Dad and I continue to immerse ourselves in the small-town life of Mitford, North Carolina, delightfully chronicled by Jan Karon. We waved good-bye to Father Tim as he embarked on a vacation to Ireland at the conclusion of At Home in Mitford, and wasted no time in greeting him when he returned to resume his bachelor rector life in A Light in the Window. Since it’s my third reading of the Mitford novels, I am slowing down to investigate the real people, like Billy Sunday and Vance Havner, who Karon skillfully weaves into her narratives.
In a conversation between Father Tim and Baptist preacher, Absalom Greer, the latter confided how Billy Sunday had been an encouragement to him. Dad and I paused to contemplate the life of Billy Sunday, who abandoned an extremely successful career as a professional baseball player, to live a life abandoned to Christ. Numerous on-line sites provided biographical sketches of the famous evangelist, and most described how his life was forever changed as he walked down a Chicago street in 1886, and heard a Pacific Garden Mission street preacher proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
Mark introduced me to the Pacific Garden Mission when we were dating. The mission produces Unshackled!, the longest-running radio drama in history. The program dramatizes the powerful stories of real people whose lives have been transformed by Christ. Its first dramatization was the story of Billy Sunday, preacher to millions, who led more than an estimated 300,000 people to faith in Christ. The McNiel household is a devoted fan of Unshackled!; we listen to it often on KHCB, or on the Internet at Oneplace.com.
In the second chapter of A Light in the Window, Karon refers to “the salty old evangelist, Vance Havner.” Neither Dad nor I was familiar with this man of God, but the Internet yielded a slew of information. Dr. Vance Havner, a native of North Carolina, was a Southern Baptist pastor, an evangelist and conference speaker, and an author of nearly forty books. In 1973, he was named “Preacher of the Year,” by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Dr. Havner’s sermons are available on the Internet, both in written and audio format. He was a gifted communicator, and many consider him to be one of the most quoted preachers of the 20th century.
While searching on-line for information concerning Dr. Havner and Billy Sunday, I read a Jan Karon interview describing how she met Ruth and Billy Graham. Mrs. Graham invited Jan Karon to the Graham home so that she could meet the author, and personally convey her enjoyment of the Mitford books.
This morning, as I picked up A Light in the Window to continue our reading, Dad said of the book’s characters, “I just love these people.” I love them, too—the fictional ones and the real ones—and it’s good to know that Ruth Graham and Jan Karon feel the same way about their neighbors.