Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
November 13, 2016
Go get Bill
Bill Hinson was a Methodist preacher, a good one, one of the best really. He followed Charles Allen at First Methodist in Houston, Texas, and had a long and fruitful ministry at that great church.
On the Sunday in 1983 when Charles Allen introduced Bill as the new pastor, Bill won the hearts of the people in his opening remarks. He told of riding in an elevator a few days before with a man who kept looking at him and finally, bluntly, said, “Are you the one who is going to First Church, Houston?”
Bill said he answered, “I am.” After that there was an awkward silence. Bill said, “He kept looking me up and down. I wanted to be taller, I wanted to grow at least a foot or more. I couldn’t. Finally, the ride was so long and the silence so awkward I said, to break the silence, ‘Pray for me.’ The man said, as he shook his head, ‘I am. You’re going to need it.’”
A powerful preacher but a humble man, Bill knew how to laugh at himself and get others to laugh with him. He served First Church for 18 years, retired at age 65, and died a few years later at his home near Huntsville, Alabama.
Bill began preaching in his teens in country churches in south Georgia. He enjoyed telling the story of a little boy who heard him preach his second sermon. On the front pew of a little country church the boy sat waving his dirty feet to and fro, until Bill, mesmerized by the boy, gave up trying to preach and stumbled through the benediction. The boy came up to Bill and said, “Brother Bill, would you come home with me and have lunch at our house?” Bill agreed, met his family, enjoyed a meal with them, and went back to South Georgia College where he was a student and forgot about the boy.
A couple of weeks later Bill got a letter in his college mailbox. In the envelope was fifty-seven cents in pennies, nickels and dimes. A letter from that little boy, ten years old, said, “Dear Brother Bill, I’m sending you my egg money to help you go to school to learn to be a better preacher.”
Bill laughed and then called the boy’s father and told him he wanted to send the money back. The boy’s father said, “You can’t. He’s sending you every penny of his profits. He never took better care of those chickens in his life. He’s going to keep on sending you his profit and if you send it back you’ll break his heart.” Bill said another letter came the next week, and continued to come for months “and the months became years.”
Bill said, “There came a time when I didn’t laugh anymore, but I’d get his letter and I’d go back to my room and get on my knees and say, ’Oh God, help me to be worthy of that little boy’s sacrifice.” Bill began to apply himself to his studies with greater determination to do his best.
Bill was a senior in seminary when his daddy died. After having a stroke and a heart attack, Bill’s daddy seemed to be improving. After a visit Bill returned to his studies at Emory.
His little sister was the only family member present in the room when his daddy’s chest pains began. When the pains began, Bill’s daddy raised the hand not immobilized by his stroke and said to his daughter, “Go get Bill and ask him to hold my hand and help the hurt.” She explained that Bill was 200 miles away but ran to get the doctor. The doctor was unable to save him.
Unable to get home before his daddy died, Bill wrecked his car trying. When he arrived his sister told him about his daddy’s request to go get Bill so he could hold his hand and help the hurt.
Overwhelmed by a feeling of self-pity, Bill said, “Oh God, I would have given ten years of my life to have made it here in time to hold that hand!”
In the months that followed Bill said he began to realize that as long as he lived “there will be people all around me holding up their hands asking me to hold them and to help the hurt. And I had to decide whether I was going to go through life holding hands with myself or reaching out to help the hurt of the world.”
As I read Bill’s story I kept hearing Bill’s daddy crying out in pain, saying “Go get Bill.” Those three words keep bouncing around in my brain: “Go get Bill; Go get Bill.” Finally I got on my knees and said, “Oh God, help me as long as I live to be available to anyone who cries, ‘Go get Walter.’”
Like Bill Hinson, each of us has to decide whether to go through life holding our own hands or holding the hands of hurting people who need us. + + +