His son Mark, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., was by his side together with Larry's wife of many years, Donna. Mark's wife Carmen was standing by also along with their girls Abi and Beka. That is about all who were there. Most of Larry's friends were gone already, and since he was a commoner from Pennsylvania, this will not make anyone's headlines.
But before you write this off as just another obituary, please know that this is a story that happened the way it should.
Larry Howell moved to Orlando, Fla., where he and Donna were employed. Their son Mark grew up there and while in high school was taken to First Baptist Church where soul-winner Jim Henry was pastor. Friends patiently worked with Mark until one wonderful day he received Christ as his Savior and Lord. After attending Carson-Newman University and playing on an NAIA championship football team, Mark sensed the call of God to the ministry.
Mark came to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to study. While pursuing his degree he met Carmen Patterson, my daughter. Everyone said, "Do not date her; she is the child of Paige Patterson." Mark said, "Who on earth is Paige Patterson?" And he continued dating Carmen and married her.
One day Mark said to me, "My dad does not know the Lord, though he thinks he does. Could we take him hunting in west Texas?"
That is where I first had the opportunity to share Christ with Larry. While my son Armour and son-in-law Mark were chasing a deer, the two of us sat on Jerry Davenport's ranch and talked for two hours. Larry listened thoughtfully but was not yet ready to make a decision. Some months later in a sunrise service in the hill country of Texas, Larry listened as his son Mark proclaimed the glories of the resurrection of Christ. When the now-addressed Dr. Mark Howell extended the appeal to come to Christ, he looked up and there stood his father Larry committing his life to Christ. Mark also baptized his own mother, Donna.
Today, I write in praise of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla. Not only did you precious saints of God give me one of the finest son-in-laws in history, but also what you set in motion through faithfulness to Christ's command came full circle today when Jesus called Larry home. You led a boy to Christ. That boy became a preacher and led his mother to Christ and was preaching when his dad was saved. Rejoice!
Nothing we ever do is as important as sharing Christ with a high school boy. Only eternity will reveal what you set in motion, First Baptist Orlando, through your obedience.
Few will note Larry's exodus. But that is not important anyway. Can you imagine his surprise and joy upon waking up in heaven? As Don Wyrtzen wrote, "… of touching a hand and finding it God." And there will be hundreds more also. Can we all this day take a page from First Baptist Orlando and just take the time to lead a high school boy to faith in Jesus? All else pales before this assignment from God. This is the hope of the future, and it is how it is supposed to be.
Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
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