A lot has been written in the last two days (and particularly good are the remembrances by Al Mohler, Sam Lamerson, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel), and much more will be written. I just wanted to share two stories which give a glimpse from my own limited viewpoint of the impact of Dr. Kennedy's life and passion. The first story shows the sheer scale of his impact, and the second shows the individual side.
Two years ago I visited Tanzania, Africa for the first time. The village we were working in was called Kyela. To get there, one must fly into Dar Es Salaam on the East Coast of and then drive 10 hours on a two-lane road into the interior of the country, near the border of Malawi. It's quite rugged there, with many people living in bamboo homes with dirt floors.
A friend and I stayed in the tin-roofed home of a local Baptist pastor. His home was among the nicer I'd seen. It had no running water, but it had been wired with electricity about a year before which powered a dim, fluorescent light bulb hanging above us in his small, concrete floor living room. My friend had known this pastor for some years, but it was my first time meeting him. He was asking what I did for a living in the United States, and I was trying to explain it to him, but I don't think it was quite getting through.
My friend, trying to help, interjected, "John works for D. James Kennedy, who is on television in the United States and is a very highly regarded pastor there." He explained a little bit about Dr. Kennedy's work, and about how preachers sometimes get shown on television in the U.S. The African pastor suddenly got a glint in his eye.
"Oh, I know Dr. Kennedy," he said, matter-of-factly. My friend and I looked at each other in astonishment. How could he possibly know Dr. Kennedy out here in the middle of nowhere, a place it had taken us three full days to reach from Ft. Lauderdale? The pastor got up and went in to his room. When he came back, he showed us a small object in his hand. It was an Evangelism Explosion pin. Not only had he taken EE; he'd been a trainer.
And the second anecdote, showing the individual side. Though he headed a worldwide media ministry, Dr. Kennedy cared about individual people. Often when people heard I worked for him, they'd ask me what he was like "in real life." This is the story I usually tell them:
A couple of years ago, we were shooting on location up in Yorktown and Williamsburg, Virginia for a Christian history special. In television, it sometimes takes hours to set up all the equipment before anything can be shot. During the technical setup, which was at the historic Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Dr. Kennedy remained at the hotel in preparation for what was sure to be a gruelling, all-day project.
When everything was finally ready, I was designated to go pick Dr. Kennedy up back at the hotel. I drove back and went up to his room and got him. Because of his bad back, it was often difficult for him to walk long distances, and it was already quite a hike from his hotel room down to the lobby—it was one of those hotels with long corridors. When we got down to the lobby, I told him I’d pull the car right up to the front door so he wouldn’t have to traipse across the parking lot. I ran out and pulled the car up to the door and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After a few minutes (we were in danger of running late for the shoot now), I went inside to check on him. He was standing at the concierge desk talking to the young woman sitting behind it. Mildly exasperated, I approached them, and as I was about to gently and respectfully suggest that we were late and needed to get going, I realized what he was doing. He was sharing the gospel with her.
I sneaked over to a lobby chair where I was out of the way and waited for them. I saw him then praying with her. She prayed to receive Christ. Obviously, you can’t know for sure what’s going on in somebody’s heart, but she was willing to bow her head and pray right there at her work station in the lobby, and she seemed exuberant when they were done and I finally went over to pull him away.
This was late in his life and ministry after his many accomplishments were already long-secured and mostly in the past. There wasn’t anybody else there watching him. I was the only staff member, and I had gone to get the car. He didn’t do it because he felt like it was expected of him or that he had to be seen doing it. It really was just who the man was. He had a crew of 25 people waiting for him on location, but he was willing to stop to talk to that one girl to tell her about the gift of eternal life.
That was D. James Kennedy.
After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more."Related tags: D. James Kennedy Evangelism Explosion
His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:19-21, NIV)