My Improbable Encounter with E. Stanley Jones
He felt obliged to see himself as having responsibility for the whole world, for as he saw it, that is precisely what a Christian is supposed to do. From the introduction to “30 Days With E. Stanley Jones, John E. Harnish, Read the Spirit Books, 2022.
I was familiar with the name, E. Stanley Jones, but I certainly did not know him, his story; not even his message. Yet two things happened when I found out that we were going to go to church that Sunday evening to hear him preach.
First, I called my parents, fulfilling my promise to them that they would hear from me each and every Sunday afternoon while I was travelling in Mexico. It was December, 1970. I casually mentioned our plans for the evening. Dad, usually quite reserved, burst forth with excitement and a couple of stories of Jones’ influence on his life and ministry—plus no shortage of envy that I would soon be face to face with one of his spiritual heroes.
Second, Alberto, a couple of years younger than me, burst forth with similar excitement when informing me of our plans to meet up with Dr. Jones at church that evening. What I remember best about Alberto was that he was, in his conservative Baptist family, some kind of rebel. He did not like church. But, he loved his beautiful Roman Catholic girlfriend; barely tolerated by the rest of the family. And he knew a lot about E. Stanley Jones. Jones, Alberto informed me, was not a typical Christian. He respected religious diversity—thus would have blessed Alberto and his finance. He also preached on justice—thus affirming Alberto’s liberal political views; opposed in his family and their church.
Alberto specifically informed me that one of the many books written by E. Stanley Jones was credited by Martin Luther King Jr. with convincing him to use nonviolent resistance to fight the evils of racism in the United States.
My hopes, for our evening of spiritual encounter with one of the greatest missionaries and preachers and prophets of the 20th century, soared.
The next thing I remember about that Sunday evening in December in Mexico City is that a thin and tottering old man was pretty much carried to the pulpit by an usher. Geez! He was so weak! Could this feeble preacher possibly rise-up and stand up to the expectations of Alberto and Ken? His voice also was weak, though from my point of view, plenty clear because at least he was speaking in English!
That was, oh my gosh, 51 years ago. I am 72 now and Jones died about a year after we met. (Yes, of course, we met. After the service we touched flesh and spoke for about a minute.) The one thing I will never forget is that E. Stanley Jones told me that I too am a citizen of the world. After all, with many other possible choices, I had chosen to plan my own off-campus educational adventure (a requirement for my degree program at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, West Virginia; my first international experience) in Mexico. I traveled alone all over that beautiful and somewhat fearsome country, experienced my own version of a great train robbery (I was cross-examined as a possible conspirator.), stared in awe over the Copper Canyon, took four weeks of Spanish lesson in Saltillo, rode horses through desert canyons and unexpectedly met E. Stanley Jones.
I have been a pastor for 45 years. I have participated in or led 16 mission trips in Eastern Europe and Central America, preached and taught in Spanish many times, and learned along the way what an incredible blessing it is to know that I am a citizen of the world.
Thank you, Dr. Jones, for being where I needed you to be at just the right time so that our lives could touch. Thank God you were a citizen of the world, a respecter of all of God’s children and a passionate prophet for justice and peace.