts here in the States. It doesn't make sense.
You may recall that during Billy's New York crusade in 1957, many of the evangelical leaders told him, "Don't go to Harlem. Those savages will kill you." These were white pastors talking. Yet they were the same ones sending missionaries to Third World nations to spread the gospel. Does that make any sense? No wonder we have growing numbers of black groups who are rejecting Christianity and rejecting the church.
But I digress. Let me say it again: Our only hope is Jesus Christ. We are so good at introducing politics and ideologies and culture and race into our presentations of the Christian faith. But when you strip away all that man-made baggage, all that is left is the gospel, the simple message of the Cross, which says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
And: "Go and make disciples of all nations . . . " (Matthew 28:19).
And: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
And: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, KJV).
This, in essence, is what my ministry has always been about. Little did I realize when I gave my life to Jesus Christ sixty-two years ago that He would use me in the ways that He has. God has given me the privilege to serve as His ambassador to audiences in the United States and abroad. He blessed me with fifty-seven years of marriage to a one-of-a-kind woman and five wonderful children who have chosen to walk with Christ. I didn't earn or deserve any of these things, yet God gave them to me anyway. I am a humbled beneficiary of this boundless love and grace.
For God so loved the world that He gave . . .
It is this profound truth that gets me up in the morning and keeps me going. I fully realize my weaknesses, my failures, my lack of trust. But God's grace is more than sufficient. His Word is my strong tower. Therefore, I am determined to let Him use my entire life for His glory until Jesus comes.
Here I am, Lord . . . Here I am.
* * * * * * *
WANDA KATHLEEN JONES
Wanda Kathleen Jones, 78, a lifelong resident of Oberlin, died Thursday, November 8, 2001, at Oberlin Medical Center following a long illness.
On the evening of Sunday, November 11th, we had the wake. The floral display enhanced the beauty of the room. People came from all over town and across the country to attend Wanda's service. At the conclusion of the wake, my son, David, called the immediate members of the family together for one last look at the body that once held our dear wife and mother. We prayed, thanking God for the gift of her life, imploring Him to keep her legacy alive in our hearts and various ministries.
The graveside service was on November 12th at 9:00 A.M. at Westwood Cemetery in Oberlin, Ohio.
Later in the morning at 11:00 A.M. Wanda's memorial service was held at the First Church of Oberlin. Ralph Bell offered the invocation and shared some personal remarks. Cheryl and David offered poignant reflections of their mother. The obituary was read by our granddaughter, April Kelly. Reverend Mayle delivered the eulogy, and Cheryl's husband, Norman Sanders closed in prayer.
One of the hymns we sang that morning was All the Way My Savior Leads Me, which was a song Wanda and I used to sing in a duet. It was one of the themes of our life together.
And now in view of Wanda's homegoing with the Lord, please pray for me and the rest of the family that we'll fulfill the ministry He's called us to, and help hasten the return of our Lord.
Table of Contents of Gospel Trailblazer by Howard O. Jones