Brother Tommy Freeman is one of my best friends, and he has encouraged me in my Christian life as much as any man, apart from my brother Berry Lee. I had known him during our childhood years when we both played baseball in the Boy’s Club program, but I didn’t make any other connection with him until years later when his sister graduated from the nursing school in El Dorado, Arkansas. At that time, I had been in my surgical practice for over 8 years, and Cathy and I had experienced a spiritual conversion in our lives the previous year. I was delivering the commencement address to the graduates and encouraging them to be a witness for Christ while practicing their profession as nurses. Following the address, Brother Tommy re-introduced himself to me, and asked if I ever preached in any churches. I told him that I would be honored if I were ever invited, but had not received many invitations at this point. He immediately invited me to speak at his church, the First Baptist Church in Keo, Arkansas.
Years earlier following high school graduation, Tommy had enlisted in the Marine Corps and subsequently married his sweetheart, Joyce Hawkins from El Dorado. At the time of their marriage, she was a junior in my high school graduating class, but I still didn’t connect with Tommy then. Upon his discharged from military service, they ultimately moved to Shreveport, Louisiana where Tommy began working for J.C. Penney in the sporting goods department. They were very active members of a strong Southern Baptist church, and it was there that Tommy felt the call to vocational ministry. He began the long process to complete the college requirements in order to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. His first pastorate following graduation was the First Baptist Church in Keo.
I had no idea where Keo was located, but discovered it was a lovely cotton-growing community in eastern Arkansas. The church was relatively small, but filled with some of the most loving and generous Christians, who graciously endured my early efforts at preaching the Word. My friendship with Brother Tommy was sealed, and we began communicating on a regular basis. We spoke with each other almost weekly, and he would invariably ask questions such as, “How’s your Sunday school teaching going?” or “How many people did you win to the Lord last week?” or “Have you been praying with all your patients?” I didn’t realize it at the time, but each week I purposed in my heart to improve in all those areas so I could give Brother Tommy a good report when he called.
Within a year or two, Brother Tommy was called to a larger church, the First Baptist Church of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. The area was quite a contrast to eastern Arkansas, in that this was the heart of Northwest Arkansas, and the time frame was near the beginning of the real estate boom that was fueled by the corporate giants; Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Trucking. After he had been the pastor for about a year, he invited my brother, Berry Lee and me to preach a 3 day layman’s revival, beginning on a Sunday. We had never been involved in such a meeting and were very excited to see how God might use us in such a revival. Berry Lee was not able to stay the entire 3 days, so he was scheduled to preach for the Sunday morning service, and I would preach each evening from Sunday through Wednesday.
Tommy wanted everyone in Prairie Grove to have the opportunity to hear us, and began promoting the services about 6 weeks prior to the meeting. Flyers with our photos and biographical data were posted all over town, and the church members began inviting friends and family. The Sunday morning service was well attended, and with Bubba preaching one of his best messages on salvation and spiritual growth, the revival got off to a good start. The members of the church were so loving and generous to us and among other things, had arranged a special lunch at a different home each day. Bubba only got to enjoy the first of the four scheduled lunches. The food and fellowship at each of their homes was enough to make the experience memorable, but there was much more to come. On Sunday evening following the close of the service, Tommy said to me, “John, we need to get up early tomorrow, so we can begin by jogging for a couple of miles; get cleaned up and then go out visiting!” I had no idea what was about to happen.
Following the exercise and a sumptuous Freeman breakfast, I thought we would visit a few selected homes, but Brother Tommy was determined to introduce me to everyone that lived within a 10 mile radius of Prairie Grove. I learned quickly from him that the best way to grow a church and increase attendance, is to knock on doors and make yourself and your church known to as many people as possible. We visited downtown stores, shaking hands with all who stopped; I met church members, pastors from other churches and seemingly everyone in town. If everyone had attended the revival who promised on those visits, the church would not have held the crowd.
One unforgettable visit was to the Bailey’s home. Both George and his wife Eula had been faithful members of First Baptist for years, and lived in a unique farmhouse far out in the country. They were unpretentious in their actions and appearance, and it was not uncommon for one or both of them to come to church dressed in work overalls. Among other animals on their farm, they raised goats, because they loved fresh goat’s milk and believed it to be more tasty and more nutritious than cow’s milk. They frequently asked Brother Tommy if they could bring him some goat’s milk, but he always declined their generous offer.
On arriving at their house, I noticed some steep steps up to their porch, and there appeared to be a goat on each step. We had to be careful maneuvering around each goat because of the congestion and the “clutter” on the steps. Upon their hearty welcome of us, George said, “Come on in boys. Can I get you a cool glass of fresh goat’s milk?” Brother Tommy quickly said, “Dr. Moore really loves goat’s milk and has been looking forward to a big glass of it!” When George disappeared into the kitchen I told Tommy, “I’m going to get even with you over this.” I was able to get the milk down without gagging nor appearing ungrateful for the gift. I don’t know whether it made a difference to them, but the Bailey’s came to every service to hear me preach. I have a suspicion they endured my attempts at preaching in much the same fashion I endured that glass of milk. I am confident my preaching skills since then have improved, while my desire for another glass of fresh goat’s milk has markedly declined.