God in the Pan-American
September 8th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
GOD IN THE PAN-AMERICAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-68 10:50 a.m.
Now as you know, I have been on an extended trek through the nations of South America. It has been the hardest trip I have ever made, but the most profitable. I have never preached as much in my life, nor have I ever attended as many convocations as I have this last four weeks. And I do not like a camera; it is a drag, it is an albatross around your neck—but I wanted you to see it, so I have taken six hundred pictures. And the last Wednesday in this month, at 7:30 here in this auditorium, and the first Wednesday in October, we will look at them, and if we do not get through, why, we will just continue it for some of the Wednesday evenings that follow.
Now I am going to do something that is in the Book; it is in the Bible. The first missionary journey closed like this:
And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia:
And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they were recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
Now that’s what we are going to do, and because of the extensiveness of the things I have seen, and felt, and heard, and experienced, and shared, there may be more than one service in which we will do this; gather the church together and rehearse all that God has done, and how He has opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. For example, next Sunday morning at this hour, I am going to preach on Baptists and riots and revolutions. We’re in the thick of this thing, but we’re on the right side of it, and God is blessing us and working with us.
Once in a while, it is good to get away and to look at yourself, and to do it by comparison, how other people are doing and how God is working in other places, and to do it also in the atmosphere and the context of our present generation. It’s good to do that. And I certainly did it this year, more sensitively and responsively than I have ever done it before.
Now, as I said, I never had such a hard trip in my life. Always when you take an extended journey, you’ve got miseries and you’ve got agonies; you can’t escape them. They’re just inbuilt. It’s just one of those things that happen when you travel around. For example, I never had a fuller summer in my life than I did this last summer. And when I left Dallas, I went on a preaching mission that included a city-wide campaign in Mobile, Alabama, then preaching in Tuscaloosa, then preaching in Atlanta, and finally landed the next day in Miami. And [I] went up to the Pan American counter with that long extended ticket, all of it meticulously worked out through all those countries in South America. I put my bag down on the scales, I put my ticket there in the front of the nose of that Pan American clerk, and I said, “I’ve come in to check in.” He looked at me, looked at the ticket, talked over that intercom and all those gadgets that they use, and said to me, “We never heard of you, and we don’t have any record about you, and you don’t have any reservation.” I said, “Man, that plane is leaving at two-thirty o’clock in the morning, and I don’t have any reservation? Been made weeks in advance, confirmed again and again, and I’ve got to get on that plane. Thing goes down there about once or twice a week, and if I miss it here, I miss my whole itinerary.” He said, “You stand by over here, and at two-thirty o’clock in the morning, if we’ve got room we’ll take you on. Otherwise you just stand there.” That’s misery, oh!
Well, I worked at that thing for about three hours; went through everybody I knew and could, and finally got a seat on that plane. Did you know there are two hundred million people in America? Did you know there were two million of us abroad? But did you also know one of us had a dripping bad cold, and that was the critter seated right next to me? Well, he was deaf; he couldn’t hear. And he was garrulous; he wanted to talk. He was in a party of forty-one. He got out that list, and he started at the top, and went clear through those forty-one, telling me all about them. And he would blow his nose, and stick his face in mine, and talk to me. Needless to say, between blowing his nose and talking in my face, in five minutes I had his cold.
Now, we landed at La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and one of the most interesting cities in this world, bar none, without exception. There’s no city you’ll ever visit more interesting than La Paz. But the airport is fourteen thousand feet high up there in those Andes, and the city is in a coffee cup right, there’s a great plain around it, and the airport’s up there on that plain, fourteen thousand feet. And that city is in a coffee cup about thirteen thousand feet high; the highest capital in the world. Well, when I got off, altitude had never bothered me in my life; I had flown over those Andes twenty thousand feet and didn’t bother me at all; been up there two or three times before. But this time, oh, I was so exhausted and tired! And my nose was stopped up and I couldn’t breathe! And my ears got stopped up and I couldn’t hear! And my head went around and around, and I couldn’t see! And my brain was addled. And I stayed in La Paz—I couldn’t breathe, my nose was stopped; and I couldn’t hear, my ears were stopped; and I couldn’t see, my eyes were too dizzy; and I couldn’t think, my brain was addled. Talk about miseries.
