Tag: human interest

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — To hear Bruce Bachman tell it, he’s just a guy with a bell, a red apron and a heart to serve who gives a little of his time during the holiday season.

He’s just one of the thousands of volunteer bell ringers who keep alive a 127-year tradition that the Salvation Army traces to Capt. Joseph McFee, who set out a large, iron kettle in 1891 to collect funds for a Christmas dinner in San Francisco.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the change, bills and occasional large checks and gold coins that Americans drop into about 25,000 kettles from coast to coast amount to roughly $150 million, said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, the Salvation Army’s national community relations and development secretary.

Some bell ringers wish passers-by a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” and hope the kettle fills. But many others, like Bachman, have honed strategies and routines to make the most of the uncompensated work — for the Salvation Army and for all who come within earshot.

Just before 10 a.m. on a busy shopping day, the 61-year-old consulting engineer arrives at a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store with a mailbox-sized stereo, a box of Christmas CDs and a plastic baggie full of hard candy.

“I bring the candy to suck on so I don’t have to drink as much water,” Bachman explains. He knows he won’t have time for meals or bathroom breaks, so he tries to be prepared (eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns ahead of time).

He’ll stand outside for eight hours and — as a mix of Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” tunes plays — invite customers to donate to the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.

“God bless you!” he tells a woman who pulls money out of her purse. “You have a very merry Christmas!”

“Hello, cutie!” he says in his best Donald Duck voice as 3-year-old Jubilee Longoria approaches the kettle with a handful of coins.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

 

Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival

Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

SHAWNEE, Okla. — Duncan Tiemeyer chose St. Gregory’s University because he wanted a faith-based education that would teach him more than how to succeed in a career.

The 550-student Catholic liberal arts college in Oklahoma traces its roots to French monks who moved to Indian Territory in 1875, intent on developing the bodies, minds and souls of Native American and settler children.

“Here, we are taught not only to focus on our five-year plan but also our 100-year plan and our 500-year plan,” said Tiemeyer, 22, a senior business and theology major from Houston. “What are we preparing for? Are we living our lives in a way that is getting us to the next life? Are we going to be able to go to heaven?”

However, the brand of education offered by St. Gregory’s — where Benedictine monks still pray multiple times daily in a chapel beside a cemetery filled with the remains of their predecessors — will come to an abrupt halt at the fall semester’s end.

“It’s just a tragic and sad loss, and I’m grieving for our students and faculty and staff who are working through this loss,” said St. Gregory’s President Michael A. Scaperlanda.

The financially strapped Roman Catholic institution, 40 miles east of Oklahoma City, is just the latest small religious college to close in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Texas hero risked life to save others

Texas hero risked life to save others

With the death toll at 26, Stephen Willeford confronted — and shot — the Sutherland Springs gunman.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Heroes need prayers, too.

Stephen Willeford — the Texan who confronted and shot the gunman who killed 26 people at a rural Baptist church Sunday — could use a bunch of prayers, his close friend John Wood says.

To many, Willeford’s actions outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs made him a hero.

But the hero, who is described as a faithful Christian, was distraught when he called Wood at his Ohio home right after confirming gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s death.

“I talked to him immediately after it happened, basically before any of the law enforcement arrived,” Wood — a retired Church of Christ minister and Air Force chaplain — told The Christian Chronicle. “He called me and said, ‘I just killed a man.’”

Texas Department of Public Safety Cmdr. Freeman Martin told reporters that an armed citizen, identified as Willeford, shot Kelley in the leg and torso. However, an autopsy indicated that a third shot — a self-inflicted wound to the head — likely killed Kelley.

Wood had just gotten home from worship at the Xenia Church of Christ in the Buckeye State when his phone rang.

The longtime preacher said he relied on his training in counseling as he comforted Willeford, who has long ties to Churches of Christ.

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First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

‘These people are amazing,’ says an Iranian immigrant grateful for the love shown after his family’s home flooded.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

HOUSTON — The homeowner was shirtless and sweating.

He was still angry — he admitted that much — over the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey two months ago.

But he was curious, too, about the strangers who showed up in white vans in his neighborhood and raked trash and debris from his barren yard.

“They came all the way down here for this?” he asked, intrigued that these Christians drove 465 miles to serve victims of a storm that dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

A slight smile formed on the man’s face.

“I usually tell people from Oklahoma to head north,” he joked.

