Cathy and I have had the privilege of serving in 6 different Baptist churches during our 49 years of life together. We have had wonderful experiences in each of these churches and have life-long friends in each one. When we moved to El Dorado in 1971 to begin our life there and establish my surgical practice, we immediately joined the First Baptist Church without visiting any other church. I was raised in that church and had made a profession of faith at age 10 on an Easter Sunday.This is what many of my friends had done at that age and it seemed to be the right thing. I had no true understanding of grace and salvation and was simply joining the church, which I believed at the time assured me of all church rights including a right standing with the Lord. By 1971 Pop had departed but Mom was still living and her membership was at First Baptist, along with Bubba and his family. We were impressed with the excellent sermons by the pastor, Dr. Don Harbuck, and his winsome personality made us immediately feel welcome.
During this period Cathy and I were nominal church members, but had jointly decided to become more active in church to set a better example for our 2 young children, John age 5 and Mary Kay age 2. Ginny was born the following year. Within the year we were attending a couple’s Sunday school class taught by Robert Wike, and slowly developed relationships and life-long friendships with those class members. We were exposed to Biblical teachings and principles which had previously escaped us because we had not been earnestly searching for those truths. We became so active in that class that by 1975, Robert asked me to co-teach the class with him. I began studying the Bible in earnest and utilizing the awakening skills of teaching which God had given me. It was definitely a growing process because in the beginning I was a poor to mediocre teacher at best.
As a result of a number of events and circumstances, Cathy and I attended a Bill Gothard seminar in Dallas, Texas in August, 1977, and our lives were transformed. For the first time the gospel promises became personal for us, and we were changed by the saving power of the Lord Jesus.
Dr. Harbuck continued as pastor of First Baptist until June,1983, when he resigned after 21 years of service to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was fortunate to have been appointed to the Pastor Search Committee, and the church eventually called Dr. Mark Coppenger as pastor in December, 1983. He had never pastored a church and had only recently graduated from seminary, but his giftedness and zeal for the Lord confirmed to us he was God’s man for our church at that time. The church took a new direction in theology and ministry under Dr. Coppenger’s leadership for the next 5 years, and I believe First Baptist became the leading church in the area. There was a new emphasis on soul-winning, discipleship, local and overseas missions; and the church grew both numerically and spiritually. It was an exciting and vibrant church in my opinion.
In the spring of 1987, Dr. Coppenger announced that he had scheduled a church-wide revival in August with Kelly Green, an evangelist from Mobile, Alabama. I had never heard of him and initially thought with the name “Kelly Green,” he must surely have some other gimmicks to accompany his unusual name. My attitude toward his ministry began changing when he scheduled a decision counselling training session a month ahead of the revival date. Our church began planning and praying for revival well in advance of the August date. 66 people met at the church for a 2 day training session using the Billy Graham Christian Life and Witnessing Course and was taught by 2 men from Kelly’s board. In addition, cottage prayer meetings were scheduled and attended by 185 members, and one week prior to the revival home visits were made to personally invite people to attend. We were told by the revival team to expect 2-3 decisions for every counsellor trained prior to the revival. I was sceptical of those statistics for our church, although to my knowledge there had never been such extensive preparations prior to a revival.
The revival team included Kelly Green and his youth associate, Todd Roberts along with gifted musicians Mike and Faye Speck. From the outset of the initial service on Sunday morning, there was an unusual sense of expectation and brokenness. Responding to the altar call invitations at the close of each service resulted in at least 30-40 people at each service making public decisions ranging from salvation to re-dedication to request for special prayer for reconciliation over broken relationships. At one evening meeting, Kelly announced that he sensed a special presence of the power of the Holy Spirit and was not going to preach. He quoted John 3:16 and invited those who were convicted to come to the altar and respond. As I recall there were more than 50 public decisions that evening. By the close of the meeting on Friday evening, there were 198 people who had made a public decision to follow Christ.
I have never before or since been part of such a revival as this. There were some in the church who attended many of the services and said what occurred was just emotionalism and not a true moving of the Holy Spirit. The proof of any spiritual transformation or renewal is demonstrated by what the people are like when the meeting is over and all emotional reactions have subsided. I can name at least 20 people from my experience who are now walking with God as a direct result of what took place in their hearts at that meeting 27 years ago. I am very grateful God allowed Cathy and me to be there to experience the miraculous and see the invisible. God tells us in His Word “the things which are seen are temporal while the things which are not seen are eternal.”