Well, when finally I got down to Santiago, I thought, “I’ll come up again,” and I was on the way up. Then the missionaries got a hold of me. You can’t imagine what the missionaries can do to you. Now, I was going around as a private citizen, but I had the unfortunate circumstance of being elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention before I could get down there, and when they heard I was a’coming, they thought, “Man, we got to entertain the big majordomo and high factotum of the Baptist world,” and there they started. They’d get me at 7:00 o’clock in the morning, and they wouldn’t turn me back to the hotel room until after midnight. And I was going all day and all night and all in between preaching to everybody, going to everybody’s banquets, looking at everything, oh! So when finally and eventually they took me to the airport in Santiago to make my journey across the Andes again to Buenos Aires, in the airport I got sick, ooh! My head hurt, and I got hot fever all over, and I got nauseated, and I said to the missionary who was with me, I said, “Go into my suitcase and there’s a little bundle there, a little kit that Dr. Bagwell gave me, and bring me that kit. It’s got the medicines in it, and let’s see if I can’t be helped.” So he went out there, and that plane was just getting ready to go, and that case was being put on the plane. He went out there, he explained to them why he had the case, and he brought it back to me. And I took that little pill that tastes like raspberries—that’s the best tasting pill I ever tasted in my life! I tasted that pill, and I took two aspirin, and I took two Gelusils, and I said to him, “Now I’m going to lie down here for a minute. Then I’m going to walk out there, and you walk with me.”
And he said, “Now, you listen to me. Did you know these medical authorities are looking at you right now? They asked me why I wanted that suitcase, and I had to explain to them, and they know you’re sick. And if you don’t stand on your feet right now, and if you don’t look well, they’re going to require a medical certificate for you before you can get on this plane, and you’re going to have to have a doctor’s examination before you leave this country. Now, you better stand up!” Dear people, I’m going to write a little book entitled How to Get Well in a Hurry. It works. All you people lying flat on your back, miserable and groaning, man, that’s no way to get well! I got on my feet, and I said, “Dear Lord, I’m going to walk out to that Aerolineas Argentinas airplane right there. Now, Lord, You pick up my foot, and I’ll put it down.” And the Lord picked up each foot, and I put it down. And I walked out there, saying, “Thank You, Lord; do it once more. Thank You, Lord; once more. Thank You, Lord; once more!” Why, I got on that plane, and I was perfectly well. Yeah, it works! All you’ve got to do, if you get sick, is stand up and start walking and God will do the rest.
Now, out of a thousand things that I am pressed in my heart to share, I have time this morning for just one. And as I said when I began the message, it is good for us to, sometimes, to stand away and to look at you, what you’re doing, what you’re like, and especially the background of the generation in which God has cast your life and lot. As I had seen in a thousand instances before, but more impressively this time than any other journey I’ve ever made, I think it is impossible for the nations of the world to escape the pressures, the spiraling pressures, of inflation. I don’t think they can.
When I got off the plane at La Paz in Bolivia, I took a few dollar bills to exchange it into bolivianos, and I looked at the stuff they put in my hand. Five thousand dollar boliviano note, ten thousand dollar boliviano note, thousands and thousands of bolivianos, just for a few dollars. When I went down into Chile, the same thing happened again, only with escudos. Five thousand dollar escudo note, ten thousand dollar escudo note, my hands full of escudos for just a few dollars. And when I went to Brazil, the same thing again. This is what they’d call one of their dollar bills. It’s beautifully printed. It takes three thousand six hundred of them to make a dollar. When you go down there and take a dollar bill with you, they’ll give you three thousand six hundred of them; that is, a day or two ago. It may be four thousand six hundred of them now. Look at those countries; and we’ll take Brazil as typical. Brazil is one of the great nations of the world now. It will be one of the greatest nations in these years to come. It is bigger than the United States. Brazil is much larger than continental United States, and the resources in that land are unimaginable! In the interior, one of the missionaries gave me a rock, a rock about that big around, a rock! I said, “What is this?” It is practically solid iron, and they have hundreds of thousands of square miles of mountains made out of that rock. In the Iguassu Falls, the largest falls in the world—and you’re going to see them—and in the rapids of the Paraná River is the greatest potential hydroelectric complex in the earth. There is no country that has the resourceful potentiality of Brazil.
And it is furiously growing. São Paulo, and the two cities—they’re all the same; you can’t tell where one stops and the other begins—São Paulo and that complex of cities there has eight million people in it. It is the fastest growing city in the earth. Every three minutes there is a tremendous building constructive project that is completed in São Paulo. Those cities down there are vast and growing furiously. The population of Brazil is now about one hundred million. And before the end of the century it will be over two hundred million.
The thing that strikes me, as I look at those vast cities and as I watch the people, the thing that impresses me above anything else is this inflationary spiral. If you have a fine company, a fine company, and go to the bank for a loan, they will charge you 30% interest a year, and you cannot get the loan, no matter who you are, [for] over two years. If you are a private individual and go to the bank for a loan, they will charge you 200% interest! So when I ask, “I have never seen such,” why, they say, “It is very apparent why: because when you are loaned this money now, as you pay it back, you pay it back with increasingly cheaper money, so they have to charge you 200% interest if they hope to exist and to stay in business!”
