A good friend and colleague, Greg Warner (most recently executive editor of Associated Baptist Press), and I recently made a journalistic pilgrimage of sorts. We tracked down the grave and an impressive memorial to abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy in Alton (Illi,) City Cemetery. Lovejoy was a Presbyterian pastor and editor of the Alton Observer, a Presbyterian newspaper, who was shot and killed when a drunken mob tried to destroy his printing press and throw it into the Mississippi River on Nov. 7, 1837.
While those horrific actions were intended to stifle the Observer’s anti-slavery voice, they instead prompted an immediate eruption of anti-slavery sentiment throughout the nation. Lovejoy became the first martyr to freedom of the press in the United States. One historian later suggested the shots that killed the editor in 1837 were actually the first fired in the American Civil War.
A few miles away, in Upper Alton Cemetery, lays the grave of another giant — a literal giant — Robert Wadlow, who died from health issues a century later in 1840 at age 22. Wadlow was Alton’s most famous native, the world’s tallest man at just under nine feet when he died. This giant was a beloved character and represented his hometown well during his many travels as a celebrity. (The author poses at right with a lifesize statue of Wadlow on the campus of the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville dental school in Alton, Ill.)
I have had giants on my mind since earlier in the year, when two significant Missouri Baptists died within days of each other. The first was Homer DeLozier, 101, former pastor and what we would call today the director of missions for St. Louis Metro Baptist Association. Soon after that came the passing of Tom Field, 93, another former pastor who distinguished himself as president of William Jewell College. These men were described as Missouri Baptists giants, and each impacted a broad range of Baptist causes.
We Christians rightly get excited about our heroes, whether they are mentioned in the Bible, named in church history books or exist (or existed) in our individual experiences and personal memory.
In an effort to secure column material on qualities that prompt us to call some in the faith heroes or giants, I sent an e-mail weeks ago to a few dozen people, random selections from my address book. I hoped to have a half dozen people name someone they regarded as a Missouri Baptist giant and tell me why that person deserved the title.
The response was amazing, both fast and heartfelt. The first came back 23 minutes after I pushed the “send” button on my original request. Others quickly followed. Within a few hours, I had received a bunch. Within a few days, 30 people had responded. And some of them responded. The result was a recent column titled “Missouri: Land of giants” that listed 30 spiritual-giant qualities.
Soon, I’ll follow up with a story naming these heroes of the faith among Baptists in Missouri.
By participating, you can help me assist others with some helpful “Words for the Way.”