When Cathy and I left our home in Valdosta, Georgia where we had lived for 2 years, we decided to move to my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas. I had just completed my required time on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a Major in the Medical Corps. 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 4 years old and our daughter Mary Kay was not quite 2. Our third child, Ginny would be born within a year.
There was a distinct advantage for us to move to El Dorado, since I was the third of 3 generations of Dr. Moore’s who had practiced medicine there. My older brother, Berry Lee (Bubba) had a very active general medical practice which he had established with our Dad (Pop) 14 years earlier. Our grandfather, Dr. John Aaron had practiced for 40 years in the community and was still remembered by many, although by this time he had been dead for almost 30 years. Our Pop, Dr. Berry Sr., also a general practitioner and greatly beloved in the community, had died 5 years earlier. I knew my brother would be an immediate referral resource for my new 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. Then there was a problem of 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 Christian and zealous in his faith. When we were together with him in private conversation, it was obvious he believed we were not saved and did not have a personal relationship with Christ. His discussions on faith toward us were not judgmental, because we understood he was concerned about our future. Because of our discomfort level, we avoided most talks as possible with him concerning faith.
We joined the First Baptist Church, and because we had small children, we decided to be more faithful in attendance for the 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 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 more than 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 I also knew I didn’t think and live as they seemed.
In our 6th 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 who loved and obeyed God. He and his wife LaNell, along with all of their children, were attending the Bill Gothard seminar, and they all 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 a little more skeptical, but noted at least, she would have the opportunity to shop for a week in Dallas.
The conference was huge and more than 15,000 people packed the Dallas Convention Center to hear Bill Gothard teach his principles on the family and how to live the Christ life. He was not a physically impressive man, and his voice was soft and at times monotone, but his teaching was interesting and filled with many personal illustrations. The fact he had never married made me skeptical he would know anything of substance about marriage and raising children. At first I thought, “I’m not sure I can listen to this man 5 hours a day for the next 6 days, but we’ll stay so Bubba will have to foot the bill!”
On the second day, the previous 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 5th day we were within a few rows of the platform, and God was working greatly in our hearts. I was hearing and understanding I must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and being a Christian was so much more than attending church, teaching Bible truths or even serving as a deacon. By the end of the session that day, 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 offered a brief prayer of surrender and said, “With everyone still bowing, it would be a great encouragement to me for those who asked for salvation briefly 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.
While Cathy and I were walking back to our hotel, she quietly said , “I have something to tell you. I raised my hand at the invitation.” I told that 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 was the first time in our 12 years of marriage we had prayed together, except at a meals in asking for blessings for the food.
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. That life was bought and paid for by Jesus Christ at Calvary 2000 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!