Have you thought about what kind of difference you have made in this world by your presence here? Or could make? Or should make? Dr. Bill Burch has stepped into the large footprints left behind by the retired Dr. Gil Watson, the World’s Greatest Preacher, and has shown without doubt that he can flat preach a lick or two himself.
Recently, he shared a story about the difference one ordinary man made on generations to come. I pass it along as food for thought and to let Dr. Burch know, if he happens to be reading along with you, that I do indeed listen closely to his Sunday mornings sermons. They are well-prepared and well-presented. Besides, there is always the possibility he will veer off and get to talking about me and my sins and have everybody in the congregation turn around and stare at me. It pays to stay alert.
On this particular Sunday, he told of a Sunday school teacher in Boston in the 1850s named Edward Kimball. One day, Mr. Kimball visited a clerk working in a local shoe store. The young man was from a poor family, had little education and was employed by his uncle. A condition of his employment was his uncle’s insistence that the nephew stay out of trouble by regularly attending the Mt. Vernon Congregational Church, where Kimball taught Sunday school.
In April 1855, Kimball visited the Holton Shoe Store, found the clerk in a stockroom, and there spoke to him of the love of Christ and converted him.
That clerk turned out to became one of the greatest evangelist of the 19th century, Dwight Lyman Moody. D.L. Moody is said to have to reached at least 100 million people in his lifetime through his crusades and books.
While preaching in England in 1879, Moody met a pastor from small church named Fredrick B. Meyer. The two became close friends and Meyer made several trips to the United States to preach. It was on one such trip that Meyer influenced a young man named John Wilbur Chapman, who himself became an evangelist.
Chapman later hired a former Major League Baseball player, Billy Sunday, to help him with his evangelistic efforts. Sunday later became a famous evangelist in his own right in the early part of the 20th century and is said to have reached more than 100 million people. One of those was Mordecai Ham. And yes, he, too, became an evangelist.
In 1932, a group of men in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited Mordecai Ham to come to town and hold a series of evangelistic meetings. In attendance each night was a 16-year-old boy named Billy Frank. We know him today as Billy Graham, perhaps the greatest of them all. During his ministry, Billy Graham preached to more than 2 billion people. And to think that it all started in a Boston shoe store in 1855.
Some bits of the story may be apocryphal or even slightly exaggerated, but not the point that it makes. A life touched a life which touched a life and so on. In this case, it was a series of high-profile and charismatic Christian evangelists, not including Edward Kimball, the Sunday school teacher that started the chain with a conversation in a shoe store.
As I sit here waiting for this year to end and for the start of a new one, I wonder if I have made a positive difference in someone’s life. Did I say something or do something or write something that made somebody’s life better? I hope so. Conversely, I hope I wasn’t a negative influence. I can be a bit impatient and outspoken at times and I suffer fools poorly.
My mentor, Jasper Dorsey, who headed Southern Bell’s operations in Georgia and taught me as much about life as he did the telephone business, said we should all leave this world better than we found it. Otherwise, we have just wasted time and space. Think on that one for a moment.
Maybe a good way to start the new year is to make a resolution that instead of pledging to lose weight or start a new hobby or save more and spend less, we try and influence just one life for the better and see where it goes from there. Who knows? Maybe 165 years from now, someone will tell the story of how your kind and simple gesture changed the world. I hope so.
Dick Yarbrough is a longtime Georgia resident and former public relations executive. Reach him at email@example.com; P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; dickyarbrough.com; or www.facebook.com/dickyarb.