The Prairie Grove Revival

 

 

Prairie Grove Revival Poster

Prairie Grove Revival Poster

 

Brother Tommy Freeman has been a wonderful friend and Christian brother since the late 1970’s. We had known about each other as kids playing baseball in the summers at the El Dorado Boys Club, but because he was 2 years older, we never played on the same team. Our current friendship began on the evening I gave the commencement address to the graduating nurses of Warner Brown School of Nursing in 1978. Brother Tommy’s sister Ann, whom I didn’t know at the time was a member of that class and Brother Tommy and wife Joyce were there. Joyce (Hawkins) Freeman was in my high school graduating class of 1957, so at that time I knew her much better than her husband.

As part of my talk, I exhorted the nurses to use their new profession as a means to share the gospel with their patients, and not be intimidated, afraid or ashamed. I firmly believe the Lord Jesus has commanded us to be witnesses for him in whatever position or profession we find ourselves. Patients who are seriously ill and may be facing long-term disability or even death, need to know they have a Savior that loves them and He is able to heal them of all their diseases (Psalm 103). Following the ceremony, Brother Tommy and Joyce spoke with me, saying he was so glad to know a medical doctor who would witness to his patients and encourage those working with him to do the same. He asked if I ever spoke in churches, and I said I spoken in a few in the El Dorado area. He told me he was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Keo, Arkansas which is in Southeast Arkansas between Pine Bluff and Little Rock, and would like to arrange a convenient date for me to preach in his church. The date was set for the following month.

The weekend Cathy and I spent with Brother Tommy and Joyce in Keo began a life-long friendship of our family with the Freeman’s. He invited me to preach and teach Bible studies in every church he pastored. We attended Bible conferences together and worked together during Christian Focus Week at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. For a number of years we spoke by phone every few weeks, and he would ask questions about my teachings in the Sunday school class and what new churches I had been invited to speak. Without fail he would ask, “How many people have you led to the Lord since we last talked?” During that period Brother Tommy was one of my greatest spiritual encouragers apart from Cathy. Among men he rivaled my brother Berry Lee and was certainly more of a mentor than my own pastor at the time.

In 1980, Brother Tommy was called to pastor the First Baptist Church in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. This town, though larger than Keo was a small town in Northwest Arkansas about 10 miles from Fayetteville. All of that part of the state was in the midst of a population growth and economic boom due to the 3 industrial giants headquartered there; Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J B Hunt Trucking Company. In mid-summer he called and said he had a ministry proposal for Berry Lee and me and wanted our opinions. He wanted to schedule a lay revival in the fall with both Berry Lee and me preaching and leading. The revival would begin on Sunday morning and extend through Wednesday evening. There would be 2 services on Sunday; one in the morning and one in the evening. Then there would be evening services on Monday through Wednesday. Berry Lee (Bubba) and I had never done anything like this, but after committing it to prayer, believed this was God’s will for us. We agreed Bubba would preach the Sunday noon service, and I would preach the evening services from Sunday through Wednesday. We called Brother Tommy and the date was set for November 16-19,1980.

For the Sunday noon service the church was full, and I remember Bubba preaching a particularly excellent salvation message followed by an invitation for salvation and church membership. There were 2 people; a teenager and a middle-aged man who had repented, asked for forgiveness and invited Jesus to save them. There was great rejoicing in the church as these men had been the recipients of witnessing both by Brother Tommy and their families. Brother Tommy, Bubba and I agreed that had this been the only visible fruit of the revival, our meager efforts had been well spent. Following a delicious meal with Brother Tommy and Joyce in their home, Bubba left Prairie Grove and returned home. I began my series of evening messages that Sunday night on the subject;  ” What is a Church in Revival.”

Early Monday morning following breakfast, Brother Tommy had scheduled us to begin visitation and did we ever visit! Typical of his entire ministry Brother Tommy’s goal was always to meet and know everyone in his community. For this revival I believe his goal was that I meet and shake hands with every citizen in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and I’m convinced  before the revival ended on Wednesday evening, we had accomplished his goal. We even visited the lone physician in town at his office. He was a young family doctor with a very active practice, but had some unusual personal beliefs. First, his dress was unusual for that day because he wore bib overalls under his white coat. I was accustomed to the dress culture of the doctors in El Dorado who wore coats and ties in their practice. More significantly he said he was raised by a preacher father, but while in college he rejected the teachings of the church and embraced Daoism. I had no idea what he was talking about so couldn’t discuss with any intelligence his new-found religion. Later I discovered this was an ancient Chinese philosophical belief system in which believers were to live at peace and in love with everyone. Heaven was achieved for each person by living a loving life. The doctor respectfully declined our invitation to the revival, stating there would be nothing offered or said which he had not heard before.

Throughout the experience of this laymen’s revival I gained a new perspective of the hard but rewarding work of pastors of small country churches. Brother Tommy, in my opinion epitomized what a pastor should be and how he should love and shepherd the flock given to him by God. Because he was poured out to all for the sake of the Gospel, we was greatly loved in the churches and communities he served. I love him as a brother, a mentor and one of my best encouragers. Plus, he not only tolerated my attempts at preaching, but regardless of quality of the content and the style of my delivery, he would always say at the close of a service, “Good job, John Henry!”

