RICHMOND, Va. – “He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; he who makes one is a fool.”
Harold Hurst didn’t say that, but it sounds like one of his zingers. He believed in commitment, not wishful thinking. I’m making this New Year’s resolution in his memory anyway: Be more like Harold Hurst.
It won’t be easy. Harold, who died Dec. 15, accomplished more in 88 action-packed years than any 10 lesser men. He often did it the hard way, but he never complained. Not about hard work, at least. I did hear him complain once or twice about slackers and lollygaggers. Harold was old school. Look up “old school” in the dictionary and you’ll probably find his picture. You’ll also find him beside “faithful.”
Who was Harold Hurst? Glad you asked.
Born in Illinois, he grew up on a Missouri farm during the toughest years of the Depression. He gave his life to Christ during a revival service in 1941. Hard work held him out of high school, but he finished a diploma by correspondence while in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He organized ministries to Christian servicemen and went on to lead several churches as pastor during college and seminary. But he felt God beckoning him toward farther horizons.
“I surrendered to His service,” Harold wrote. “I knew His call was to the foreign mission field.” He became a member of the great generation of postwar missionaries who took the gospel to a suffering world crying out for hope.
I first met him many years later, during the “second act” of his eventful life. He had joined the International (then Foreign) Mission Board staff in 1977 to help Southern Baptist churches and volunteers do medical ministry and disaster relief more effectively. He “pioneered concepts in mobilization and deployment of responders to natural disasters and other crises,” said Lewis Myers, his friend and IMB colleague, at Harold’s funeral service. “He led our response to Hurricane David in the Dominican Republic in 1979. It still stands as a model for disaster response and established Southern Baptists as a major and effective contributor to global relief.”
Harold gained the know-how he later shared with others from long personal experience as a missionary – and “general flunky first aid,” as he described it – in Honduras. Harold and Alice, his wife and sweetheart for 65 years, opened Southern Baptist mission work in the Central American nation after they were appointed in 1952. He started First Baptist Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital, and many more in towns and villages around the country.
In addition to nearly nonstop evangelism, preaching and starting churches over the next 20-plus years, he managed the Baptist bookstore in Tegucigalpa, directed and taught at the Baptist theological institute (begun in his house), coordinated university ministry and administered a medical clinic.
On top of all that, he taped a popular weekly TV program, “The Church in the Home.” At one point the station manager tried to move the program from a prime Sunday evening spot to a far less favorable time. Harold, never one to go down without a fight, appealed to viewers to voice their opinion about the change. The show’s fans jammed the station’s telephone switchboard and sent nearly 1,500 letters within a week demanding that it stay on the primetime schedule. Harold ended up getting a nice Saturday evening slot – plus a second program on Sunday morning.
Things didn’t always go smoothly in desperately poor, sometimes unstable Honduras. The Hurst family once experienced three revolutions in a single year – including one on Harold’s birthday. “The kids were asking, ‘Dad, are all those firecrackers outside for your birthday?’” he recalled. It was gunfire.
Many of Harold’s greatest adventures, however, came on the back of a mule. Getting to many of the isolated villages where Harold and Alice, a skilled nurse, took their evangelistic/medical caravans involved spending “a lot of time on a quadruped with long ears,” as Harold put it in a 1957 letter. “I discovered after two years on mules that I needed to invest in a saddle with a foam rubber seat.” He often spent a week at a time circuit riding between scattered preaching points.
Once he was arrested for riding a “stolen” mule. It was a big misunderstanding, but Harold and two fellow workers spent a night in jail in the village of San Jose. They seized the opportunity, announcing they intended to hold a preaching service that night. They began singing hymns, soon attracting about 80 listeners to the room where they were being held. Harold gave his testimony and one of his co-workers preached. Nine people gave their lives to Christ, and a church was begun in San Jose.
That’s why I want to be more like Harold. He never missed a chance to tell people about Jesus.
In Honduras, during later service in Panama and Mexico – and in retirement, when he continued to teach local churches (including my own) how to do missions – Harold had one priority: declaring Christ is Lord. He continued to lead volunteer trips to Honduras, sometimes three or four a year, into his 80s. Only health problems slowed him down. He never stopped preaching.
One of the last times I talked to him, Harold wondered why fewer churches were inviting him to speak. “Is it because I’m too old, or because I tell them what they don’t want to hear?” he asked with some indignation. I’m guessing it was the latter. Harold never sugarcoated the Word of God for anybody.
One of the songs we sang at Harold’s funeral was “Find us Faithful.” The chorus says:
“Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.”
Farewell, Harold. You were faithful.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com. Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/166/16664/16664-92331.mp3.)