Their Father's Business
Written by Cindy Kerr
Southwestern News Magazine article,
Spring 1999, Vol. 57, No. 3
Photos courtesy of Rob Randall
A grandfather, father and son have
of revivals around the world,
a labor of love in...
Their Father's Business
Bob grew up exposed to ministers
committed to evangelistic ministry like
Joe Henry Hankins and Robert Naylor
The smell of sawdust. The cool breeze rustling the heat of the day into the night air as it tousles the corners of the enormous canvas tent. Old hymns drifting from horns or keyboards capturing the crowd. The words, “If you met Jesus tonight...” haunting the lost and comforting the homesick.
Few of yesterday’s generation can mistake this scene for anything but an old-fashioned tent revival. Fewer still in today’s society have ever made this memory. At least one Texas family believes the revival meeting still works, adding even now to a 98-year, three-generation ministry.
C.L. “Les” Randall called the church and the lost to repentance in the early years of this century. His son Bob followed in his footsteps mid-century. Now as the century draws to a close and a new millennium dawns, a third generation, Rob Randall, preaches revivals.
“Our story is about how, in God’s wonderful calling, he blesses the generations,” said Rob, who like his father and grandfather, studied at Southwestern. “We talk often about how sin visits the generations. So do the blessings of the Lord.”
These blessings found their beginning when a young musician traveled with his family from Bristow, Okla., to Little Rock, Ark., to head the southern office of Hope Publications in 1924. Les Randall entered a singing contest out of Chicago and placed second. His reward was an opera contract.
Les had no peace with this opportunity, however. “The Lord began to deal with him, and he began telling folks if they knew of an evangelist needing a singer, he would sing for the Lord,” Rob recalled. He did find places to serve in both singing and preaching, and became known as the state evangelist for the Arkansas Baptist Convention in the 1930s.
His assignment: hold three-week revival meetings under a tent to teach churches how to win their communities for Christ. Flat-bed trailers would drive through communities and pick up 500 to 600 people to attend the meetings. Les, who had a special gift with children, formed “Booster Bands” which taught the children songs and Scripture, sponsored contests, and dressed the children in rainbow colors.
“My wife and I were singing at First Baptist, Albuquerque, N.M., a few years ago when a lady asked if I was kin to Lester,” said Rob. “She had been in one of his Booster Bands during a three-week revival as a child and during that meeting had trusted Christ as her Savior. She now serves as our Southern Baptist missionary in Africa.”
The reality of the work of evangelism, according to Rob, is that fruit sometimes doesn’t appear immediately and often remains long after the evangelist is gone. Rob still meets pastors and fellow evangelists who say of his grandfather, “We never knew anyone with more compassion for souls.” When Les went to the annual Southern Baptist Convention, he would go with his trombone in tow, which he’d take to the street corner and play until a crowd would gather and he would preach Christ’s message.
The churches in the wake of Les’ preaching also took note. After one meeting in 1934, the Women’s Missionary Society of Belleville, Ark., whose community had been touched at a revival meeting, made a qui It for him into which they stitched the names of all who had been saved.
Les’ son Bob grew up exposed to this ministry of evangelism. The Randalls attended churches pastored by evangelists such as Joe Henry Hankins at First Baptist, Little Rock, Ark., or by pastors committed to using evangelists, like Robert Naylor, then at First Baptist, Arkadelphia, Ark.
A piano prodigy, Bob also entered the evangelism ministry through music. As a teen he traveled with cowboy preacher B.B. Crimm. Bob worked alongside this rough and tough evangelist who reached people who would never darken a church door. Their meetings would have a scheduled beginning, but their ending didn’t come until God began to work as proved by the closing of the town’s picture show and pool hall.
Once Crimm preached at a revival meeting twice a day for two weeks and never gave an invitation. Some of the men in the church asked him, “Why aren’t you calling the mourners?” Crimm replied, “I don’t see any. I’ll call them when I see them.”
Rob, too, believes the longer an evangelistic meeting can go, the better. “My granddad used to hold meetings at least two weeks. He used to say, ‘You can’t pop corn on a cold skillet.’ It took the first week to get the church ready, so rarely were people saved until the end of the two weeks.”
Today Rob holds eight-day meetings, and as modern-day evangelistic meetings get shorter and shorter, Rob thinks they should be getting longer and longer. Jay Van Zandt (MDIV 98), who was saved at a revival Rob was preaching, is proof. Jay, then a businessman with his own new business and a healthy family, heard one Easter during his once-a-year church visit of the coming revival services held by Rob.
Knowing something was missing from his charmed life, Jay rushed to finish his work in time for Monday night services. He returned Tuesday and Wednesday night before surrendering his life to God on Thursday evening. “lay told me he ran out of excuses after Wednesday night.
“Longer meetings are for the sake of people, not for the sake of evangelists. It took our forefathers a longtime, and we wonder why we don’t see a movement of the Lord today. Revival never comes on our terms. It never has; it never will.”