Dr. John

 

 

 

 

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Jason D. at Gulley Park

Jason D. Williams

Jason D. Williams

Cathy and I lived for 30 years of our life in El Dorado, Arkansas where I practiced medicine as a general surgeon, and where we raised our 3 children. In the spring of 1999 we began making plans to move to Florida. Leaving our home, where we had family and many friends was a very difficult and emotional experience, but we felt led by the Lord to move to Clearwater, Florida where I joined the staff of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. I was to be the Medical Director of their new church sponsored medical clinic. Following opening of the clinic in February, 2000 I was able to work for 2 months before realizing this clinic concept was not the right fit for my skill set. Again with much prayer and agony, we made a second move to Fayetteville, Arkansas where I became a director of the Wound Care Clinic at Washington Regional Medical Center. This was not only a great fit medically for me, but Cathy and I were in the town where our daughter Ginny and husband John Luther lived, and that alone made this move exciting for us!

Soon after making the transition to Fayetteville, I received a call from Frank Luther, John’s father that Jason D. Williams was performing at Gulley Park during their annual summer concert series. Gulley Park is a beautiful park which hosts 6 or 7 concert artists annually during the summer months for an outdoor concert which is free to the public. The concerts are well-attended with perhaps as many as 500-600 people taking advantage of the cool evenings to see and hear an array of outstanding performers.

Jason D. was well-known to Cathy and me because he was from El Dorado and his parents, Hank and Marie Williams were very good friends. We were members together at the First Baptist Church and in the mid-1980’s had gone with them on a church sponsored mission trip to Brazil. We had known Jason D. since he was a young boy and had watched his musical career develop. He had an amazing talent of piano playing that was similar in style to the well-known Jerry Lee Lewis, but many believed Jason D. was more musically gifted than Jerry Lee. On one occasion when Jason D. was between concerts, he came to our home for a visit, and I asked him to give us a mini-concert. His wild piano playing style resulted at one point in his playing several bars of the song with the heel of his boot. Cathy made him stop playing, thinking he might seriously damage our heirloom baby grand piano! He just smiled, stop playing and continued visiting with us.

Cathy and I were glad to join Frank and his wife Janice Luther along with Ginny and her husband John to Gulley Park for the concert that evening. In all the years we had known him, we had never heard Jason D. in a full program. The performing pavilion was surrounded by people seated on lawn chairs and with many sitting on blankets on the grassy slopes of the park. It was a pleasant, cool evening with lots of excitement and anticipation of a fun evening. Jason D. did not disappoint anyone expecting to see and hear robust and lively piano playing and singing. His style ranged from classical to rockabilly, country to jazz and finally rock and roll. He played sitting and standing on the stool, standing without the stool and even a few bars playing behind his back. I don’t think he ever stood on his head while playing, but looked as if he wanted to. His songs included “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On”, “Great Balls of Fire” and “Drinkin Wine- Spodie-Odie”  all of which he has on several albums. There were so many songs which I can’t remember their titles, but all were lively, raucous and fun.

At the completion of the concert, he remained on stage for folks to come to the platform to ask questions about his life and playing style. I told Cathy and our group I was going to work my way through the crowd, and see if I could say a few words to him. By the time I got to the stage, he was almost finished with the Q and A session. I did hear one young lady who appeared to be in her early teens ask, “How much practice would I have to do to play like you?” His quick reply with tongue in cheek was, “Honey, you could practice 100 years and not be able to play like this,” as he ran his fingers up and down the keyboard several times. He then shouted, “Thank y’all for coming out!” and ran off the platform to get in his motor home which was parked behind the stage.

Undaunted, I walked over to the motor home and knocked on the door. The windows were tinted so I couldn’t see inside. Some man, who I assume was his manager barely opened the door and asked, “What do you want?” I said, “Tell Jason D. that Dr. Moore is out here to see him.” From the back of the vehicle I heard him shout to the man, “Let Dr. Moore come in.” He hugged my neck while we exchanged greetings. He teasingly asked, “Were you out in the audience tonight?”  “Of course I was. Why would I be standing in your motor home right now, if not?” He said, “If I had known you were out there, I would have played more religious songs!” I quickly said, “I’m already going to tell your Mom about some of the bawdy songs you are singing these days!” “Oh please don’t tell her. She already fusses at me about some of them.” We had a good conversation about his current life and his career, and he asked about Cathy and our kids and why we were now living in Fayetteville. I asked him if he was taking his family to church, to which he replied, “Not as much as I ought to,” so I didn’t ask any more “religious” questions.

The last time we saw Jason D. was about 5 years ago while we were visiting our son John, his wife Gina and our 3 grandsons in El Dorado. We were walking downtown at lunch time and saw a car had stopped in the middle of the street on the square. As we walked past the car, the driver’s window was open and Jason D. was grinning widely waiting for us to stop and talk. He was home for a brief visit with other family. His parents, Hank and Marie had departed this life a few years earlier. Cathy and I sure loved the Williams, and know they were proud of their talented son, despite some of the bar room songs he played so well!

Dr. John