During the years Cathy and I travelled with and took mission trips with The International Congress on Revival (ICR), we met some of the most outstanding Christians we have ever known. The first trip overseas we made with ICR was to a conference in Salzburg, Austria in 1992. The team met in Atlanta and boarded a Delta L1011 for the non-stop flight to Munich. Cathy and I were seated in Economy Class along with most of the team. Several members of ICR were travelling in Business Class, including Bill and Sue Stafford, and I assumed it was because as President of the organization Bill scheduled all the trips overseas. The other couple in Business Class was Alton and Mabel Bean from Amity, Arkansas. They had been going overseas with ICR for at least three years before Cathy and I joined the team.
Alton Bean and his son Gary owned and operated Bean Trucking Company in Amity since 1969, and the company had grown into a very successful transport company. Alton and Mabel had met Bill Stafford in the 1980’s when Bill preached a revival in their church, the First Baptist Church of Amity. An immediate friendship began which continued until Alton and Mabel departed this life. Alton was selected to be on the Board of ICR from its’ inception, and I served on the same board with him.
Alton and Mabel were beloved by everyone who knew them. They were quiet, humble, generous servants of Christ who never sought the limelight. Alton was physically a large man who weighed in excess of three hundred and fifty pounds, but at his age of about 65 when we first met them he was still very active and strong. One couldn’t have a conversation with Alton for more than a few minutes without breaking into laughter. He could tell some of the funniest stories I ever heard and most of them related to some event or activity in which he and Mabel had been involved. I know Mabel not only experienced the events but had heard Alton recount them numerous times. Still she would quietly smile and frequently laugh out loud as Alton relived each account. Alton’s account of why he and Mabel always travelled Business Class was my favorite story, and despite the fact I heard it many times I usually laughed until I cried whenever he told it. The word pictures he painted and the gestures he used created a hilarious scene. Here’s the account;
“The reason I started flying Business Class began when my brother Curt and I went on a bird hunting trip to west Texas around 1985. We drove from Amity down to Dallas to catch a Southwest Airlines flight to Amarillo where we had hunted several times before. On Southwest they only had economy class seats. We already had our tickets and had reserved two seats on the back row of the plane which had a row with three seats. We were hoping that third seat wouldn’t be taken which was the case on our previous flights on Southwest. Curt is bigger than I am, and we not only filled our seats, but most of the third seat also. When we started getting on the plane there were more people than usual waiting in line. They loaded us first, and when we got comfortable in our seats I told Curt, “you start praying nobody has this other seat, and I’ll watch the door.” When I saw the flight attendant finally close the door I told Curt his prayers seemed to be working but keep on praying, and I’ll keep watching. And then I saw her coming down the aisle!
She was a younger woman than us, but she looked to be about our size. As she walked down the aisle her hips were touching the seat arms on each side of the aisle. “Keep praying Curt, maybe her seat is not this far back.” When she got to our row she said, “Excuse me but is this where seat 1B is located?” I said, “It sure is, honey. Come on board.” She then said to me, “I can’t get to my seat until you stand up.” I told her, “I can’t stand up until you back up!” We worked and worked and finally got her wedged in that seat between us. By the time we did every person on the plane was laughing. I don’t know how we were able to get her seated, because when the plane finally took off I was having a hard time breathing. It seemed when either she or Curt inhaled I had to exhale, and that was the only way I could breath. We finally got to Amarillo and the three of us laughed most of the way there. I told Curt when we got off the plane I was always going to fly Business Class from now on.” He and Mabel kept his word regarding future flights.
Cathy and I loved our friendship with the Bean’s, and for at least five of the ten years we travelled overseas with ICR, the Bean’s also made the trip. We had a special bond with them, since at the time we were the only couples on the ICR team from Arkansas. They have now both departed this life, and we are confident we will see them again. I believe Alton’s first words to us will be, ” Glory be to God. Come on board!”