A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Week That Changed Waldron

I'd never before asked for any time off from my after school job at B&B Drug, so it was with a little bit of hesitation that I approached Bill Black, the pharmacist and owner.  "Bill," I stammered, "would it be okay with you if I left work tonight at 7:00 instead of 7:30?  I'd kind of like to go over to that revival at the Baptist Church."

Well, Bill had heard about the revival.  Practically everybody in town had heard about it.  He smiled and said, "That will be fine Bill.  A lot of you young folks are going, aren't you?" 

"Yes, I guess it's kind of swept through the school.  I haven't had a chance to go yet, but I know a lot of kids who have and they said it's pretty neat."

Bill smiled again.  "That's great," he said.  "That's great."

And it was great.  I didn't normally attend the Baptist Church, but during that week in 1973, labels were unimportant.  Something clicked.  People who were searching started to find answers.  People who were hurting started to find comfort.  And I'm talking about High School People, who had carefully built up a wall around their emotions, who, like most High School People, worked very hard to NOT show any vulnerability.  People who had pretty much convinced themselves that they were in this alone began to find out that they really weren't. 

It started with an assembly at school. The First Baptist Church in town had arranged for a couple of young men from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia to conduct a series of services aimed at youth, and had arranged for them to make a presentation to the students.  Marilyn Oliver Sitzes recalls:

The two young pastors names were Greg Kirksey, who is now one of the pastors at Rock Creek in Little Rock, and Gary Turner. Gary last pastored Third Street Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. I believe he died several years ago. I remember that they alternated preaching and leading the singing. I remember that they came to the school and invited kids to come and they came. I remember everyone being so excited, with high attendance.

People really were excited.  The services were much discussed around the halls of WHS, and those of us who hadn't attended yet began to feel like we were really missing something.  Each day throughout the week, more and more people had stories to tell about attending the revival.  And not just attending; each day brought a new story of classmates who had gone to the revival and made a dramatic change in their lives.

One of the best stories came from Eddie Saucier.  Eddie got in on the revival early, and it impacted his life perhaps more than that of any other WHS classmate.  This is what Eddie related about that time:

I remember of course that the First Baptist Church of Waldron invited two youngsters, one whose name was Greg and another, of whom my only remaining memory is that he drove a fine yellow car, to be the guest preachers for a "Youth Revival." Of course in my mind both were experienced and sophisticated beyond imagination, otherwise why would such a fine church and a school let them talk to us all week? In truth Greg was just beginning his collegiate studies, and yellow car was still in high school. At least that's what I remember.

I also remember that both of these young firebrands were kind and generous. Strangely I remember almost nothing that either of them said from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church, but I do remember their conduct among us, for it was exemplary at every point. It was the two of them that caused me finally to decide to pursue vocational ministry, a notion I had long considered but had nearly dismissed due to my complete inability to relate to the role as a sixteen-year-old. I don't know if I owe them or if they owe me!

Far more important than these facts (as I remember them anyway), was the difference that week brought to us as a community. Naturally it didn't last forever, but for a week at least it seemed that parents and their kids cared about the same things and each other, teachers and students looked upon each other with a greater acceptance and appreciation than was customary, and the people of our community in general were on our best behavior. It didn't reach everyone, but it did reach a lot of people, and I've always considered myself fortunate to have been numbered among them. And it wasn't perfect either--of that I'm certain--but it was good, very good.

And it didn't end when the revival ended.  A group of high school students arranged to have access to the school auditorium every day during lunch, and every day held a Bible study there.  This continued, I believe, for the rest of the year.  And not to imply that Waldron High School became Utopia, because it didn't, but there was a genuine sense of peace and calm that permeated everything for the rest of that school year. 

Marilyn Oliver Sitzes was able to put me in contact with Rev. Greg Kirksey, one of those two young people from Ouachita Baptist University who came to Waldron to conduct the revival.  Greg very graciously sent along this message:

It was an extraordinary week that I will never forget. We preachers tend to use the language like “God used me” or “God spoke through me” or “God moved in our midst”  so frequently and flippantly that no one really pays attention. But that is exactly what happened in Waldron that week. God USED me and Gary as His messengers that week. He SPOKE through us....but most importantly God MOVED in our midst in a way that defies any human explanation. Teenagers who began the week defiant and determined to continue their sinful choices of smoking marijuana and drinking and encouraging others to do so melted under the searing presence of our Holy God and repented and became compliant to His will and way. Lives were CHANGED.....FOREVER! It swept over the entire city. I’ve never personally seen anything like it before or since.

Eddie Saucier picks up the story:

I've been a part of only a few occasions in the years since that have reminded me of that week in Waldron, Arkansas, and try as I might I can find no common ground to explain what happened that may have precipitated any of them. It seems simply that the divine presence purposefully distilled among us in spite of ourselves, and we were allowed a brief visitation with the possibilities of what could be if we were willing to allow it.

I think that's the lesson I've been learning all of my life, Bill. If we would allow him to do so God would tear down all the walls of hate, prejudice, and intolerance that we've built in his name and replace those barriers with bridges that we could use to reach people in his name. I know it can happen for at least a week, because I was there and I saw it happen. I've never forgotten it, and, old age and dementia not withstanding, I can't imagine that I ever will.

Me either, Eddie.  And isn't it about time for another week like that?


  1. So many of our experiences are somewhat similar, despite the many miles between our childhoods, but this is unique to you. We were all Catholics and that was that. We were given veiled threats of eternal damnation if we even so much as crossed the threshold of a Protestant church! Of course, now I consider myself more of a Protestant - a borderline Presbyterian, I think - than a Catholic. Anyway, a revival among my youthful friends wasn't something that ever would have occurred in Boston (and maybe more's the pity.)

  2. How well I remember that week - I was saved on Wednesday night of that Revival and was Baptized the following Sunday evening. The Hand of God was most definately at work in the hearts of many Waldron teenagers during that week. He used those two young men in a mighty way and touched a lot of lives and families. I have thought about Greg and Gary many times over the years and was so sorry to hear of Gary's death. They both hold a special place in my heart as does Bro. Nelson Wilhelm who was our church pastor at that time. Praise God for the many blessings He provides.... in that Spring the blessing he gave to Scott County was in the form of those two Godly young men from Ouachita Baptist University.