When our younger daughter Ginny married John Luther from Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1995 Cathy and I became related by marriage to both 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 ten 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 sixty-five plus years of their marriage. Savoy is a picturesque community located near Lake Wedington about twelve miles west of Fayetteville. Both Grandma (Frances) and Grandpa (Fay) were born and raised in the community and never moved away for any significant 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 nine brothers, Fay and Roland stayed on the farm and continued farming and raising cattle.
Upon meeting the Luther’s we discovered what strong Christians they were, and the heart each one had to witness for the Lord Jesus. Grandpa looked me in the eye and his first words to me were, “How old were you when you were saved?” I had a ready answer for him and said, “I was thirty-seven years old and am ashamed I waited so long!” He chuckled and said he was like me and had wasted a lot of living before he finally found Jesus. Every person I introduced to Grandpa following our initial meeting he asked them the same question, including my pastor in El Dorado at the time.
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. Often Grandma would have a three or four 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 she always insisted 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 locks they were long since rusted from disuse. On more than one occasion they awakened in the morning to discover a visiting missionary couple in the guest bedroom who had arrived after the Luther’s had retired to bed. The visitors knew the house was unlocked and rather than awaken the Luther’s would go to the guest room and retire. Grandma always told family and friends, “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 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 led to a discussion of God’s amazing grace, and how fortunate they were 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 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 two 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. They tried to attend every county fair and rodeo in a three-state area. They would sleep in their van to save the expense of a motel room. On the fairgrounds they would set up their booth, which included a long table with eight chairs. Grandma would sit at the table and tell the people seated with her about the wonderful love of her Savior. She made certain they knew He loved them and He died for them so they might be saved. In the ten to fifteen minute session it was not unusual for three or four of her guests to make a profession of faith to receive Christ as Savior. Grandma’s testimony was sincere, compelling and very convicting.
While Grandma was making her presentation Grandpa’s responsibility was to walk around the midway talking to everyone he encountered. He was extremely friendly and a master at making conversations with total strangers. He invited them into their booth to “hear some good news from Frances.” He 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 wanted to do this for them. In the course of the six to eight weeks of the fair and rodeo season they would lead as many as one thousand four hundred people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 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 forty years and were in their mid-eighties in age. The fairs and rodeos were always during the hottest time of the year, and they would stay at their booth from nine o’clock in the morning until the fair closing in the 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 see them in public such as at a Razorback basketball game which they loved to attend. They would be sitting holding hands and Grandma would usually be napping with nineteen thousand crazy fans jumping and screaming all around them. When she awakened she would always say what a fun time she had at the game.
Fay and Frances departed this life when they were both in their mid-nineties in age having been married for seventy-five years. Frances died about a year before Fay. Throughout the following year while 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 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 I can imagine He said to them, “Well done my good and faithful servants. You have sacrificed much by loving so many in my Name and have brought these precious souls into My kingdom.” I can see Him turn and point to the fifty thousand or more cheering and grateful saints they loved and led to Him.