By Sam E. Stone
When we read Paul’s list of greetings near the end of his letter to the church in Rome, we may be tempted to skip over the names (Romans 16:3-15; 21-24). Although we don’t know the people, each must have played an important role in the apostle’s life. He saw each one as he wrote the name.
Remembering those who made a positive difference in your life can be valuable. Let me tell you about a few Christians who contributed to mine. They may remind you of folk who influenced you over the years, as well as challenge you to be a life-influencer today.
People Who Care
I grew up in Clovis, New Mexico. My dad was an elder at Central Church of Christ. My parents—Sam and Stella Stone—and another couple—Allen and Marie Williams—served as sponsors of the Christian Endeavor group for high school and college-age young people. The group met on Sundays about an hour before evening worship.
The Williams’s son, Garten, and I were still boys, much too young to attend these meetings. But we dutifully came with our parents each week, even though we had nothing to do during that hour. I have conveniently forgotten what all we did do, but I remember we got into trouble occasionally!
That’s when I became acquainted with an older lady in the church—Mrs. A. U. Shull. She taught my mother’s Bible school class on Sunday mornings. But she didn’t stop there. Something convinced Mrs. Shull that Garten and I needed some attention! We were both in elementary school and few (if any) churches provided a youth program for that age back in the 1940s. Mrs. Shull began coming an hour early each Sunday evening just to teach Garten and me. We met in an upstairs classroom in the old church building at Eighth and Mitchell.
At our first meeting she gave us both a pocket-size New Testament. She began by teaching us two verses to live by. She had us underline them that first night: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). (By the way, I typed it as I first learned it from the King James Version without looking it up!)
The second text was, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Two great verses! That evening was a breakthrough for me. I found it was all right to mark in your Bible! I had always been afraid to do that—but if Mrs. Shull said to, it had to be OK!
Both Garten and I grew up loving the Lord, attended Bible college, and went into ministry. Little wonder! We found early on that there were people in the church, besides our family, who cared about us.
Friends, Teachers, and Preachers
Our family moved to Albuquerque midyear when I was in the seventh grade. I was nervous about going to a new school and a new church in a new town. My first new friend there was Loren Dickey. Loren came over and spoke to me that first Sunday morning at First Christian Church. Though I didn’t remember him, he remembered seeing me in a class at school two days before. He reached out to me from the very beginning. Years later he was best man in my wedding, and I was in his.
One year we were blessed with an especially great teacher in our junior high Sunday school class—E. J. “Dick” Garretson. He was an imposing figure—tall and strong, with snow-white hair, an excellent storyteller—and had raised a family of boys. He told us just to call him Dick. On the Sunday he became our teacher, there were only three of us in the class. We met in a small, closet-like space under the stairway in the church basement.
We picked the name “Winners” for our new class. At Dick’s urging, we began to bring others. Before the year ended we had about 30 in regular attendance and (thankfully!) a bigger room.
I once described Dick’s outreach in an article for Key magazine, “73 Postcards=Concern.” Dick personally typed a postal card to every member and every visitor every week! I have kept that stack of cards through the years. Today with the availability of e-mail, such a weekly contact might not seem as remarkable. Back then it meant he laboriously typed out each card. We knew he cared about every one of us.
When I began thinking more seriously about my life’s work in high school, I received gentle nudges from minister friends who encouraged me. Our preacher, J. J. Musick, taught me to love the Restoration plea. He let me borrow some of his sermon outlines and type copies to study.
The church scheduled regular youth nights and had us young people doing everything in the service, including preaching. My first sermon barely lasted 10 minutes despite all my preparation!
LeRoy Mills, minister with North Second Street Christian Church, once invited me to preach for them on a Sunday night. Roy J. King ministered at the new Christian church in town—Ridgecrest. When he broke his glasses one weekend, he asked me to come over and speak for him that Sunday night. None of these minister friends ever tried to push me into the Christian ministry, but all of them encouraged me to use my talents for God.
After deciding to attend Bible college to prepare for the preaching ministry, I was blessed by other faithful encouragers—elders at each church where I preached. Wherever I served, dedicated shepherds helped me as I was getting started. (I am glad Christian Standard is emphasizing the important role of the elder this year.) A church can make or break a young preacher. I have been blessed to serve congregations that helped me develop.
I began preaching while a freshman at Ozark Bible College (now Ozark Christian College). The church at Summersville, Missouri—200 miles due east of Joplin—needed a minister. Nothing but two-lane roads back then! The church had hoped to get an upperclassman to preach for them, but they eventually decided to take a chance on me. The church continued “taking a chance on me” until I graduated!
Roy Wall was one of the elders there. He encouraged and guided me like a son, tipping me off on things I needed to know, suggesting, reminding, affirming. Two older sisters in the church owned the local hotel. They provided me with a free room whenever I was in town. It was clean and comfortable, and they were always gracious. The hotel had one drawback, however. No running water! So each weekend I would take turns stopping by to visit one of the four families in the church who had indoor plumbing. I’d take a bath either at the Walls or one of the three other running-water homes!
Moving to Ohio after graduation, I edited Straight magazine at Standard Publishing during the week and preached at the Church of Christ at Monterey, Ohio, each Sunday. Hanford Male was an especially helpful elder. A respected man in the area, he went with me to the Clermont County Court House when I needed to get a “clergy license” in order to perform weddings in Ohio. With him to vouch for me, I had no problem. His kindness and genuine concern were always a great encouragement.
When I went to preach for the Church of Christ at New Paris, Ohio—my first real full-time ministry—I found other elders there to help. One of them, Paul Mikesell, is still living. He is an outstanding example of a person who was always present whenever the doors were open. In fact, he usually went quite a while before the doors were open to shovel the snow, turn on the lights, turn up the heat, and be sure everything was ready for the rest of us! He modeled servant-leadership for me.
Influencing Others Today
Telling you about these people, I feel something like the author of Hebrews did: “I do not have time to tell about . . . ” (Hebrews 11:32). So many more could be mentioned.
My point is this. These people who helped shape my life many years ago probably didn’t realize how important their role was at the time. As you seek to live for Jesus, you may not think of your influence as special either, but we all influence others, whether for good or bad.
Resolve to be a life-influencer with those you touch!
Sam Stone retired in 2003 after serving 25 years as editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD. He lives in West Chester, Ohio, and writes the weekly Sunday school lesson for The Lookout magazine.