Remarkable Providences


Elder Phillip N. Conley

My Last Visit with  Elder Bill Walden

II Samuel 3:38, “And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”

These were the very words that Elder Bill Walden spoke to me nearly 16 years ago when we had our first conversation after my Dad departed from this world. He told me that ever since he had heard the news that Dad was gone, those were the only words that he kept hearing over and over. Once I heard the news that Brother Bill was gone yesterday (May 25, 2016), these words ring perpetually through my head.

Though I could write at great length about the measure of the man before us and the rich history that he has had with our family, our purpose in this is to show the mastery of the Almighty in blessing His children here with kind blessings and tender compassion through my final visit with Brother Bill this side of glory. Brother Bill served for me in the same capacity that he had for my natural father: he was a father in the ministry to us both. Brother Bill has served that function to the benefit and blessing of many men that I know, and his wisdom and example are surpassed by none. I have been asked by several over the years if it was hard to start preaching after Dad passed away. After all, he was my pastor all my life and the first father in the ministry I ever had – though not knowing it at the time – giving me rich foundations of Biblical truth and Godly decorum. My answer has been and will continue to be, “It was not as hard as it could have been. Though Dad was gone, his father was still there and became a father to me as well.” Such is the measure of the man before us.

Brother Bill was diagnosed with esophageal cancer several months ago, and after many treatments, he received the long news that the cancer had spread, virtually throughout his whole body. We all knew the end was coming, and I wanted to see him one last time. Living in Georgia and him in South Texas, the logistics took some doing, but with the help of God and the support of Elder Jeb Owen, I managed to make a surprise visit to the Waldens on Friday May 20, 2016. Not knowing how soon his departure would come, just the timing of the visit itself was remarkable, and God’s tenderness has become more poignant to me.

In preparation for our visit, Brother Jeb called Sister Frances Walden to see if it would be all right to come and visit. She informed him that Brother Bill had had a tough week. He spent most of the days sleeping and not really interacting with people. However, she would not tell him nay, and we made the journey that bright Friday morning. The drive was a roller coaster of emotion for me as I could not fathom what would or should be said on what would likely be my final visit with this man I loved so dearly. Oh what foolish and forgetful mortals we can be! God daily loads us with benefits, and His mercies are new every morning. The anxiety quickly left on arrival as I could see the hand of God very powerfully.

When we walked in, Sister Frances told us that he was having a great day – alert, talkative, and very responsive. She quickly guided us in to the bedroom, and Brother Bill seemed truly thrilled to see Brother Jeb and myself. While some of what was said in that visit is too personal to convey to an audience, there were many things expressed by Brother Bill that I thought worth sharing as the benefit of the words is not respective of audience or individual. The wisdom he possessed and conveyed have served as rich markers in my life, and may these recollections serve you in like fashion.

In the early part of the conversation, Brother Bill recounted with remarkable attention to detail his entire history with our family from his first meeting with Dad to the present. While parts of that story likely mean more to me than most, the part that is applicable to all was when he talked about Mom’s conversion process. After she and Dad got married, Brother Bill and Sis Frances were “regulars” in their life. At this point, Mom was not an Old Baptist, and some of the ideas she grew up with needed some deep uprooting. There could perhaps be no more suitable a vessel for this than the man we are talking about. Gentle grace coupled with firm conviction for the truth.

As he described his talks with Mom, he said, “I couldn’t open her eyes. Only the Lord can. What I could show her was how much the church meant to me. How beautiful it is to me! How wonderful! Then, over time, it came to be beautiful to her too. That’s all we can do. Show them how much it means to us, and maybe one day it will be to them too.”

During this extended reminiscing session, Brother Bill showed that his wit had not slacked a bit. Several times while talking (and his voice was very weak), he would tail off into silence. After shaking his head, he would then apologize for not being able to talk any better. Trying to make him feel better, I said, “Don’t worry about it Brother Bill. It’s all right.” He then smiled that impish look he could muster and said, “I know…”

Another example of the wit showed when his home health nurse came to give him a bath. We stood up and told Brother Bill that we were going to step out and see him after his bath. With a face of shock, he said, “Don’t go. I don’t want you to leave.” We told him that he was getting a bath, and that we would be right back. He nodded and said, “Folks have been telling me they’d be right back for years. Takes them a long time to make it back!”

Returning after his bath, we settled in for the meat of the discussion and visit. He was ready to talk that day, and Brother Jeb and I did not have to worry or wonder what was on his mind. With the kindness he was legendary for, he extolled the virtues of the church and how much she had blessed him over his life. The tender emotion discussing the Lord and His bride was both touching and humbling all at once. May I finish my course with similar joy!

Turning his attention to us, Brother Bill charged us again and again as young striplings in the ministry. Above all things – he said – is to pray, pray, pray. Pray for your wives. Pray for your children. Pray for the church. Pray for all those you serve both individually and collectively. When you can’t think what to do or see where to go, pray. When you can see where to go, pray.