by Robert Earl Houston
Three years ago this week, my father in the ministry, Dr. Arthur Bernard Devers, I, senior pastor of the West End Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas, went home to be with the Lord. As a son, I mourn his death to this day. I’m heartbroken but I rejoice knowing that He is with Our King. He taught us how to grieve in the Lord and to have a hope in Christ.
I was asked by his widow, Wanda Devers, to speak at the Memorial Service and these words ring just as true today as they did as I stood in the pulpit where “Dad” stood after standing in pulpits in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and literally around the nation:
This is like talking after being in a 10.0 earthquake. There will be some rough spots. There will be some tears. I need your prayers.
For all of the sons and daughters in the ministry of Dr. A.B. Devers, I – it all started in the office. Coming to tell him that either you were a minister at another church and you wanted him to be your pastor or you were a nervous wreck coming to him and saying that the Lord had called you to preach.
In 1977, I stepped into his office and we talked. Well, he talked and I listened. He told me it was his job to be my teacher, I had to trust his guidance and he promised to do whatever he could to help me in ministry. He said to learn from everything he did and even his mistakes. From that cold winter night in December 1977 until a cold winter’s morning in December 2009, Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, has been my father in the ministry.
As a father he would teach you from the word and he even allowed you to come to the office and just watch him do his job. I’m sure many of us have had this experience of coming to the church after school or work and just watch him handle phone calls, eat, open the mail, eat, draw up schedules, eat, write class notes, eat, work on his sermon and eat.
Rev. Devers never ate without offering you a bite. He would take you to his favorite restaurants – The Pagoda, Hung Far Low, and yes, Denny’s. He treated you like his own flesh and blood. He took care of the check because during that meal you were going to go to Advanced Studies in Theology as taught by him. Sometimes the class was thirty minutes and sometimes the class was five hours. But it was never about cloning himself. He wanted his preachers to be the best “you” that “you” could be.
He could love you, hug you, praise you – but he also knew how to correct you. You knew it was coming. He would bend his head to one side, tighten his eyebrows, clear this throat, and you had to take it. Sometimes it would sting. Sometimes it would make you want to quit. But you knew that he never would jack you up, I mean, correct you without a good reason and you knew, a few days later, he loved you.
I remember he asked me to pray when I was in my 20s. I thought I was doing a good job until he said “ahem…let me talk to you.” He brought me into the office and he gave me a note pad and said I want you to hear this recording of the service, and want you to take a tally of every time you said “Father God” in your prayer. It turns out I said Father God about 125 times. The next time I said the Lord’s Prayer and sat down.
He wanted us to be PREACHERS. Not imitation preachers. Not uneducated preachers. Not doctrinally unsound preachers. He wanted us to be the kind of preacher that God would be proud of and pleased with. He invested himself into us. He wanted us to be prepared preachers. He told us to always have three sermons available – one in your head, one in your heart, and one in your pocket. He wanted his preachers prepared like Dr. C.E. Williams prepared him.
He was proud of his preachers. I have no doubt that he was proud of all of us. On last Sunday I picked up the phone and was about to do what I normally do about once every week or so, and that was to dial his cell phone, to chat with him, swap some jokes, get his advice, run some things by him. I dialed the numbers and was about to push “CALL” until I had to remind myself he’s not going to pick up that phone.
But what’s interesting is that the phone wasn’t labeled “HOLLA” or “MAKE IT RING” – it was labeled “CALL.” The Holy Spirit reminded me that Dr. Devers’ life was about THE CALL.
It was the call that He received to preach the Word. It was the call that He received to train a generation of young men and women who pastor and preach from the emerald city of Seattle to the rose city of Portland to the red clay streets of Alabama to the peach state of Georgia to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to the cowboy capital of Pendleton to the Golden State of California to the State of New York to the Great State of Texas. It was the call that He used as a measuring stick of your potential. It was the call that took him from Seattle to Portland back to Seattle and then to San Antonio.
And on December 6, 2009 it was the call, we didn’t understand it and tell the truth some of us still don’t understand it, but I remember Doc had a line in the church bulletins that read “To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill, O may it all my powers engage to do my master’s will.”
The Call took him from San Antonio to the Streets of Glory.
The Call took him from the arms of loved ones into the arms of Jesus.
The Call took him from sorrow into joy.
The Call took him from teaching and preaching to resting from labor.
To paraphrase Edward M. Kennedy, Pastor Devers is gone, but the Call lives and the Call never dies! The teaching never dies! The laughter never dies! The caring, the nurturing, and the preaching never dies! And the Legacy that he implanted in us will NEVER die . . .