The Calling of Dr. Coppenger to FBC El Dorado

El Dorado News Times December 1983

El Dorado News-Times
December 1983

Over the past thirty-five years I have had the privilege of serving on four Pastor Search Committees in three of the churches in which Cathy and I  have been members. Two of the committee experiences were wonderful and resulted in the calling of pastors who were perfect fits for the churches. The other two experiences for me and for Cathy were disastrous. The very first committee on which I was asked to serve was perhaps the best.

Cathy and I moved to El Dorado in 1971 and soon thereafter joined the First Baptist Church without visiting any other church. FBC was my family’s church home, and the church where I was baptized as a young boy. The pastor Dr. Don Harbuck had been serving the church since 1962. There had been some stormy years for him in the mid- 1960’s because of civil rights issues which affected the church. His social views which many considered liberal at the time involved inclusion of all people who wanted to worship at First Baptist regardless of race. His theological beliefs and teachings were considered moderate among fundamental Baptists. By the time we joined Dr. Harbuck was well-liked among most who remained in the church, but there were a few who desired more fundamental teaching and a more theologically conservative church.

In January, 1983  Dr. Harbuck’s wife, Elizabeth died suddenly. She had been dealing with chronic illness issues for many months, but her death was a total shock to everyone and especially her husband. In June of the same year year Dr. Harbuck resigned his pastoral position to become Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This was quite a surprise to most of his friends and church members in El Dorado, but many agreed a change might be good for him. A Search Committee was quickly formed and commissioned by the church, and I was one of seven members voted onto the committee. Our committee voted unanimously for Rodney Landes, Sr. to serve as Chairman.

The majority of  committee members wanted a pastor very similar in education and theological beliefs to Dr. Harbuck, but I was one who desired a more fundamental conservative. The Southern Baptist Convention was deeply divided at the time, and the so-called “conservative resurgence” was in its’ early stages. All of the cooperating churches in the convention were deciding their future direction by their choices of pastoral leadership.

Our committee reviewed approximately one hundred resumes from pastoral candidates and narrowed the list to several men. We decided to pursue our primary candidate until a final decision was reached regarding him and move to the next one if needed. The man heading our list was Dr. Mark Coppenger who had just completed his seminary training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He had no experience as a pastor, but had been a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Wheaton College for 6 years prior to seminary. His doctorate in Philosophy was from Vanderbilt University. His academic training and credentials seemed to indicate a man who would preach and lead in a fashion similar to Dr. Harbuck. One of the committee members, Shad Medlin said prophetically in one of our meetings, “I believe in just a few short years Mark will be a well-known leader in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

My initial opinion concerning Mark was not as enthusiastic as the others. I had met him  two years earlier during a Christian Focus Week seminar at Ouachita Baptist University. We were part of a panel discussion with students regarding right to life issues, and we had a few issues on which we seemingly disagreed. I was convinced Mark was much more liberal in his theology than I desired in a new pastor, but I kept my opinion mostly to myself during our early committee discussions.

On a Sunday morning in September we had a visiting speaker at church from Southwestern Seminary, Dr. Scott Tatum. It so happened Cathy and I had invited him to join us for lunch at our home, and our family enjoyed a wonderful visit with him. There was no discussion about Mark Coppenger during the meal, but on driving him back to his motel I asked privately if he knew Dr. Coppenger very well. For the next forty-five minutes Dr. Tatum told me many things about him which I loved hearing. He said I was mistaken in thinking Mark was a theological liberal, and “Mark Coppenger may be to the right of Jerry Falwell” He told me other things about Mark’s character and leadership qualities I had not suspected. When I returned home I told Cathy I was a lot more excited about calling Mark as our pastor. I did not share my conversation with Dr. Tatum with the other committee members.

Our committee scheduled a trip to Stover, Missouri on a Sunday morning in early October to hear Mark preach and interview him during a luncheon meeting. Mark was serving the small First Baptist Church of Stover as an interim pastor. We were to fly in a church member’s large private plane and return home later that afternoon. In the early morning hours on the day of the trip a surgical patient of mine developed a complication requiring admission to the ICU. The problems were such I was not able to make the trip with the committee. Cathy and I scheduled a trip two weeks later for just the two of us to drive to Stover to meet with and interview Dr. Coppenger.

