Amber and I got to church a bit late yesterday. We sat next to my sister- and mother-in-law. As we were about to join in the singing, I saw Jean (my ma-in-law) telling Amber something. I didn’t think much of it, until Amber turned to me.
“Mom saw this morning that Ivey Spence died.”
Ivey gave me my first preaching opportunities. He also had a lot to do with me learning how to handle just about anything that happens during a sermon.
I first met Ivey when I was in Boy Scouts. My most distinct memory of him is asking him to wake me up from a nap during summer camp. I had completed one of my courses early, and so had a break after lunch. I had brought a hammock, which was hung between two trees behind my tent. He told me he’d get me up in time.
And true to his word, he did. When it was time for me to get up, he hooked his cane on my hammock and flipped it over. I woke up just in time to see the ground rushing to meet me. Of course I complained, but he calmly pointed out he had woken me, as promised, and I had not specified how he should do it.
In the fall of 1996 Ivey approached me at First Baptist and said he’d heard I felt called to preach. I said yes, and he told me about something called Truckstop Ministries. He said I could come preach there if I wanted. I told him I’d love to. When I saw him next, he tossed a bag at me. Inside was a blue Truckstop Ministries shirt with the word “Chaplain” on it.
“I didn’t say I wanted to be a chaplain,” I told him.
“Do you want to preach?”
“Then you’re a chaplain.” And I was, for the next six years. Once a month (at least) I got to preach. I’d show up, and Ivey and his friends would be sitting around eating breakfast and laughing. I preached my first sermon there. It is a sign of God’s mercy to me that no recording of that exists. But I learned how to handle just about any type of disruption, and that has served me well.
As much as Ivey would joke — which was a lot — he never once made a joke about my preaching. Lord knows he could have. He was, however, constantly encouraging, and helped me learn how to outline a sermon, how to develop my points, how to build a hook to hang the message on so people would remember it.
Ivey and the gang were already in their sixties, and I was twenty. But I was one of them, and they looked out for me. I remember talking with a guy after one sermon who told me I was too young to know much. He asked how old I was (probably 22-23 at the time), and told me that, at 63, he knew that Jesus wasn’t the only way to Heaven. So I called out to Ivey:
“How old are you?”
“Can someone get to Heaven without Jesus?”
I turned back to the guy and pointed out Ivey was older than him, so he must know more.
Ivey had a knack for making you feel like you were the most important person when he was talking with you. Which was a perfect fit for something like running a ministry out of a truckstop. But it came out everywhere. Just a couple weeks ago I bumped into Ms Anna at Kroger. She said, “Ivey’s around here somewhere. It takes him a while because he talks to everyone.” And it was true. I spotted him twenty feet away, leaning on the cart, chatting with some random people.
He would normally greet me the same way: “Well hey there, Brine.” (Not two syllables) “You feeling good? You look good.”
Ivey taught me a lot about ministry, and what it meant to be a Christian. I clearly remember him talking with someone and telling them, “You can’t hate like that and be a Christian. God isn’t going to let you just hate people.” Honestly, that was the first time I had heard a statement like that, and it has stuck with me.
I never knew Ivey to complain much. Once I was talking with him before a church service, and no one else was nearby. He told me he’d had a rough time getting up. His back, he said, was really hurting him that day. That was the most I ever heard from him: Not a complaint, but a statement and request for prayer. But before I could say much, someone else walked by. Ivey spotted them and, for a few minutes, they became the most important person in the world.
Godspeed, Ivey. Enjoy your reward, and I’ll see you again one day.