When our younger daughter Ginny married John Luther from Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1995, Cathy and I became related by marriage to the Luther and Bigger families. Both families have lived in Northwest Arkansas for several generations, and are some of the most wonderful people and strongest Christians we have ever known. Both sets of John’s grandparents were living at the time of the marriage, and the relationships we developed with them over the next 10 years were life changing for us.
When we met them, Grandma and Grandpa Luther had lived on the same farm in Savoy, Arkansas for the 65+ years of their marriage. Savoy is a picturesque community located near Lake Wedington about 12 miles west of Fayetteville. Both Grandma (Frances) and Grandpa (Fay) were born and raised in that community and never moved away for any long period of time. He was an expert farmer and cattleman, having learned the skills from his father and his brothers while working with them. After their father died, two of the 9 brothers (Fay and Roland) stayed on the farm and continued farming and raising cattle.
When we were introduced to Grandma and Grandpa Luther, we discovered immediately what strong Christians they were, and the heart they each had to witness for the Lord Jesus. Grandpa looked me in the eye and with his very first words said, “How old were you when you were saved?” I had a ready answer for him and said, “I was 37 years old and ashamed I had waited so long!” He chuckled and said that he was like me in that he had wasted a lot of living before he finally found Jesus. Every person that I introduced to Grandpa following our initial meeting, he would ask them a similar question, including my pastor at that time in El Dorado .
Their modest home on their beautiful farm reflected their character and lifestyle; nothing fancy but warm and welcoming. When Cathy and I were living in South Arkansas and would come for a visit with our kids, going to Grandma and Grandpa’s home was always on our agenda. More often than not, Grandma would have a 3 or 4 course meal prepared, and it included some of my absolute favorite dishes like chicken and dumplings, fresh corn, home-grown tomatoes, home-made rolls and her famous strawberry jam. I would brag on her jam so much, that she always insisted that we take a couple of jars home with us. Something I learned early about the Luther’s was they never locked the doors of their home. If the doors did have a lock, they were long since rusted from disuse. On more than one occasion, they would awaken in the morning and discover a visiting missionary couple from out of town, who had come in after the Luther’s had retired to bed. The visitors would know the house was unlocked and rather than awaken the Luther’s, they would go to the guest room and go to bed. Grandma would always tell family and friends who stayed with them, “If Fay and I are asleep when you get here, come on in and make yourself at home!” One Christmas, Cathy and I received a letter from Grandma in which she wrote, “It was great to have visitors this year from California, Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia and West Indies to share our home that our Great God has given us to use. This isn’t really our home. We are just sojourners here.” I have every letter that Grandma wrote to us, and they are treasures.
Of all the things I admired and loved about them, one standing above the others was their continuous witness for the Lord Jesus. Every conversation usually led to a discussion of God’s amazing grace, and how fortunate they were to be able to tell folks the good news that Jesus saves. I have had the privilege of knowing and serving with some of the greatest preachers in the world, but I have never known soul winners who compared to the Luther’s. Who could imagine that this simple farm couple from a tiny community in Northwest Arkansas would lead over 1200 people per year to Christ for over 40 years? Only God could do that through them.
Their method for soul winning was as uncomplicated as their lives. Each year during the farming season they would save enough money to take a 2 month break in the late summer and early fall during the county fair and rodeo seasons. They would drive their van with a small trailer attached; both packed full of clothes and supplies, and attend every county fair and rodeo in a 3 state area. More often than not, they would sleep in their van to save the expense of a motel room. They would set up their booth, which included a long table with 8 chairs at which Grandma would sit and tell the people seated at the table about the wonderful love of her Savior. She made certain they knew that He loved them, and that He died so that they might be saved. In that 15 to 20 minute session, it was not unusual for 3 or 4 of the ones listening, to make a profession of faith to receive Christ as Savior. Grandma’s testimony was so compelling and convicting, that over the course of 6-8 weeks at those fairs and rodeos, as many as 1000 to 1400 people yearly, heard about Jesus Christ and were saved. Grandpa’s responsibility was to walk around the midway talking to everyone he encountered, while inviting them into their booth to “hear some good news from Frances.” He never met a stranger, and was so convincing with his invitations people were usually standing in line waiting to sit at Grandma’s table. All the while they were waiting, Grandpa was telling them how wonderful it is to be saved, and God was not willing that any should perish but everyone should be saved. They were an incomparable team!
By the time we met the Luther’s, they had been doing their county fair and rodeo ministry for over 40 years and were in their mid-80’s in age. The fairs and rodeos were always during the hottest time of the year, and they would stay at their booth from 9 in the morning until the closing that evening. The few times we visited during a fair, the temperature was so hot I had difficulty staying in the heat for more than a few hours. Grandma once told me, “Oh Dr. John, I just wish Fay and I could do more. I don’t know who will take our place when we leave here!”
It was so special to watch them in public, such as at a Razorback basketball game which they loved to attend. They would be sitting holding hands, and usually Grandma would be napping with 19,000 crazy fans jumping and screaming all around them. When she would awaken, she would always say what a fun time she had at the game, which I never doubted was true. Fay and Frances departed this life when they were both in their mid-90’s, having been married for 73 years. Frances died about a year before Fay, and during that year while he was waiting for the Lord’s timing; whenever I saw him he would say, “I miss Frances more than I ever thought. I just wish I had told her more often that I loved her.” I’m confident he is now making up for lost time. When they finally entered their rest and were greeted by their Savior whom they so faithfully served, He told them, “Well done my good and faithful servants. You have sacrificed much by loving so many in my Name. You have brought these precious souls into My Kingdom,” as He turned and pointed to the tens of thousands of cheering and grateful saints they had loved and led into His presence.