Big Men, Big Hearts: Criswell & Bisagno
by Walker Moore
Awe Star Ministries
I had the privilege of speaking at all three services at Houston’s First Baptist the first Sunday of January. I was familiar with this congregation largely because of its longtime pastor, Dr. John Bisagno. A while back, I spoke in the chapel for a youth missions conference. I could never have guessed that I would look out at the congregation to see Dr. Bisagno.
It is one thing to preach in a large church. It is another thing entirely to preach in front of one of your heroes. As I took the pulpit that day, I prayed a familiar prayer: “Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
It was an incredible experience to preach before a man known for his many evangelistic crusades, his legendary trumpet skills. For the next 30 minutes, I focused solely on the text. I sought the Lord’s leadership as I preached the sermon He laid on my heart. After I finished, I went out into the congregation to shake Dr. Bisagno’s hand and let him know how much he had influenced me. As I approached, he reached out with a big smile and bigger handshake, looked me in the eye and told me, “You are my newest, favorite preacher!”
This old country preacher and missionary felt as if Jesus Himself had said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Dr. Bisagno and I visited for the next 20 minutes. I felt as if I had known him my entire life. We talked about our families (his grandson was leading the music that weekend), missions, ministry and Oklahoma Baptists.
I have met several of my heroes in the faith. Another was Dr W.A. Criswell. Our encounter took place not long after I moved from Missouri to Texas to attend his Bible college at First Baptist, Dallas. The only thing I knew about the school was its commitment to teach the Word of God.
One Sunday, I pulled into the church’s parking garage. For a country boy, driving around downtown Dallas and parking in an underground cave can be a daunting experience. My wife and I got out of the car and gathered up diapers, bottles, and our baby son. Not knowing where to go or how to find our way, we followed the crowd. We soon saw an elderly gentlemen getting out of his car. Slight in stature, he had a head of flowing, snow-white hair. He was immaculately dressed and carried himself as if someone who had life figured out—a man on a mission.
As he turned around, I realized we were face-to-face with Dr. Criswell himself. I stood there as a deer caught in the proverbial headlights. All I could say was, “Good Morning, Dr Criswell.” I’m sure he recognized my confusion because he asked if I knew where to go. I told him that we needed to find the nursery. He pointed us to the correct building and described how to get there.
We were grateful for his direction but confused when he asked us to give him our son. We complied, and the renowned preacher headed off, baby and diaper bag slung over one shoulder. As he walked away, he told us to go to the auditorium and get a seat because it would fill up soon. My wife and I looked at each other in disbelief. We couldn’t believe he would take our son to the nursery so we could have a good seat. To this day, his act of kindness amazes us.
Not long ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C., for a meeting and met a famous television preacher. I was anxious to visit with him after the meeting ended, but I have never been treated more like a nobody. He avoided eye contact and acted as if I was a gnat flying around his head. He basically told me that if I had anything to say, I should write it down and send it to him.
These experiences taught me something about true heroes. Their lives exhibit the spirit of graciousness. No matter what a person’s stature or position in life, true heroes treat everybody as though they matter to God. Everyone, even an Oklahoma preacher boy, is important to them.
I pray that I have learned from these godly men how to do ministry and imitate the life of Christ. At Houston FBC, I stood down front at the end of each service to talk, encourage and pray with anyone who came forward. I do not count myself in the company of the above-mentioned men, but I pray that God will count me in the company of the gracious. I want to show others they matter to me because they matter to Him . . . most of all.