Roots in Indiana soil; heart in the world, Carroll county man celebrates 100 years

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Lawrence Randle’s roots run deep in the fertile soil of his beloved Boone County, Indiana.

But his outlook and life took him far from that home-place and embraced the world through interests, travel and relationships. Eventually those brought him to the small Georgia town of Temple where he lived since the year 2000 until he recently moved to a retirement facility in Carrollton.

The tall, lanky centenarian recently reflected on those factors that saw him focused not only on his highly successful farming career, but on the wider world of church, people and events on a global basis.

“I was always interested in geography,” he reflected. “I wanted to know more about the world; how, when and where things were done; what other places looked like.”

“There came a point when my life connected with Asian people and I was able to know and learn more about them and where they came from.”

After farming for 21 years, Randle and his late wife, Violet, decided in 1965 to sell their livestock in central Indiana and embark on a three month trip that took them around the world.

The couple was intent on visiting students from Thailand that they had befriended over the years. They especially wanted to visit Joy, who they cared for as an infant for several months while her mother finished her studies at Indiana University.

After returning to her home country, Joy, who now is an economics professor at a Bangkok university, kept in touch with the Randles and eventually indicated her interest in returning to the United States to live with them for a longer period of time. They welcomed her with open arms and she stayed through her high school and college years.

That original relationship expanded to others as more students became guests in the Randle’s farm home near Lebanon, Indiana. Other of her siblings came to stay and their Thai family continued to grow. “We hosted many Thai boys and girls over the years,” he remembered. “Our home was the ‘Thai embassy’ for a couple of decades.”

As Lawrence anticipates his upcoming 100th birthday on May 31 when three generations of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will assemble at First Christian Church in Carrollton for a celebration, he is especially excited that Joy will travel over 9,000 miles to be present for the occasion.

Lawrence and Violet considered their trip unusual for a farmer of that era. They went from Asia to five continents, including South America, where their son was working with the Peace Corps in Brazil.

“It was a time when farm families were just starting to send their children off to college,” he remembered. “It was a new era.” Thus, he felt the unusual urge to take off and see the world.

A combination of his wife’s death and the diagnosis of terminal cancer for his son-in-law who was the director of Woodlawn Christian Camp in Temple persuaded Lawrence to relocate to west Georgia 15 years ago.

He was widely known for his knowledge of the best restaurants in many towns from north Georgia to Atlanta to Carrollton. He continued to travel, sometimes by himself, to various parts of the country.

“We have tried to have a Christian influence on young people’s lives,” Lawrence reflected. “Over the years my wife and I gave numerous scholarships to students from our church in Indiana so they could attend Christian colleges such as Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) near Knoxville, as well as Milligan College and Emmanuel School of Religion (now Emmanuel Christian Seminary) in Tennessee. Thirty-nine students from the Indiana church who studied at Johnson were supported by the family.

When he first started giving scholarships he offered grants of $500. More recently he has found it necessary to increase those gifts ten-fold because of the higher costs.

Mr. Randle has also supported the work of Johnson University and similar Christian endeavors, including First Christian Church in Carrollton where he, his two daughters and several grandchildren attend. In Lebanon his family was very active in New Brunswick Church of Christ where he served as an elder and Sunday school teacher for over 20 years.

Recently he and daughter Mary Alice Hobson of Temple spent part of a rainy morning counting up his extended family.

The grand total, after some discussion, was three children, including Mrs. Hobson and sister, Margo Shepherd. Margo and her husband, Ron, live next door to Mary Alice on the edge of Woodland Camp in Temple, and son, David, still lives on the family homestead in Boone County, Indiana.

Then there are six grandchildren, two of whom live in Carroll County Georgia, one in Nashville, Tennessee and three in Indiana. Referring to their long-time relationship with Joy and some of her siblings he quickly adds that there are three more “grandchildren” in Thailand.

Finally, twelve great-grandchildren living in various places complete the Randle family. 

“One reason his mind remains so sharp is that he had tremendous insights throughout his life,” reflected daughter Mary Alice. “He served on the Rural Electrification Board in Boone County for more than 20 years and that give him a much broader vision of farming and the world.”

“He had a vision for farming that put him on the cutting edge of how to go about it,” she commented.  “In one of the two books he wrote, he said, ‘You can judge a farm by the paint on the barn and the straightness of the corn rows.’”

When Lawrence lamented that he has difficulty continuing a long-term ministry of sending out numerous greeting cards to shut-ins, hospital patients, neighbors and friends, daughter Mary Alice gently chided him, saying, “Dad, you are almost 100.”

He acknowledged her reminder and commented that in one story he heard, a centenarian said that his secret to a long life was that he “never saw any future in dying.”

