FRIENDS AND FUNERALS ON THE JOURNEY

Over the years I have held some funerals for people who were widely known and remembered by large crowds.  One of the most memorable was for Gil Steinke.  Gil had coached the A & I javelinas to seven national championships and had many athletes go from his program to the professional ranks.  When he passed away his funeral was like a pro football hall of fame.  Gil himself had played for the Philadelphia Eagles in his younger years.   Speaking from the platform at a certain point was Gene Upshaw.  Numerous other great athletes and personalities were either there in person or sent letters.  I spoke also and had the joy of sharing the story of how Gil had made a public profession of his faith in Christ and allowed me to minister believer’s baptism for him.  His testimony included a great spiritual event in which he gathered at the altar with a group of people and prayed a prayer of commitment to Christ.  This had been an event of spiritual renewal at FBC Kingsville.  At a reception after the funeral I had many great conversations with football legends in attendance who shared with me their wonderful stories about Coach Steinke.

Another funeral was attended by the former president of Texas Tech and the then Secretary of Education, Lauro Cavasos.  His brother who was a four star general in the army was also there.  The funeral was for their uncle, Steve Cavasos who was a member of the First Baptist Church in Kingsville.  Tragically a much loved mayor and former Navy pilot and officer, Ron Sadler died entirely too young and even though he was a Methodist, his family asked me to speak at his funeral.  We had become friends through noonday basketball and I visited him many times during his battle with cancer.  The large worship center at First Methodist was filled to capacity in support of his family and out of gratitude for his leadership in our city and his service to our country.  There was a  performance of the Missing Man Formation at graveside by a group of Navy jets from NAS Kingsville.  It was one of the most moving experiences that I have ever had at a funeral.  When the jets roared overhead the entire crowd spontaneously burst into tears.  A mutual friend and fellow noonday basketball buddy named, Dick Hitchens also died in a small plane crash while hunting in Alaska.  He too had been a Navy pilot and was a long time friend of Mayor Sadler.  He also was not a member of our church, but had left his wife instructions for me to speak at his memorial.  We actually held that service in the largest courtroom in the county and leaders from both Kingsville and Corpus Christi were there.  I was also asked to speak at a number of other services for people who were members of other churches.  God opened up the whole city to my witness and ministry and though many many of them never became a member of our church, they regarded me as their pastor.  I do not say this boastfully.  I only say it as a direct quote of what they told me time and time again.  God taught me so much about ministry in those days.  He made it clear that ministry is so much more than taking care of one church.  It extends to thousands who will never be members where you serve.

Dan Wooldridge

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