When Cathy and I left our home in Valdosta, Georgia where we lived for 2 years we moved to my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas. I had just completed my required time of active duty in the U.S. Air Force. We were excited to begin this new phase of starting a private practice in general surgery and continue raising our family. At the time of our move our older child, John Aaron was four years old and our daughter Mary Kay was not quite two. Our third child Ginny would be born within a year of our move.
There was a distinct advantage for our move to El Dorado. I was the third of three generations of Dr. Moore’s who practiced medicine there. My older brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had a very active general medical practice which he began with our Dad (Pop) fourteen years earlier. My grandfather Dr. John Aaron had practiced for forty years in the community and was still remembered by many, although he had been dead for almost thirty years. My Pop Dr. Berry Sr., also a general practitioner and greatly beloved in the community had died five years earlier. I knew my brother would be an immediate referral resource for my surgical practice.
There were also some disadvantages. Cathy was born and raised in south Florida and all of her family lived there. She had no sense of personal identity in south Arkansas, and culturally this would be a huge change for her. There was a problem in our religious beliefs. Cathy was raised a Methodist, and I was baptized as a youth at the First Baptist Church in El Dorado. During our early years together, we had vacillated between Methodist and Baptist churches but were never very faithful in attendance and never committed in faith. We were spiritually intimidated by Bubba, because he was a strong and zealous in his faith. When we were with him in private conversation it was obvious he thought we were not saved and did not have a personal relationship with Christ. His discussions on faith with us did not seem judgmental, because we understood he was concerned about our future. Because of our discomfort we avoided discussions on faith with him as much as possible.
After joining First Baptist we decided to be faithful in attendance for our children’s sake. It wasn’t long before I was asked to teach an adult couple’s Sunday school class because of my love for teaching. My Bible knowledge was limited so the preparation time for teaching was lengthy. Within a couple of years I was invited to become a deacon which I considered a high honor, and I accepted their invitation.
Despite the fact we were deeply committed to church work I kept a clear separation of my church life from my professional life. If someone asked to discuss a particular Bible truth I was happy to relate my own interpretation, but deep inside I knew I did not live by faith. I could see a difference in my brother’s life and a few other men I knew and respected, and knew I didn’t think and live as they did.
In our sixth year in El Dorado Bubba asked if Cathy and I would like to go to Dallas to attend a week-long seminar designed to teach couples how to raise teenagers to love and obey God. He and his wife LaNell, along with all of their children were attending the Bill Gothard seminar, and each one assured us of its’ value. Bubba also added, “If you don’t leave the conference believing it was of great value, I will pay all of your expenses!” That was the final motivation I needed. Cathy’s attitude was more skeptical but was glad she would have the opportunity to spend the week shopping in Dallas.
The conference was huge and more than ten thousand people packed the Dallas Convention Center to hear Bill Gothard teach his principles on the family and living the Christ life. He was not a physically impressive man, and his voice was soft and at times monotone. His teaching however, was interesting and filled with many personal illustrations. The fact he had never married made me skeptical he would know anything about marriage and raising children. At first I thought, “I’m not sure I can listen to this man five hours a day for the next six days, but we’ll stay so Bubba will have to foot the bill!”
On the second day his teaching so intrigued us we moved closer to the stage to see him up close rather than on the large over-head screen. By the fifth day we were within a few rows of the platform, and God was working greatly in our hearts. I was hearing and understanding my need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and being a Christian was so much more than attending church, teaching Bible truths or serving as a deacon. By the end of the session Bill asked if anyone in the audience had come to the point where they felt the need to surrender their life to receive the Lord’s free gift of salvation. He had everyone bow their head, and those who needed salvation could pray a simple prayer of surrender to Christ. He said, “With everyone still bowing, it would be a great encouragement to me for those who asked for salvation to quickly raise their hand.” I raised my hand and quickly lowered it. “Yes, thank you. What a beautiful sight of people all around this convention center raising their hands,” I heard him say.
As Cathy and I walked back to our hotel, she quietly said , “I have something to tell you. I raised my hand at the invitation.” I told her I had also raised mine. Neither of us knew what the other had done. When we got to our hotel room we knelt at the bed and asked the Lord to save us and give us a new heart, a new marriage and a new home. It was a very tender moment of surrender, and the first time in our twelve years of marriage we had prayed together.
What was initially thought to be a shopping trip to Dallas became a life-changing experience for us as we received the greatest gift of all; the life of Christ within our hearts. Our lives were bought and paid for by Jesus Christ at Calvary two thousand years ago. He paid a debt He didn’t owe, and we owed a debt we couldn’t pay. What amazing grace and what a gift!
PS: We didn’t ask Bubba to pay for our trip to Dallas. We should have paid for his!