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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 • Posted October 20, 2010

A ‘Preacherman’ to the End…

I’ve long believed that all of us are beneficiaries of "divine appointments" periodically. Most of them don’t penetrate our awareness and are dismissed as coincidences or even "blind hog luck."

Dr. Jimmie Nelson, retired seminary professor, smiles when conversations swing to the Almighty and His interventions.

He’s convinced that life’s situations—major, minor and those in between—have nothing to do with the alignment of stars, but everything to do with God who put them in place….

* * * * *

Dr. Nelson remembers a particular moment, some 55 years ago, in Nacogdoches, TX, where his friend, Bill Stowell, was pastor. Their lifelong friendship had begun a few years earlier when they were seminary students.

Following a revival service led by Dr. Nelson, they were in "catch-up mode," visiting as friends do. Rev. Stowell, a starter in every basketball game during all four of his years at Oklahoma City University, mentioned that a teammate, Abe Lemons, had recently returned to OCU for the first of two coaching stints there.

"OCU is playing at SMU Saturday night, and I’d certainly like to have a couple of tickets," Stowell lamented….

* * * * *

"Within two minutes, the phone rang; it was Coach Lemons calling," Dr. Nelson recalls. "Abe wanted to know if Bill was still in the ‘preaching business,’ because he had a job offer to extend. He wanted his former teammate to be his assistant coach, and he was 100% serious."

Stowell responded that he was very much committed to the ministry, and didn’t foresee any career path changes ahead.

"Well, is there anything I can do for you?" Lemons asked. "Since you asked, there is," Stowell answered. "I’d like to have tickets to your SMU game."…

* * * * *

This was one of Nelson’s first recollections when he learned of Stowell’s death the other day.

"I doubt that Bill ever mentioned that job offer from Lemons to anyone," Nelson said. "His conversations always centered on others, never himself." Stowell wound up serving some 60 years in pastorates, including the last 51 years at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA.

He died earlier this month at age 81 after successfully fending off serious health issues during much of his adult life. He survived four different heart surgeries, all of them invasive bypasses. There also were periodic stent procedures, and earlier this year he underwent gall bladder surgery. "In recent years, he sometimes visited hospital patients who weren’t as sick as he was," a colleague said….

* * * * *

After each heart surgery, Bill marveled at surgical advances, and each time minimized his condition.

"I remember our telephone conversation after his fourth bypass surgery," Nelson said. "They’ve made unbelievable advances with this surgery, Jimmie," he beamed. "Why, the next time my heart acts up, I doubt they’ll have to do anything."

This playing "up of others" and "down of self" explains much about why he was so beloved. They loved him at Emmanuel and on mission fields that were so dear to him. (Website mitcenter.org provides details.) Rarely idle, Stowell sent personal birthday cards to all of his flock, sometimes mailing more than a hundred weekly..

* * * * *

It explains why nine funeral directors participated in the service, most of them volunteers. Why law enforcement personnel directed traffic when more than a thousand mourners paid respects at visitation. And why an overflow crowd of upwards of a thousand at services the next day in his beloved church where usual Sunday attendance is 350. Why some attendees came on canes and crutches and in wheelchairs, a few with oxygen bottles. Why the crowd was "tri-colored" with whites, browns and blacks. Why folks from all walks attended, including laborers who attended the service in sweat-stained work clothes.

It explains why so many grateful people recognized the life of a man who worked so diligently and passionately for as long as he could. It explains why some folks drove away, unable to find a single parking space, and why some arrived 90 minutes early to assure seating. It explains how Coach Lemons, even during his playing years, recognized one of life’s champions, and probably knew Stowell’s answer before making the coaching offer.

The lives of Coach Lemons and Rev. Stowell were grand examples of persons cut from special cloth. My friend, Dr. Jimmie Nelson, came from that bolt of cloth, too. Now 82, he remains active in what Lemons called the "preaching business." He serves in interim pastorates most months of every year. Like his friend Bill Stowell, he’d rather wear out than rust out….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

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