Lawrence chuckled and reflected, “I guess I have lived this long because I never did die.”

                                                            ***

This article originally ran in the Carrollton, Georgia Times-Georgian on April 22, 2015. A slightly different version ran on the same day in the Lebanon, Indiana Reporter.

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Losing an election but winning in the long-run

Georgia’s Michelle Nunn lost a hard –fought senate race last year. Those who supported her were disappointed. They thought that she might be able to bring ideas and solutions to a gridlocked congress. Those who supported her were disappointed. But, a recent announcement assures both those who voted for her and those who voted against her that she turned out to be a winner, and so will many poverty-stricken women and children around the world.

The morning paper reports that the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn has been appointed as the president and CEO of Care USA, the international Atlanta-based development agency that has made a specialty of working with the needy in refugee camps and with women and children trapped in poverty in some of the poorest corners of the world.  (For those who remember, this is the organization that began “care packages” following World War II).

According to Wikipedia, CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) is a major international humanitarian agency delivering emergency relief and long-term international development projects. Founded in 1945, CARE is nonsectarian, impartial, and non-governmental. It is one of the largest and oldest humanitarian aid organizations focused on fighting global poverty. In 2014, CARE reported working in 90 countries, supporting 880 poverty-fighting projects and humanitarian aid projects, and reaching over 72 million people. CARE’s programmes in the developing world address a broad range of topics including emergency response, food security, water and sanitation, economic development, climate change, agriculture, education and health. CARE also advocates at the local, national, and international levels for policy change and the rights of poor people. Within each of these areas, CARE focuses particularly on empowering and meeting the needs of women and girls and promoting gender equality.

“Care has this terrific, aspirational work around eradicating extreme poverty. And the way they are looking to do that is by focusing on women and girls in poor communities,” Nunn told the newspaper. Whatever one’s political leanings, I can’t help but think that losing the election was not a loss, but a win. It was what paved the way for Mrs. Nunn to be able to do far more to assist the poor, the needy, the dispossessed, the hungry, the hurting and to work for peace—more than she could ever have accomplished as a member of congress.

I’m reminded of a story I heard the Baptist pastor John Piper tell. Here is recounting from a book he wrote: In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly. I asked my congregation: Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ–even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles. No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (Mark 8:35). I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life.

Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.’ At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life–your one and only precious, God-given life–and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.

Rubyh Eliason.  Laura Edwards. Michelle Nunn. What is losing? What is winning? What is a tragedy? What is losing so that you and others and the Lord will win? Congratulations Mrs. Nunn. We will be looking forward to hearing about your service to the most needy around the world through Care, Inc.

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Don’t read this headline; read the story instead

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jay Leno was (and still is) my favorite late-night comedian. I enjoyed his current events monologue, laughed at features such as “Headlines” and appreciated any number of his interviews.

What disturbed me, however, was to read a decade or so ago that a sizeable minority of Americans get their news from…The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

It’s concerning to think that when Leno or Letterman or any other comedian gives a line such as “The president today visited union workers in Chicago” and then parlays it into a very funny joke, that anyone would think they are getting the news let alone any understanding what it is all about.

With the decline in newspaper readers and the gradual decay in depth of the evening news, it seems that we are turning into a people of headline readers with very little understanding of the dynamics of the Middle East, climate change, new relationships with Cuba or black-white tensions.  And, the proliferation of pundits and talking heads who are paid to generate controversy by their outlandish statements and extreme positions does not help out.

Neither does the expanding number of “soft” or “feel good” stories featuring photos of dogs and cats along with celebrity news and home video of events that never would have made the back page of the paper yet today appear on the network news.

When the internet first came into public view a friend said that it could possibly make everyone a published author. Maybe it has, but it has not made everyone an informed reader.

I’m afraid that this shallowness is creeping into some of our churches and Christian publications. We are not only becoming a population of headline readers in news, but also in theology and Christian studies.

Not that there aren’t good books and websites out there, but when we quickly survey church bulletin board signs, sermon titles, book subjects and Christian news sites, we find that we are losing much of the depth that we could have if we chose our reading and studying carefully.

I appreciated this recent commentary by Dr. Roger Olson. 

His call for us to take theology–deep, probing theology–more seriously is one that needs to be sounded loudly in our contemporary setting.

I don’t know how many times in recent years I have read the proclamations of pop-theologians who double as newspaper or magazine columnists and tell us what the Bible says or what Jesus would do or what political position we should take.

Those pop-theology opinion pieces usually follow the course of “I’m not a Christian, but we all know that Jesus preached love and therefore Christians should love (insert person, behavior no matter how sinful, political viewpoint here).”  It becomes a useful device to make a social or political point and at the same time take a back-hand swipe at believing Christians.