We met Mark and his wife Sharon at a restaurant in Jefferson City, Missouri on October 15 for a two and a half hour meeting. I remember the date well because my birthday is October 12 and Sharon had delivered their third child, Chesed on my birthday and was strong enough to meet with us just three days later! After our meeting with them and then hearing Mark preach the following day in Stover Cathy and I were convinced Mark Coppenger was the pastor our church needed.

The committee was unanimous in selecting Dr. Coppenger, and he was extended the call to our church with an overwhelming vote of affirmation by the members. He began his ministry as Pastor of FBC El Dorado in December, 1983.

The five years Dr. Mark and Sharon served the church were the best years of ministry in any prior church for Cathy and me. Mark’s preaching was solid and fundamental while being both challenging and encouraging. The church grew numerically and spiritually, and the emphases on personal soul-winning, discipleship and personal involvement in missions were outstanding.

Cathy and I have maintained our relationship through the years with our wonderful friends, Mark and Sharon Coppenger. They still challenge and encourage us, and I am so very thankful my initial impression of Brother Mark was not correct and Dr. Tatum’s assessment of Mark was spot on. Webster’s Dictionary definition of a fundamental conservative Baptist just might accompany a photo of Dr. Mark Coppenger.

Dr. John


“I’ll Be Waiting On You”

Lydia and Berry Lee May 1934

Lydia and Berry Lee
May 1934

I was born in 1939 the third of three children born to Berry Lee (Pop) and Lydia (Mimi) Moore. My brother Berry Lee Jr. (Bubba) was born in 1928, and our sister Marilyn was born in 1936. Shortly after my birth Mimi was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and began treatment in New Orleans under the care of Dr. James Nix, a personal friend of both Pop and Mimi. I do not know any more details of her treatment because it was too painful for Pop to relate those to me even years later when I became old enough to understand.

As a surgeon I know the rapid advance of her disease was directly related to her pregnancy with me, and the vast majority of doctor’s then and now would have advised a therapeutic abortion for Mimi to save her life. She died at age thirty-seven years from the disease in April, 1941 when Bubba was thirteen, Marilyn was five and I was one year old. I have no recollection of her at all, but have been told by many people a lot of wonderful things about her life and character.

Bubba was especially close to Mimi and through the years was the one most consistent in reminding me of her Christian faith and her unfailing love for Pop and her three children. My Aunt Lillie Mae (Smith) once told me the following account which really caused me to choke up, “I’ll never forget one day when your Mother was near the end of her life and was barely strong enough to stand, but she was holding you in her arms. She looked into your face and with motherly tenderness said, “Oh, I just wish you knew how very much I love you.”

After Pop married our step mother Athelene West in 1943, we immediately received her as our new mother, and I called her Mommy. As I grew older and more “sophisticated” I called her Mom. Pop never openly spoke to us about Mimi while Mom was anywhere around. He still loved Mimi and missed her greatly, but out of respect to our Mom stayed silent on the matter in her presence.

After Cathy and I married and moved back to El Dorado to raise our children, there were a few occasions when Bubba would either show one of the few photographs he had of Mimi or mention a remembrance he had of her. I believe he wanted to remind us and our children of the heritage we had through our birth mother. We all certainly loved Mom (Gram Moore) who lived until she was ninety-four years old, and we all have wonderful memories of her. Gram Moore stories are usually a topic of some of our conversations when we are together.

Bubba departed this life in 2009 at age eighty-one years following a short but fatal illness. Several months prior to his death while Cathy and I were in El Dorado visiting our son John, his wife Gina and our three grandchildren we went to Bubba’s house to visit him and wife LaNell. As we were preparing to leave we were standing at their back door and Bubba, for some reason was speaking about heaven. He said the following, “I know I will soon be making my way to heaven and can hardly wait to see our Savior face to face. After some period of time I know I will again see our Mimi. Sometime later John, it will be time for you to make the journey, and I believe the first person to greet you after the Lord Jesus will be our Mimi. She will be anxiously awaiting you to tell you how proud she is of you. I want you to know I will also be waiting on you and will be the next to welcome you home!”