These days, though, southeast Texas can use the help — even it comes from across the Red River.

Emotional scenes of boats rescuing Lone Star State residents from flooded homes have faded from television screens. But for thousands who lost possessions and livelihoods, needs remain immense.

That’s why the Edmond Church of Christ — a 1,200-member congregation north of Oklahoma City — felt compelled to send help.

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First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

‘You don’t ever get over those things. You just learn how to get through them,’ says a minister familiar with tragedy.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

The gunman took the love of Mavy Stoddard’s life.

She refused to let him take her hope.

“God’s been good to me,” said Stoddard, whose husband, Dorwan, 76, died when a would-be assassin opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket on Jan. 8, 2011. “My faith got me through all this without falling apart.”

But even now — nearly seven years after the Arizona attack in which six were killed and 13 others injured — Mavy Stoddard breaks down sometimes.

“Just this last Sunday, I spent 15 minutes crying and feeling sorry for myself,” said Stoddard, 82, who lived despite suffering three bullet wounds. “But 15 minutes is all I will allow myself anymore.”

For survivors of the recent mass shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., healing will take time and patience, said Stoddard and other Christians who have experienced past tragedies.

“I would tell them they need to load up on patience and mercy and grace,” said Les Ferguson Jr., a minister whose wife, Karen, 44, and son Cole, 21, were shot to deathin the family’s Gulfport, Miss., home on Oct. 11, 2011.

Melanie Crow, 38, was killed and seven other Burnette Chapel members wounded — including minister Joey Spann — when a masked gunman targeted the congregation Sept. 24.

To members’ shock, the man arrested by police — 25-year-old Emanuel K. Samson — was someone they knew.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the November 2017 edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

Disfellowshipped decades ago, Pat Boone insists he ‘never left’ Church of Christ

Disfellowshipped decades ago, Pat Boone insists he ‘never left’ Church of Christ

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pat who?

As Pat Boone stepped to the microphone at the recent Religion News Association national conference, not everybody recognized him.

“I know who you are,” Boone, 83, said a fellow speaker told him. “I thought you died.”

The crowd of religion news journalists gathered in Music City — myself included — laughed.

Decades ago, Boone was a household name — a pop singer for whom Elvis Presley opened in the mid-1950s. A star in record, film and television work, Boone had a “squeaky clean image” and “was known as an actor who wouldn’t kiss a woman on the screen other than his wife,” as Los Angeles Times religion writer John Dart noted in a 1994 story.

For members of Churches of Christ in the 1950s and ‘60s, Boone was a big deal because he was one of us.

“A native of Donelson, Tennessee (a suburb of Nashville), a graduate of David Lipscomb High School, and a former student at David Lipscomb College, Boone grew up in the very bosom of Churches of Christ and, at twelve years of age, was baptized by M. Norvel Young,” Restoration Movement scholar Richard T. Hughes wrote in his 1996 book “Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America.”

Read the full column.

This column appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Catholic faith moves ‘Mattress Mack’ to shelter Harvey victims

Catholic faith moves ‘Mattress Mack’ to shelter Harvey victims

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

HOUSTON — Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale was kicking himself the morning after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, for closing his furniture stores while some people could still shop.

Known to millions in America’s fourth-largest city because he stars in his own zany television commercials, McIngvale had closed all three of his Gallery Furniture locations on Aug. 26.

“A lot of these small retailers up and down the street were open, and they were doing a lot of business,” said the fast-talking entrepreneur, whose antics have included promising to refund customers’ money if the Astros win this year’s World Series.

Little did McIngvale know that Houston quickly would become a disaster zone — and that he, driven by his faith, would emerge as one of the battered city’s most beloved heroes.

On the Sunday after the storm hit land, the 66-year-old entrepreneur rose early to attend Mass at Houston’s Assumption Catholic Church.

But he couldn’t get out of his driveway. The storm that would dump a record-breaking 50-plus inches of rain on the Bayou City had him blocked in. He was stuck at his house for three hours before he could leave.

The flooded cars on the freeway made him realize the extent of the disaster, as did the “hundreds of calls and emails and texts of people wanting us to rescue them” that greeted him at his original Gallery Furniture location.

When he settled into the store, McIngvale — who can display both his cantankerous and compassionate natures nearly simultaneously — pivoted from selling furniture to rescuing and housing fellow Texans trapped by floodwaters.

His faith, he said, moved him to help.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.