In the early 1980’s I was invited to speak at the First Baptist Church in Camden, Arkansas which is a 20 minute drive from El Dorado. The occasion was Laymen’s Sunday and the pastor, Dr. Francis Chesson asked that I challenge the church, particularly the men to be more involved in the work of the church. I was scheduled to speak to a Men’s Bible Class at 9:30 AM and preach the morning service to the entire church at 11 AM. I was honored to have been chosen as the speaker, and learned I had been recommended as layman’s speaker by Dr. Herman Sandford, a Professor of English at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. Dr. Sandford and I had become very good friends during the time he was Interim Pastor Of East Main Baptist Church in El Dorado approximately 2 years previous. Dr. Sandford was well-known by the people at First Baptist Camden, because he also served their church as Interim Pastor just prior to Dr. Chesson being called. Dr. Chesson’s previous pastorate was in Florence, South Carolina. I wasn’t aware Dr. Sandford would be there that morning to introduce me to the congregation until I arrived in the auditorium about 10 minutes before the scheduled worship service.
When it was time for Dr. Sandford’s introduction he took a few moments to thank the congregation again for being so gracious and kind to him and his wife Juanita during their time with them. He then told a story he claimed Dr. Chesson had related to him about his calling to the church in Camden. Here is Dr. Chesson’s alleged account;
“As I was praying one evening following my meeting with members of the Search Committee from First Baptist Camden I asked the Lord if I might ask Him a very serious question.” “What is your question Francis?” the Lord asked. “Lord, I feel the sense of a call to Camden and First Baptist Church.” After a brief pause the Lord said, “Where is Camden?” Francis responded, “Lord it is in South Arkansas about 20 miles from El Dorado, and I believe it is your will for my wife and me to leave Florence and move to Camden. My question for you Lord is, will you go with me?” After a bit longer pause the Lord said, “Francis I will go with you as far as Memphis, but when you cross the bridge into Arkansas you’ll be on your own!”
When Dr. Sandford finished the story the congregation broke into uproarious laughter while Dr. Chesson seemed a bit embarrassed. I think he was more serious than the mischievous Dr. Sandford, but he joined in the laughter. After I was introduced I didn’t know quite how to open my remarks except to say how thrilled I was to have been invited by Dr. Chesson, and by all indications I could discern, his ministry was being greatly blessed by God. Of course the account of his prayer was simply a funny story with absolutely no truth to it whatsoever. Among many other promises of our God He tells us to ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. (Matt.7:7). He also promises He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb.13: 5b, 6), and the Bible also assures us it is impossible to flee from the presence of the Lord (Ps.139: 7-12).
Since that wonderful morning with the brothers and sisters in Christ in First Baptist Camden I have never crossed the bridge at Memphis and not remembered the tale told on Dr. Francis Chesson. I am reminded to also thank God for His abiding presence wherever I am (even South Arkansas!)