Despite Bubba’s advanced age over mine I always believed he would outlive me. He had been an avid exerciser his entire adult life, including regular long distance running and had better cardiac health than our Dad and Granddad. When he said he would be waiting on me I thought it would actually be just the opposite. I am still learning how unwise it is to try to predict one’s own or another’s departure from this life. The Word of God does teach we are to live each day in gratitude and thanksgiving to the Giver of Life and to encourage all others to follow Him. I am grateful to have had these truths reinforced by the life of my mother (Mimi) whom I don’t remember and my brother (Bubba) whom I remember well.

Dr. John

A European Gall Bladder Ministry

Neuschwanstein Castle- Bavaria

Neuschwanstein Castle- Bavaria (King Ludwig’s Castle)

The last eight years I practiced medicine as a general surgeon in El Dorado, Arkansas I was fortunate to have an overseas gall bladder ministry which had its’ beginning in the above pictured Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. A gall bladder ministry sounds strange indeed, and the way it all came about can only be explained by God’s providence.

Cathy and I were involved in the ministry of The International Congress on Revival (ICR) for several years before we began attending the European conferences. The purpose of the ICR conferences was to bring European pastors and their wives to a central meeting place in Europe and fully fund a three to four day meeting in which they could rest and receive encouragement from God’s Word.  As a member of the ICR Board our President Bill Stafford kept encouraging Cathy and me to attend a conference with them, and we finally agreed to go to the conference in Salzburg, Austria in 1991. The American team who travelled to this conference were largely unknown to Cathy and me. Brother Bill and other ICR board members had told us about Wayne Barber, Bill’s pastor at Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee and also Costel and Mia Oglice, who were Romanian missionaries working with Kay Arthur’s Precept Ministry. Costel and Mia would arrange their Romanian travels to allow them to be present at the conferences and serve as Romanian translators. There were usually ten to fifteen Romanian pastors and their wives present, and the Oglice’s translations made the experience more meaningful for them.

The ICR team usually arrived at the conference city a few days ahead of the scheduled meeting to allow the team time to rest and perhaps experience some of the Austrian and Bavarian beauty and culture. The day following arrival in Salzburg a side trip was planned into the Bavarian Alps and all were excited to see among other things, King Ludwig’s castle. To give some American perspective the castle depicted at Disney World is King Ludwig’s castle.

The drive from Salzburg to the castle was approximately two and one half hours, but the tour bus was very comfortable and the fellowship combined with the Bavarian Alps made the time fly. Upon entering the castle we had a tour guide and the magnificent castle did not disappoint. At one point in the tour Cathy and I were seated on a small bench when Mia Oglice engaged us in our first lengthy conversation with her. She asked what kind of doctor I was, and I told her I was a surgeon. She then asked if I specialized in some type of surgery, and for some reason I told her I specialized in “gall bladder surgery.” I had been asked the same question many times, and I never told anyone I specialized in gall bladders. I certainly did perform many gall bladder surgeries however. I was just being silly with my response to Mia.

The instant I gave my answer and before I could say I was just joking about the specialty I noticed Mia’s complexion and facial expression change markedly. I thought perhaps I had said something amiss and asked Mia if I had offended her in some way? She said, “Oh no, not at all. I was just thinking I have five pastor’s wives in Romania who are suffering deathly pain from gall bladder disease on a daily basis. They are unable to get proper care and surgery in Romania for many reasons, and I have been praying for God to open a door for them to receive what they need. Perhaps you are the answer to my prayer!” My immediate response to Mia was, “I would not be able to travel to Romania to operate on them, but if you can get them to El Dorado, Arkansas I will be able to do their operations there. I believe I can arrange with our hospital to get their care done at little to no cost to them.” Mia’s response was one of delight and excitement as she said out loud, “Praise the Lord!” in her deep Romanian accent. She followed up by saying a few of the women would be at the conference, and she would introduce them to Cathy and me. The others she would contact in Romania within a week or so following the meeting. She and Costel were scheduled to go into Romania for the next two months.

On the last day of the conference, Costel approached me and said his “precious Mia” had developed severe abdominal pain and would I mind checking her? Cathy and I went to her hotel room, and she was indeed having classic gall bladder disease symptoms which she had never had before. I gave her a few pain pills which helped some, but her symptoms persisted. I told Costel it would not be wise for them to continue travelling into Romania, but he must take her back to Chattanooga so she might receive surgical care. It took her pastor Wayne Barber to convince them to obey my suggestion, and they boarded our flight back to the states the next day.

