A Story About Vance Havner
By L. David Blakeney
I do remember, from early teenage years, Dr. Havner speaking in our churches. The first time we heard Dr. Havner, my Dad was Minister of Music at Central Baptist Church in Hattiesburg. Then, in Mobile he came around 1966 and preached a revival. Al Finch was pastor at Central at that time. Dad led the music and it was a very difficult time for Dr. Havner. It was during the time when his wife was ill and Dad remembered the time as one where Dr. Havner really seemed preoccupied. Dr. Havner would concentrate on his messages, but, away from the pulpit, it was very hard to engage him in conversation. He was very troubled. I remember vividly one night when my brother, James, and I were taking him back to his motel. It was a difficult drive to his motel room because he really did not seem to want to be in the car with two teenagers. He made one comment to Dad at the end of that week about the music and that Dad had done a good job or something to that effect.
A great change took place after Dr. Havner’s wife died. It seemed as though there was a release from the agony of watching her suffer. Their relationship had been so close and he came and preached a revival at Shiloh Baptist in Saraland where I was serving as Minister of Music. John Merck was pastor at that time. Dad led the music and my brother, James, and I sang during the week. It was after one of those times when we had sung an old, old song called “Shall I Crucify My Savior” that Dr. Havner made a comment about our singing. He had been gracious all week long about the music and was again that night and seemed very appreciative of how Dad had done the music. Then he made a comment from the pulpit in a joking fashion about how well my father had fed us. My brother was about 6’4″ and weighed about 240 pounds and I’m 6’2″ and, at that time, weighed about 200-205 pounds. The congregation thought it was quite comical and John Merck especially thought it was funny. Now John was a big guy himself probably in that 6’3″ or 4’ and 250 pound range himself. So, Dr. Havner looked over at John and said, “You haven’t been too far away from the trough yourself.” Anyway, it was just an indication of the change that had taken place in Dr. Havner.
The story I want to relate happened that same week. Dr. Havner was to speak at what was then Mobile College during chapel services. There had been an ongoing battle between some of our conservative students and some of our more moderate professors over whether or not there was mythology in the Old Testament and whether some of the stories were mythological. So one of the things Dr. Havner did during the chapel address was to speak on the mythology of the Old Testament. I’m sure you’ve heard him say before that people who believed that the Old Testament contained myths are “myth”-taken and they “myth”-understood. To which the conservative students in our chapel service hooted and hollered and cheered loudly. I picked him up that morning. He was staying at the Holiday Inn and had been out walking. He was wearing his hat and the sun was bright. As soon as he got in the car, he started talking. He called me by my first name and said, “David, I like to bird watch. I like to go for walks.” Then he related that, when he was back home and going out for walks and bird watching, he always had to be careful about the dogs in his neighborhood. He said that the dogs would come out yelping at him with their teeth barred like they were biting, but their tails were wagging like they wanted to be friendly. He said you just didn’t know which end to believe. Then, he went on, after I had regained my composure from laughing at that, to say, “It’s like a bunch of Baptist deacons.” Well, that was said in the car traveling up Beltline Highway to Mobile College. It was all I could do to hold the car on the road. To me, at that point, it was side-splitting, and, if you have heard Dr. Havner, you know how it rolled out of his mouth.
One of the stories that he told quite often, I heard him tell more than once from the pulpit, was the story about he and his wife taking a railroad trip through a backwoods part of the country. He said that as they traveled on the train, he and his wife noticed an old woman on her front porch just rocking. His wife looked over and said, “Look, Vance, she doesn’t even know what’s going on in this world. She’s so far back here.” To which Dr. Havner replied, “Well, for goodness sake, don’t spoil her.” That was not the right phrasing, but it was close to that. The idea, of course, being why ruin her world with the knowledge of what is taking place outside her realm.
Anyway, let me share one other thing. Part of the service that impacted me the most (and I will never for this even though it has been well over twenty-five years ago) was the night that Dr. Havner preached on the lordship of Jesus Christ. He didn’t preach a long time. When he got to the invitation time, he said, “Some of you out there need to name Christ as Lord of your life. I’m going to give you that opportunity.” Then he started on one side of the congregation and had the people on that side of the congregation, if they chose to, stand and confess Christ as Lord. Then he went across the congregation. Well, I can tell you, from being present in that service, that changed our congregation. People realized, some for the first time, what it meant for Jesus to be in control of their lives. Although there were no decisions in that meeting, the results were felt for many weeks to come. We charted twenty-six straight weeks after Dr. Havner concluded that meeting. In those twenty-six weeks, we had additions to our congregation every Sunday. It was a time of revival. I will forever love Dr. Havner.
Now, on a personal note, I want to thank you again for how you and your family have been so gracious to Don. He thoroughly enjoyed the visit he had with you over in Albany. I appreciate your encouragement to him and I continue to pray for Don. I have enjoyed the chance to get to know Erin and we continue to pray for Erin as well. Prayerfully, this summer she is having a wonderful experience with the Jay Strack Organization. If all goes well with Don, he is going to pass off some of those courses he needs for his music major. I look forward to meeting you and seeing you face-to-face. Prayerfully, this story can be cleaned up enough to be usable. Thank you very much.
In His Service,
L. David Blakeney ©
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