Now, don’t be scared away by the next two big words—I’ll explain them. This mindset takes me back to the debate over exegesis and eisegesis from my seminary days.

In summary, they mean: Exegesis and eisegesis are two conflicting approaches in Bible study. Exegesis is the exposition or explanation of a text based on a careful, objective analysis. The word exegesis literally means “to lead out of.” That means that the interpreter is led to his conclusions by following the text.

The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.

(Read more here)

While I’m grateful for those who seek out what the Lord teaches us in His word, I wish that the new brand of pop-theologians whose salary is paid by a newspaper or magazine rather than a church or seminary would read more of the actual text and then add to that by consulting a good commentary or theological work. Then, they would be better qualified to pontificate on what God’s will is relative to a particular behavior or public policy issue.

As a pastor, I have been blessed to count among church members in various places several seminary/university-trained theologians who have given me insight, corrected my stray and erroneous thoughts, and contributed to biblical understanding among our members.

In one of our overseas churches, a member who had become a believer in Jesus Christ in one of the original seeker-sensitive churches told me that she was ready to move on.  “The introduction made me feel good,” she said, “But now I need to deepen my faith and understand better who Jesus is, what he teaches us about God and how we should be living and serving.” What she was looking for was Bible study, theological exploration and direction in how she should be living as a Christian in today’s world.

Our headline readers who are new to our churches also need to know and explore those things. I’m grateful that our church here in Carrollton brings in professors from a nearby Bible college to preach and teach. We are so much deeper for that.

Dr. Olson describes a church that moves beyond the headline-reading, pop-theologians this way:

I mean churches where there is a general mindset that theology matters to sound Christianity. I mean churches that care that the songs sung in worship have lyrics that are true. I mean churches where Sunday School classes for all ages at least occasionally take up issues of belief and culture and do not just dabble in Bible stories, ethics and spirituality. I mean churches that build theological teaching events into their regular annual Christian education programs. I mean churches that care what their small groups are reading and studying and encourage them to increase their understanding of the Christian faith beyond devotions and spiritual life. I mean churches where the sermons challenge the mind as well as the heart and display to the discerning listener evidence that the preacher reads theology and thinks about issues deeply. I mean churches that invite and welcome biblical scholars and theologians to speak and teach and ask their advice about Christianity. I mean churches that treasure their theological heritage even as they think critically about it. I mean churches that call as pastoral staff members people with theological training and encourage them to stay lively and in touch with that through lifelong learning and periodical continuing theological education.

It is time for us to move beyond the headlines of Leno, columns by pop-theologians and teaching that makes us feel good but does nothing to help us grow and serve.

It takes a lot more than a smiling preacher and a pop-theologian to teach us the cost of discipleship. Hmmm…The Cost of Discipleship….that’s the title of one of the best theological books beyond the Bible ever written. It would be a good place for each of us to start our deep reading.

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“Wash your hands and don’t turn down the corners” The blessings and curse of being a librarian’s son

Note: April 12 – 18 is National Library Week

The leader of a recent study group I attended asked which paragraph in a book we would underline as being the most important.

One person pointed out his favorite while another selected a different one. My reply was, “I’m the son of a librarian. I don’t underline anything in books.”

Growing up in a home with a librarian mother and an appreciation for books, the care of these volumes was drummed into our heads. Those habits remain with me today in my 70s.

If you are a purist, you first wash and dry your hands before even handling a book. That way you prevent grease and dirt from finding their way onto the pages and smudging the print.

Even if you skip that step under the theory that your hands are already clean, the librarian mother soon teaches you that you should never be one of those obviously uncouth people who licks a finger before turning a page. Such a dastardly act would not only be unsanitary but would add moisture and dirt marks to the pages of the treasured volume.

Of extreme importance was the admonition to never, never, never turn down the upper corner of the page to mark your place in the book. That’s what bookmarks are for. Everybody knows that—especially the son of a librarian.

Ironically, that is exactly where you should turn a page—from the upper corner. Don’t even think about using the bottom corner or shoving against the outer edge of the page. Those actions could wrinkle, crunch or damage the page and certainly would bring the admonition of a librarian mother.

Next in line of cardinal sins is to bend back the cover of a hardback or a paperback book. Such behavior will certainly damage the binding, eventually causing pages to fall out or the whole book to collapse in your hands. Use both hands and keep the book open is the prescribed way to read through your favorite novel.

To write, underline, place a check or in any way mark inside of a book was tantamount to sacrilege and would bring far more than a scowl. If the transgression was bad enough, you might find yourself buying a new copy of the book out of your own meagre allowance which was all that your librarian mother could afford. That would seriously cut into the regular purchase of baseball cards bubblegum and other necessities of life for a kid, so it was to be avoided.