Neither will God’s call to be an evangelist come on human terms, according to Rob. He began ministering as a young adult by traveling with the contemporary gospel group “Song of Deliverance,” during the Jesus Movement days. Through the musical talent and interest running through Randall veins, Rob had learned to play the trumpet, guitar, and crystal glasses and to sing.
Both his father and grandfather were singers, and his grandfather had played violin and trombone while his father played more than 2,000 memorized hymns on his trombone, crystal glasses, and seven-foot Baldwin “portable” grand piano bolted to a platform that he took from crusade to crusade.
Travels with “Song of Deliverance” to campuses, youth meetings, and coffee houses revealed that Rob, too, had the gift of evangelism. He saw 300 saved one night during a concert at North Texas State University. Rob entered Southwestern as his father and grandfather had done before him. Southwestern is woven throughout the Randal Is’ evangelistic heritage— L.R. Scarborough, who occupied the “chair of ‘fire,” was president when Les attended Southwestern two years in the early 20s. Bob was grader for C.E. Autry, the first full-time professor of evangelism, and graduated with his master of divinity in 1960.
Rob credits much of his evangelist-know-how to Roy Fish, L.R. Scarborough chair of evangelism and distinguished professor of evangelism, and to James Eaves, professor emeritus of evangelism. Rob earned his master of divinity in 1981.
“The Randall heritage says as much about Southwestern as it does about our family,” said Rob. “The pursuit of higher education was for all three generations a matter of being prepared. My granddad came from a somewhat-pagan background and knew he needed preparation. I wanted to be able to stand in any pulpit any place any time and people know I’d done my homework.
“This family commitment to evangelism caused all three of us to look to Southwestern, likewise committed to evangelism, for ministry preparation. If the seminary had not been a stronghold in evangelism training, we would have gone somewhere else.” The seminary’s evangelistic precedent began when Southwestern was still just a vision in B.H. Carroll’s heart, according to Fish. “A vital part of his vision was that evangelism be apart of the seminary’s academic curriculum,” Fish said.
“This was totally new. As far as we can tell no seminary in the world ever offered courses in evangelism prior to the time of Southwestern’s establishment.” The seminary’s next two presidents, Scarborough and E.D. Head, continued to root evangelism very deeply in the heart of Southwestern. Both taught evangelism in addition to their presidential responsibilities.
“When these responsibilities became too heavy, Southwestern called in 1955, again as far as we can tell, the first full-time professor of evangelism in the history of theological education — CE. Autry,” continued Fish. “Since that time, the department of evangelism has expanded to four professors and now offers concentrations in evangelism on the masters level and a Ph.D. in evangelism on the doctoral level.”
After graduation from Southwestern, Rob left his pastorate in Northeast Texas to enter vocational evangelism. When he decided to answer God’s call to be an evangelist, Rob admits he had only six months’ worth of faith. He confided in his wife Pattie, “Financially we can make it six months in evangelism. After that we will probably crash and burn. But evangelism is in my heart. I have to try it even if I fail.”
God was faithful to Rob as he had been to the two generations before. Rob was able to travel with his father in evangelistic crusades three years before Bob passed away. He has continued to book crusades in the years following, and in his 21 years thus far Rob has preached more than 500 church revival meetings and crusades throughout many of the 50 states and overseas. His father before him preached 47 years and 1,100 crusades worldwide. His grandfather ministered 30 years in more than 400 crusades and revivals. The Randalls’ 98 years in evangelism is something that “only God can do,” said Rob. “No one chooses this work. God chooses it for you.”
Indeed an evangelist’s life is forever a step of faith. Bob, in his early years of ministry, traveled to Europe just after World War II with Jess Moody, Billy Lucas, and other young evangelists where they worked with Billy Graham in Youth for Christ. “Bob and I saw many hundreds of wonderful souls come to Christ after the war,” remembered Moody. Once he and Bob were scheduled to fly from Cannes, France to Rome, Italy where they would preach the next day. Their cab driver took longer than usual to get to the airport, and they arrived to find their airplane taxiing on the runway. The next flight out was the following morning.
When Jess and Bob awoke in Cannes the next day, they opened the New York Times to find the headline, “Paris-Nice-Rome Flight Crashes; All Missing.” “Our names were on the passenger list,” said Moody. “We both went out onto the porch of our hotel and sang in loud voices, ‘His Eye Is On the Sparrow.’ We never preached again without Bob reminding me, ‘Say a word of gratitude, jess, that we weren’t on that Paris-Nice-Rome flight.”
Rob learned later that his father would raise just enough money to get to his destination, where he would stay and preach until he had enough funds to return to America. He also watched his father preach wherever God provided an invitation, from the “county seat to the creek bottom.” He even challenged towns to have a certain number at crusades, and if they met their goal he would preach to them from water towers using a bull horn. “No matter what size the crowd, his message never changed,” Rob said. “Our ministry as evangelists is to people, wherever and however many there are.
