It is the sort of question that you hope people will ask when you "go missing" for a few days.
"Where is he?"
Well, I'm here, checking in and having nothing to say - at least until now.
I start to write something and stop. Writing is a discipline for me, but it is also a joy. It tends to flow, but I often need to prime the pump.
I've had a few things on my mind and I am technically on vacation, out of state, away from my routine, visiting family, and changing my pace in a different time zone.
I've been doing a little problem solving from a distance, worrying more than I ought, applying my mind and heart to a new sermon series, visiting my mother and her new husband (whose wedding ceremony I performed last Sunday), and reading.
Here is what got me from question one to question two.
I jotted down a note on the back of a post card today to a man who meant much to me in my early ministry. I called him, "Preacher." He first introduced himself to me in 1974 as "The Old Time Preacher Man from Way Back." His real name is Oden E. Lockhart and this Saturday night, in Bluefield, West Virginia, they will be celebrating his 90th birthday and 60 years of radio broadcast.
The more important of the two questions posed in the title is, "Who is Oden E. Lockart?"
A follow up question is, "Where is he?"
The answer to that is that he is doing what he has been doing for many, many years.
Oden was the reluctant, but faithful pastor of East End Baptist church in Bluefield when he took me under his wing as Associate Pastor and Youth Director. He gave me the opportunity to conduct my first Lord's Supper and my first baptism. He taught me more about visiting, evangelizing, and loving people than any one pastor before or after.
I say he was a reluctant pastor only because his heart was in evangelism and his radio ministry. He was unique in that second ministry in that he actually pastored the people who were his regular listeners. Since the broadcasts were on regional stations in a number of Appalachian states, he could visit their churches and homes. He took the prayer requests he received very seriously, and often followed up with calls and visits.
When was the last time your favorite radio or TV evangelist personally contacted you?
The Preacher was in his late 50s when I met him and he was married to "Mama." I must have known her name at some time, but I never really learned it. They lived in a "holler" in Abbs Valley, Virginia where the Preacher had worked in the coal minds for over 30 years and contracted Black Lung. he wasn't supposed to live much past his early 60s. That is something for a 90 year old man to chuckle about, especially when he is still preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I've been doing more than my share of fretting this week in spite of our Lord's unambiguous directive to "fret not." I never saw Oden E. Lockhart fret.
He was and is an Independent Baptist, Fundamentalist, King James-Only preacher and yet, I learned more progressive ideas and deeper compassion from him that from 10 other more "enlightened" preachers. Some of his more memorable quotes and terminologies were:
"I don't need a doctor to work on my Bible. It never was sick."
"I don't need a Living Bible. Mine never was dead."
Hollywood was "Hellywood" and television was "Hellivision."
In early marriage, my wife and I had the opportunity to stay in the Lockhart home together and I took delight in pointing out to her the side by side, his and her bathrooms to the left when you went in the main entrance, the studio where so many broadcasts originated, and the unique way that the folks stored all their dishes in the dishwasher because it saved several steps and you might as well wash them all at the same time.
Mama Lockhart passed away years ago. One day in recent years I received a call from a lady named Betty Quick and I quickly remembered her as the clerk of East End Baptist Church. I always liked Betty but I remembered that she and the Preacher had always had a running battle. She was always on his case about something and he sought to remain as sane as possible while getting a little gleam and twinkle in his eye when ever he had the chance to antagonize her a bit.
After renewing my memory for a moment, she said, "I have someone here who would like to talk to you."
"Tommy, this is Oden E. Lockhart. How are you? Betty and I got married."
Nothing shocks me any more - almost nothing - this did.
She returned to the phone after a while and wanted to make one thing perfectly clear. He had contacted her after her husband died to provide pastoral support, comfort, and prayers.
"We didn't marry for convenience (she might have said, "companionship)," she declared, "I fell in love with that old man."
Every Christmas he sends me a thick envelope with a nice card and a whole pile of evangelistic tracts to give away.
I fell in love with that old man too - many years ago. He was a mentor, friend, father figure, and discipler in my life. Sometimes I stop and ask myself if I am being faithful to the investment that he and other elder pastors and teachers have placed in my life.
Where is Tom? I'll tell you this, I would not be anywhere near where I am without folks like the Preacher. I honor him and think of him fondly, thanking God for him. I wish I could be present at the party. I will be at a big one with him someday and there will be lots of folks there because of his witness.
- Tom Sims, The Dream Factory