There is one downside to being the son (or daughter) of a librarian. You never learn to return a book on time. The upside of that is that you also never pay an overdue fine, but eventually even that catches up with you. You see, all of the librarians in town know each other, so we children of those professional people are always given special treatment. “Oh, you are Mrs. MacHarg’s son. That’s OK; you don’t have to pay an overdue fine as a courtesy to your mother.” It turns out that the public library librarians all know each other, as do the librarians in your elementary school and your high school. So you go through your growing-up years scot free—forgetting to return books to any library on time and never having to pay an overdue fine because “you are Mrs. MacHarg’s son.”

Which works just fine until you go away to college. It turns out that college librarians at Maryville College in Tennessee don’t know public librarians from the suburbs around Detroit. It’s amazing how much money I lost the first few months of college until I put it together and realized that I was going to have to start returning books on time or I would use up all of my pizza money on overdue fines.

In truth, I appreciated not only growing up in a home where both of my parents read voraciously, but in which we were also introduced to the joy of books. It was there that I learned to enjoy reading about current events, science or other non-fiction, or mysteries, spy novels or epic stories that would introduce us to different eras in history and a plethora of ideas and philosophical insights.

Someone once said that I inhale books. I probably do, since I’m always reading. I love expanding my knowledge, getting to know people, exploring different ideas, or flying off in the company of some former CIA agent who has been asked to come out of retirement and save the world from impending catastrophe.

As long as I continue to have good eyesight and a good mind, I will continue to read, and I have my librarian mother to thank for that.

There’s only one thing I wonder about. What would her rules be for the proper use of my Kindle?

Kenneth D. MacHarg lives in Carrollton, Georgia. His mother, Virginia MacHarg, was the Library Director at the St. Clair Shores, Michigan, Public Library. Previously she worked for the Detroit Public Library and the De La Salle Collegiate High School library in Detroit.

(This article appeared on April 12, 2015, in the Times-Georgian of Carrollton, GA)

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“Our Great Celebration”

On this Easter weekend, there are tragic reports and also the message of hope in the news reports of the day.

The horrendous massacre at the university in Kenya showed the irrational, extreme hatred of some in our world toward the followers of Jesus. That anti-Christian passion isn’t restricted, unfortunately, to just radical jihadist groups. The drumbeat of hostility toward believers continues around the world and in our own country.

Perhaps some of that comes from Christian’s engagement in the cultural wars that flare up across our society and project the image of believers as a group of people who are against this group and that, one practice or the other. We are identified more by what we are against rather than what we are for.

When Polly and I left to go to the mission field in 1990, we were taught by leaders at HCJB (now Reach Beyond) that our job as Christians in a foreign land, as Christian broadcasters, was to proclaim Jesus Christ. That and nothing more, nothing less.

We were not to criticize people or leaders of other faiths. In broadcasting we were to report the news of all faiths as it occurred factually and without comment. Locally we were to abstain from political comment (we were, after all, not Ecuadorian citizens.) We were, powerfully, with love and passion and compassion, simply but profoundly to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who need the Lord.

In the midst of the ongoing wars and denigration of Christian truth and values, it was so refreshing to read a column in the Washington Post about a woman who is seeking truth, purpose and meaning and the gentle but firm proclamation of a sensitive pastor.

“Easter is our great celebration. Easter is the church’s Super Bowl,” Pastor Tony Lee told her. “We’re celebrating the resurrection of Christ, so, for me, anybody who wants to come to that party is welcome.”

Wow. That’s it. The proclamation—get that word?—proclamation of the absolute true message of this joyous Christian holiday. No wavering, no political correctness that covers up the joyous good news. Just the proclamation.

“Sometimes we get so caught up in religiosity we miss the blessing,” the pastor said.

Yes, sometimes we get caught up in too many things that distract our message. Culture wars; debating issues religiously rather than proclaiming religious truth; busy telling what we are against rather than what we are for.

In this mid-point, as I write, between the senseless slaughter of Kenya, the horror of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the unlimited, boundless, history-changing, life-changing joy and power of Easter morning, I’m reminded of a Jewish friend who many years ago lamented that so many (not all but so many) of his faith’s holidays were those of remembrance and mourning in comparison to the Christian’s celebration of our important events.  “You even celebrate the murder and death of your savior,” he mused.

Indeed we do. We are able to because we know what comes next.

Maybe it’s time to take a few minutes to listen again to that classic Good Friday presentation, It’s Friday but Sunday’s Coming.

He IS risen, HE is risen, indeed!

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