Rob’s scheduling policy rings true to this belief. “We wait upon the Lord to put together the schedule. My father told me, ‘Son, you could schedule your own meetings, but then you could be where you’re not supposed to be. Let God do it.”’ Rob schedules the first firm date for a crusade, regardless of the size or location of the church.
“There is nothing easy about living by faith,” admitted Rob. “Yet it gives my message an edge and a clarity. I have no political agenda or coalition. There’s no big money involved. Living this way is an evangelist’s lot, but our message has an authentic ring to it. I can’t call people to live by faith if I don’t live by it.”
“Being an evangelist is the hardest work in the world,” agreed Moody, who was an evangelist for 11 years. “I loved every minute of it, but it means sacrificing homes and time with families. You stay in unfamiliar territory and change water every week. Yet this biblical calling is commanded by Jesus. Evangelists are the attack troops at the very front lines — they go in first and break down walls. There were a lot more evangelists in the old days. We need more today.”
Rob recognizes, alongside his father and grandfather, that the Holy Spirit alone makes a crusade work. “God is more concerned with revival in our time than we could ever imagine, but we must do God’s will God’s way. So often we hoist our sails, but instead of waiting for the wind to blow we buy fans to try to generate wind. It’s not the real deal. So we settle for the counterfeit and jump at whatever looks alive. The result is churches full of people without commitment—they aren’t tethers or soul winners. The real test of our ministry is whether or not we’re after souls.
“The ministry of the evangelist is part —and not the only part—of God’s strategy to win the world. It is a gift to the church as revealed in Ephesians 4. God gives the local church evangelists for the perfecting and maturing of the saints, and the New Testament church needs this ministry to be complete. More today than ever the evangelist has a message that desperately needs to be heard. God has always used the evangelist to call men to repentance. Once the church gets right with God and cleansing comes, evangelism automatically follows.”
Methods of evangelism are changing, but Rob still sees the need for old-fashioned tent meetings. Why use a tent? “When a car dealer wants to sell cars or Wal-Mart has a special sale, they put up a tent. Tents still draw people, especially in the countryside where you can still capture a whole community for Christ in a tent,” said Rob. “If I could, I’d preach all my meetings in a tent.” He told of an eight-day meeting at First Baptist Cooper in Delta County of Northeast Texas. “Pastor Holley told me he didn’t know one-third of the people attending the meeting. We simply pitched a tent, and there were people saved in every service. It still works even in our computer and jet age. People are still drawn by the special event of calling people to repentance,” he said.
“It is also common thought today that revivals don’t work anymore. The problem is that many churches won’t give revivals time to work. It takes time to see that righteousness is better than compromise,” he added.
Revivals do still work, however, as seen in The Risen Son Baptist Church, Thermopolis, Wyo. The church is still baptizing, four months later during the winter months, those whose hearts were stirred in the revival Rob preached there in September. In the church of 70 to 80 people, 30 are newly baptized.
In 1998, 50,000 “revival” meetings were held in Southern Baptist churches alone, according to Fish. “All of us acknowledge that the church growth movement and a sizeable number of more innovative churches are no longer employing revivals as one of their methods of evangelism,” he said. “I believe these churches constitute very much an exception to the rule in our own convention.
“It is a difficult day for vocational evangelists because there is a failure in our denomination to appreciate and understand their role, There can be no question — and I say this after exhaustive study on the matter — but what the vocational evangelist was in the first century and still is in the 20th century an office which is to be part of the overall ministry of a church.”
When all three Randalls answered the call of vocational evangelism, it was a matter of the stewardship of their gifts, according to Rob. Along with the call to be an evangelist comes the call to preach, and the three generations answered this call in the local church even while keeping the passion for revival ministry alive. Bob spent 16 of his last 20 years as a pastor in Wichita, Kansas, while preaching at least one revival per month. “The church recognized that if they were going to keep him as pastor,” saidRob, “they had to let him evangelize because it was his call and heartbeat.
“The special calling of an evangelist means that he is heard and understood wherever he goes, whether in New England or South Texas,” continued Rob. “He can learn to develop his skills, but the ability to communicate the gospel in any part of the world is the evangelist’s gift.”
Rob recognizes that, as with any of God’s gifts, the ability to evangelize has been maligned, especially in the last two decades. “Billy Graham reminded us at the North American Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in 1994 that evangelists take the brunt of so many who have fallen. The reality, however, is that many paraded in front of our eyes as evangelists were, in fact, pastors of churches. There is a stigma, but many a God-cal led evangelist has an authentic life and walk and is a usable gift to the church.”
As the third-generation Randall evangelist watches his three kids grow up, he admits that he and his wife have tried carefully not to call their children into evangelism. “That’s God’s business,” he said. His oldest son is pursuing the music ministry and his youngest son feels called to preach. A fourth-generation Randall is continuing the Southwestern Seminary legacy of education. Rob’s daughter Christina began studying music this semester.
Rob continues to fulfill his call to evangelize. “There are more lost people today than yesterday, so an evangelist’s work is never done. I want to call people to repentance. It’s something Randalls do. This is not only my lineage, this is my life.”