During this Corona virus quarantine of 2020 our entire nation has been socially distanced from one another for over a month, and this has stimulated us to initiate creative means of connecting.Teleconferencing via the Internet has provided unique and interesting means of family gatherings, business meetings and church activities without unnecessary exposure to the possibility of a viral infection. Last weekend my Sunday school class met and had a Bible lesson on a teleconference, and it reminded me of a remote Sunday school class long ago in my home town of El Dorado, Arkansas.
I have previously written about my all-time favorite Uncle Harry Gosling from St. Louis, Missouri (My Favorite Uncle Harry, Apr. 2013). He was married to my Mom’s younger sister Ruth, and they had lived with their two children, Paula and Phil in St. Louis for many years. Prior to moving to St. Louis in the 1950’s Uncle Harry was an outstanding trumpet playing member of Lawrence Welk’s Band which was extremely popular in those days. Because the band was travelling nation-wide rather extensively, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth made the difficult decision to drop out of the band, move to St. Louis and have a more stable environment for their children’s sake. I always admired that quality of theirs in putting their family’s interest ahead of a professional career.
Uncle Harry, Aunt Ruth and Phil were present at our wedding in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1965, and because we loved them so we remained in close contact with them. When Cathy and I moved to El Dorado in 1971 to begin our life there, we were able to see them a little more often and made several vacation trips to meet them in Branson, Missouri. It is an interesting fact they introduced us to the town where we now reside.
In the 1980’s Cathy and I were deeply involved in the ministry of First Baptist Church in El Dorado, and in addition to other responsibilities I was one of the teachers of The Men’s Bible Class about whom I have written (The Men’s Theater Bible Class, Oct. 2013). During a 5 year period as teacher I had an occasion to speak to the pastor of First Baptist Church in Camden, Arkansas, and he told me about a unique class he taught there. He said it was a “conference call” class, and it was the largest Sunday school class in the church. I had no idea one could get as many as 75 people on a telephone conference call, and his church got home-bound people on a conference call every Sunday from which he taught the Sunday school lesson. We decided to initiate a similar class for the Men’s Bible Class, and made all the arrangements while identifying the people who would join the class by way of telephone. I well remember the Saturday Bob Watson (one of the 4 teachers) and I went to about 10 homes to connect speaker phones to the telephones so those people could participate in the class. I don’t recall the exact cost for this service from the telephone company, but I believe it was $50 per week. The early weeks of the conference call class had a few challenges. The microphone for the class was connected to a phone jack and a person in our class had to call the phone company to initiate the conference each week. It was important for each recipient to remain quiet instead of talking to each other. Fortunately on our end we were not able to hear the conversations which did take place between all the people on the call.
It was about 3 or 4 months following the start of this ministry that Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruth visited El Dorado. I wrote in the previous blog about Uncle Harry’s recent diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and his future health and prognosis were very much in doubt and on everyone’s mind. While he and I were alone one morning in my Mom’s kitchen Uncle Harry bowed his head and his heart to ask the Lord Jesus to save him, and I believe he was redeemed that morning. Through tears of joy and excitement over his surrender, I promised I would send him literature and Bible studies to assist him in growing in faith going forward. I didn’t know any pastors or spiritual mentors in St. Louis who could follow up with him. I did remember at the time about the conference call class and mentioned that he might be able to join us each week and hear me teach or one of the other men who might be teaching that week.
Uncle Harry did indeed join the class in the following weeks and became so well-known and well-liked by telephone the other members of the class starting calling him “Uncle Harry”! I don’t remember how long he was able to continue with the conference call, but when I would call him later he said how much he always learned from the class and how much it meant to him. The terrible effects of the illness finally claimed the physical life of my favorite uncle, but the spiritual life of my wonderful Uncle Harry was forever made secure in the arms of his (our) matchless Savior.
With the advent today of so much advanced technology we are now able through teleconferencing to not only hear but see one another with clarity. The gospel will never be hindered by disease or wars or famines, but will prosper in whatever form it is sent and will result in eternal benefits. (Isaiah 55: 10,11).
PS: The telephone conference call was switched over to a radio format shortly after Uncle Harry’s death and is still being broadcast every Sunday morning from First Baptist Church. Bob Watson remains still as one of the teachers. It has been a remarkable and successful ministry for 35+ years to the glory of God.