The following week I received an unexpected phone call from Costel saying they were coming to El Dorado for me to operate on Mia. I was surprised because they had good insurance and could get their care done by any number of good surgeons in Chattanooga. They did come to El Dorado, and she recovered very well from the operation. I even received a call from Kay Arthur prior to the operation, who I believe wanted to make sure of the qualifications of the surgeon who was scheduled to operate on “her Mia.”  We became life-long friends with the Oglice’s and were able to introduce them to our family and many Christian friends in El Dorado.

Over the course of the next six months to one year, there were five other couples from Romania and the Ukraine who came to El Dorado for medical and surgical care. The relationships we built were life changing for all of us, and with Cathy hosting many of them in our home we believed we were used as God’s hands and heart for those dear Christians. God will always use our willing hearts for His glory when we are listening to Him. He will even speak to us in a castle five thousand miles from home!

Dr. John

PS: After the fifth operation on the European pastor’s wives our hospital administrator told me he wasn’t sure our hospital could afford to continue my oversea’s referral practice. We needed to depend on charitable contributions for hospital care going forward.

Sara Lee Comes to El Dorado

Sara Lee Cheese Cake

Sara Lee Cheesecake

The twenty-nine years I practiced medicine as a general surgeon in my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas were full of countless fascinating stories of the many thousands of people I had the privilege of treating. I believe the first few years of transition to a private practice were easier for me professionally because my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was an established physician, and he referred most of his surgical patients to me. As I became better known in the community my referral base of patients widened to several surrounding towns and counties.

One afternoon I noted on my pre-op clinic schedule the name of a patient from Hampton, Arkansas a small town thirty miles north of El Dorado. Hampton is the county seat of Calhoun County and has a population of approximately one thousand three hundred residents. There were two family physicians in Hampton at the time, and one of them  referred her to me because of a serious circulation problem resulting in major lower extremity wound.

She was an elderly Black American lady with short grey hair and a slightly stooped appearance. She was quiet with a humble and grateful demeanor. Before I determined the extent and severity of her wounds I wanted to know more about her life and life style which would help me understand better how to advise her future care. I asked had she always lived in Hampton to which she replied, “I was born and lived my early life in Hampton, but moved away when I finished high school. I moved to Chicago where I got a job and worked until I recently retired and moved back home. I lived in Chicago for over forty years.”

“What was the company from which you retired?” I asked. She said, “I worked for Sara Lee for most of the forty years.” “Wow, you must have known a lot of those recipes in working there for so long,” I inquired. Then she she revealed the extent of her Sara Lee involvement. “I was the cook for Mr. Charles Lubin who started the company, and I was his original cook. We started out making and selling cakes and cheese cakes in the neighborhood in which he lived, and the business became so successful, we started selling all over Chicago. The company did so well in the city, he sold the cakes all over the country.” I asked where he got the name for the company, and she said Sara Lee was his daughter’s name. She said the name of the original creme cheese cake was Sara Lee Cheese Cake, and the cheese cake was so instantly popular Mr. Lubin decided to call the company “The Kitchens of Sara Lee.”

I said to her, “You must have been a real celebrity in the Sara Lee Company.” She quietly answered, “I did have two presidents ask to have their pictures made with me.” “Are you talking about two US Presidents?” “Yes sir, President Nixon and President Reagan toured the company and wanted to have their pictures made with the original cook, and I have those pictures hanging on my wall at home.”

She had a very serious surgical problem requiring ultimately a limb amputation, and ensuing post-operative complications led to her death. Her underlying medical problems had so weakened her immune response and ability to recover from infection, she had no reserve when complications arose. She had only a few family members still living in Hampton, and her death was not mourned by a large number of relatives and friends.

The short time I had the privilege of knowing her and learning of her fascinating career in the corporate food business, I was blessed to have known such a pioneer in her field. I had spoken to her about her faith in Jesus Christ prior to her operation, and she assured me she had trusted in Him as her Savior before moving from Hampton. One day, probably very soon, I will be able to get the rest of the story!

Dr. John