In the mid-1980’s large evangelism conferences across the South were beginning to achieve popularity. It was not uncommon to see advertisements each week in the Arkansas Baptist News, the Baptist state convention paper inviting people to attend such conferences in nearby cities such as Little Rock, Shreveport, or Dallas. These meetings would feature some of the best known preachers in the area and not infrequently outstanding nationally known preachers.
Cathy and I had become friends with Evangelist Bill Stafford from Chattanooga as a result of some circumstances of which I have previously written. I was a member of his audio tape of the month club, and at the end of each tape he always gave his preaching schedule for the following 2 months. I loved his preaching and enjoyed his friendship so much that whenever he was preaching a meeting within a few hours of El Dorado, I would try to arrange my schedule to attend an evening meeting. On this particular occasion he announced he had been invited to preach in a Bible conference in Euless, Texas at The First Baptist Church. The conference was to begin on a Friday night and continue through most of the day on Saturday. I was definitely interested when I heard his announcement.
Shortly thereafter, I read more details concerning the conference in the Arkansas Baptist News and was able to not only register for the meeting, but get the names of several prospective motels to call for reservations. Two other men expressed interest in the conference; so my good friend and co-Sunday school teacher Bob Watson and our pastor Mark Coppenger made plans to attend together. I called Brother Bill to tell him we were coming, and we made tentative arrangements to have breakfast together on Saturday morning.
In addition to Brother Bill preaching, which would have been enough for me, several other well-known preachers I remember speaking were Charles Stanley, Jerry Falwell, Ron Dunn, Bailey Smith and Jimmy Draper, the pastor of First Baptist Euless. That was an all-star lineup of preachers for that era, and there were several others I don’t recall.
Pastor Mark, Bob and I drove the 6 1/2 hours from El Dorado to Euless and arrived in time to attend the evening meeting of preaching. The atmosphere was more exciting than I had anticipated, and the church was packed. Brother Bill was scheduled to preach and he preceded Charles Stanley. I don’t recall any details of their sermons but they were outstanding and were punctuated with large numbers of amens and occasional appropriate applause. There was at least one other speaker that first evening and it could have been Ron Dunn, but I’m not certain.
The following morning the three of us were able to meet Brother Bill for breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and he was accompanied by his son, Bill III who was a student at Criswell Bible College in Dallas. I had heard about young Bill from his Dad but had never met him. His personal testimony of deliverance from a life of drug and alcohol abuse to surrender to the ministry was very inspiring, and I had heard Brother Bill tearfully recount some of the details on more than one occasion. We were not able spend much time with the Stafford’s because the conference was to begin at 9 AM and Brother Bill was scheduled to speak again before the lunch break.
We arrived back at the church about 20 minutes before the opening of the Saturday session, and for a short period I was separated from Mark and Bob. I wanted to walk around the beautiful church facility, and also see if there was anyone I knew attending the conference. An older gentleman approached me in a manner that made me suspect I might have met him. He reached out to shake my hand and said his name and the name of the church he pastored somewhere in west Texas. When he spoke I knew I had never met him. Then he said this, “Brother Bill, your sermon last night was such a blessing to me.” He thought I was Bill Stafford! I knew if I corrected his error it would have embarrassed him greatly, but I didn’t want to carry the deception too far. Fortunately some other men told him they needed to be seated and he needed to join them. As he was leaving I said to him, “Brother, thanks for your encouragement. I’m glad you were blessed!”
I didn’t see Brother Bill again before we had to leave Euless, but couldn’t wait to tell him the account of meeting the west Texas preacher. When I called him at his home in Chattanooga a few days later, I had fun giving him my revised version of the meeting. I told him the pastor was from Muleshoe, Texas and following the handshake I said to the pastor, “Thank you brother. I really preached the socks off Charles Stanley, didn’t I?” Bill said, “Dr. John, you didn’t tell him that, did you?” I said I surely did, and the pastor was so impressed that he booked me (Brother Bill) for a 4 day revival in Muleshoe! There was a very long pause on the phone while Brother Bill was trying to process what he had just heard. I finally relieved his anxiety by telling him the truth about the encounter and we both had a good laugh.
In remembering the event, I’ve wondered how much farther I would have allowed the conversation with the preacher to have gone before I had to tell him I was not Brother Bill. Probably not much longer. Besides, I never thought I looked like my evangelist friend!