By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
In the Oct. 24 issue of the Baptist and Reflector, we ran a feature story on Ivan Raley, pastor of First Baptist Church, Byrdstown. Raley is an 80-year-old longtime Tennessee Baptist pastor and former Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home administrator. Fourteen months ago, Raley was diagnosed with stage four non-alcoholic related cirrhosis of the liver, a terminal condition with no cure.
He was told that he would not live beyond Christmas of 2017. Needless to say, the physician was wrong and Bro. Ivan is still going strong in Byrdstown. The fact that he is still alive and preaching the gospel is a cause for thanksgiving in itself, but the story goes beyond that.
Last week I received a handwritten note in the mail. That’s newsworthy in itself. Most people don’t write notes anymore. They e-mail or text.
The note was from Lois Dyer of Scotts Hill. She informed me that she is 99 years old. You really couldn’t tell it from her handwriting. It’s much better than mine.
In the note, she shared that she accepted Christ during a revival at Scotts Hill Baptist Church in 1958 — 60 years ago. She remembered that the guest evangelist’s last name was Raley but she did not know his first name. She had read the article about Bro. Ivan and First Baptist in the paper and was wondering if he could have been that guest evangelist.
I called Bro. Ivan and shared the story with him. I honestly did not think it would have been him, but, lo and behold, it was. He remembered preaching the revival at Scotts Hill Baptist and actually did some additional ministry with the congregation that summer. He was 20 years old and still in college at the time.
I shared the note from Mrs. Dyer with him and he offered to give her a call and talk with her.
Later in the day he called me back and shared that he had spoken with her and that she was overjoyed that he had taken the time to call and visit with her over the phone. He prayed with her before ending the conversation.
Ivan shared with me that he remembered the revival well and that someone had made a decision that night. He was excited to connect with a person who accepted Christ under his preaching more than 60 years later.
He noted that if nothing else came out of having his story published, connecting with Mrs. Dyer “was enough for me.”
What an amazing story. How many pastors get to speak to a 99-year-old person who they helped lead to the Lord six decades ago? Probably not many.
It just goes to show what an amazing God we serve.
On Thanksgiving Day this year, thank God for the small, simple blessings He gives us each and every day of our life. We normally remember to thank Him for the major things — good health, family, our church, jobs, etc., but we sometimes forget that He is Lord of all and that He blesses us in ways we don’t even comprehend.
I am grateful that Mrs. Dyer, at the age of 99, is still able to read and value her state paper and that it enabled her to connect with someone who led her to make the most important decision she ever made. What a blessing!
I’m also thankful God has given me the opportunity to serve Him and Tennessee Baptists through the pages of the Baptist and Reflector for more than 30 years. It’s a blessing that I don’t take lightly. Thank you for being loyal and faithful readers as we seek to tell His stories. Happy Thanksgiving!