I recently read the story of Edward Kimball. I’d never heard of him, and I’m guessing most of you haven’t either.
Kimball was a Sunday School teacher in Detroit in the 1850’s. According to biographer J. Wilbur Chapman, “This Sunday school teacher was not one of the ordinary types. Mere literal instruction on Sunday did not satisfy his ideal of the teacher’s duty. He knew his boys, and, if he knew them, it was because he studied them, because he became acquainted with their occupations and aims, visiting them during the week. It was his custom, moreover, to find opportunity to give to his boys an opportunity to use his experience in seeking the better things of the Spirit. The day came when he resolved to speak to one of the boys in his class about Christ, and about his soul.”
That young man, D.L. Moody, not only accepted Christ when challenged by Kimball but went on to become one of the most prominent evangelists of the nineteenth century. It’s said that Moody “preached the gospel to millions” during his lifetime. He also founded Moody Church in Chicago.
Edward Kimball never imagined what God would do when he went the extra mile and discipled the young Dwight Moody. In fact, he later admitted hesitancy because Moody was a rough and very unlikely candidate.
This story of an ordinary Sunday School teacher, whose name most of us never knew, shows what the power of God can accomplish when we step out in faith. Focused intentionality is the key! Few become evangelists on the order of a D.L. Moody, but we just might disciple someone who will be!
* Some trace the conversion of Billy Graham through the chain of disciple making that started with Edward Kimball. Conflicting accounts as to the exact way it might have happened are many, but there seem to be connections. Evangelists like Mordecai Hamm and Billy Sunday are also linked to the lineage of disciple making descending from Edward Kimball to Billy Graham.
And here’s one closer to home.
In the Fall of 1985 a young and very “green” campus minister began praying for disciple making opportunities at Middle Tennessee State University. I was that minister, and my search came on the heels of discipling that my wife and I were blessed to receive. Our discipler challenged us o pay-it-forward by discipling others. Our prayers were answered when God sent four college kids our way.
I began discipling Mark Harrell and Paul Henderson. Karen found Cindy Dickson and Cindy Walker. All four were hungry to grow in Christ. They only needed someone to help and encourage their spiritual formation.
Mark graduated and became a youth minister at a local church. Later on, he became a successful businessman here in Murfreesboro. He passed away in 2010 but left a very Godly imprint on many lives. His funeral was a huge tesimony to ways God used him to bless others.
The two Cindy’s grew, too, and blessed other lives. That leaves Paul, and his story involves a bit more.
Paul came to MTSU as a Criminal Justice major. He grew up down the road in Smyrna and was a junior when I arrived on the campus ministry scene.
I’ve teased Paul that it was his good-natured heckling that drew him to my attention. It was much more, however. He showed a deeper than average interest in spiritual matters. Beneath the surface of his adolescent ways I began seeing a young man hungry for more than status quo religion. As it turned out, God sent me a guy He wanted to prepare for mission!
Paul and I became good friends through the discipling relationship formed at MTSU. Along with Mark, we spent many hours in study and prayer during his junior and senior years. As planned, he graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice hoping to follow his father’s footsteps and become an investigative detective. God had other plans.
About a week after leaving college, Paul again showed up at my office saying, “I’ve changed my mind about law enforcement. I want to be a campus minister.” His words didn’t come as a surprise. Two years had shown me his heart, and I was excited to hear the news!
We didn’t have an internship at MTSU back then, but I connected Paul with Milton Jones, a campus minister at the University of Washington in Seattle. Milton and his team had built a thriving campus church. They were literally reaching hundreds and had built a very effective internship. Paul moved to Seattle, and this is where the story really gets interesting.
After a year there, he met a mission team from within the Northwest church of Christ preparing to move to Budapest, Hungary and plant a church. Although a move to Europe had been the furthest thing from his mind, he soon found himself prepping with this group to do just that. They moved to Budapest in August,1990, and the boy from Smyrna, Tennessee remains there to this day. He married a Hungarian gal, who was converted through the team’s early ministry in Budapest, and they have three children. Paul’s wife, Kati, has become an active Christian leader among women in Hungary.
Paul later learned his team secretly voted him most likely to be the first to pack his bags and return home. Contrary to that prediction, he remains the only original team member now in Hungary!
Paul stuck with it, and it paid off. After helping grow one church from scratch to about fifty converts, he was invited to pastor a Hungarian congregation that’s now grown to about three hundred members. It was my pleasure to visit Paul and speak at the Agape church in Budapest a few weeks ago. Paul and Kati Henderson are pictured below left and his congregation is waving at you from below right.
It’s easy to believe our disciple making efforts won’t amount to much, and the enemy would like to keep it that way. It’s likely that Edward Kimball never saw his disciple making efforts creating a chain reaction. And, I certainly never imagined that one of the first men I discipled would go on to help plant a church in Europe. Here’s the point: it’s ours to faithfully obey the Lord’s command to sow seed and make disciples. The power is in the seed, not in us. Faithfully sow and see what happens! God brings the increase!
Paul and Kati Henderson
The Agape Church, Budapest