Now, all of that would be just paper, but this is where you see it: when you go through those cities, such as Rio, or such as São Paulo, you will see literally miles of tremendous buildings standing there in gaunt, empty unfinishedness; miles of them. There will be apartment buildings ten, fifteen, twenty stories high just standing there unfinished. There’ll be skyscrapers standing there unfinished. There’ll be miles of construction unfinished. For example, on the national university campus in Rio de Janeiro, I looked at a vast building twenty stories high and at least three to four blocks long, a vast building, and I said to the missionary, “What is that?” He said, “That is the teaching hospital for the national medical college.” Well, I said, “Why is it not finished?” He answered, “That building has been there just as you see it for fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years.” And all through those cities you will find those vast buildings gaunt, unfinished.
Well, why? Because when the man started building this apartment complex, let’s say, he had a million cruzeiros; he had a million dollars to build his complex. But before he could get done, inflation had so destroyed the purchasing power of his million cruzeiros that he went bankrupt; he ran out of money before the building could be completed. In 1964, inflation in Brazil was rampaging at the rate of 140% a year, and now they have slowed it down to 25% a year, but it is beginning to turn loose again; inflation.
Well, as I came back, thinking about all those things—what is happening to Bolivia, what is happening to Chile, what is happening to Argentina, what is happening to Brazil, what is happening to all the other nations of South America—I begin to think, America, what is happening to America? Then, because I’m pastor of this dear church, what is happening to us? And this is why we need to take a good look at ourselves!
When I came to the church in 1944, twenty-four years ago, when I came to the church the lot between what you call the Criswell Building and the Riley Building there, that lot had a little residence on it. That residence and lot was offered to the First Baptist Church just about the time I came here for $3,500, and the church said, “It’s too expensive!” Three thousand five hundred dollars for that lot between the building and the building, with a residence on it; $3,500. “It is too expensive.” After I came here—I’m not talking about 1870; I’m talking about in my ministry here—after I came to Dallas, there were two boarding houses, large houses, on that lot there at that corner, at the corner of San Jacinto and Ervay. They came up for sale. They wanted $9,000 for each one of them. I talked to one of the leading deacons here of the church at that time, and he answered, “It is too much money!” So I got an option on the Riley Building, the corner of San Jacinto and St. Paul, and I brought it to the leaders of this church. I had an option on that building for $65,500, and on bended knee and with tears I pled with our men to buy that building, $65,500. Out of deference to my earnest appeal they appointed a committee, and that committee came back and formally reported, “It is too much money!” And that has been the story of the First Baptist Church ever since there has been a First Baptist Church. It was true in the days of Dr. Truett. It has been tragically true in my day. And when finally I pled and begged and begged and pled to buy that lot, an oil man from Tyler had paid $18,000 for those two buildings on that lot there, and he finally said, “You can have it for $35,000.” I never went through such bitter sessions in my life as the men scorned and scoffed and ridiculed, and said, “You wait a while, and we’ll buy that for half that much money.” Well, I said, “You might also pay twice as much for it, and there may be a building on it and you never buy it.” And they said formally and statedly, “If that lot ever goes up, we will pay the difference between what it is now and what it might ever cost in the future.” I’ve often wondered at those men. It wasn’t any time at all until you could not have bought that lot for $250,000, and I’ve often wondered at their bold words.
I am telling you it is time to take a good look at ourselves! I think the Brazilian government ought to take a good look at itself, I think the United States government and its fiscal policies ought to take a good look at itself, and I think the leadership of the First Baptist Church in Dallas ought to take a good look at itself. That has been the refrain for the years and the years and the years of this past century: “it is costing too much money.”
Well, I have a personal and inward commitment to share with you this morning. You do not know it; nobody knows it outside of a very small family circle—I had planned, in the years gone by, that when I became sixty years of age, I would retire from this pastorate, when I became sixty. I’ll be fifty-nine in December. That would mean next year, at the end of the year, I had planned to retire from this pastorate. Not that I was going to quit preaching, but I was going to lay a heavy burden down of the responsibility of this church and let the mantle fall on somebody else, other shoulders. I had planned that and worked toward that and saved toward that. Well, as you know, something happened a few years ago. And as I came back, I relived all of those days. I flew, coming back, over the Amazon jungle for four hours in a big four-engine jet going five hundred eighty miles an hour. We flew along the course of the Amazon River for about three hundred miles, and as I sat glued to that window for four hours, watching that Amazon jungle, thousands of miles of it, I never saw a road, I never saw a bridge. There are no roads, there are no bridges. Nor did I see a sign of a living creature; not a village, not a hut. Four hours droning over that illimitable Amazon jungle, and I relived again in 1964 when the little plane in which I was riding over that Amazon jungle, the engine ground itself to death, it exploded. And when it did, and the plane came down, below us was a little clearing and a few thatched huts in the circle around it. The only village in hundreds and hundreds of thousands of square miles was right there. You can go over that jungle in a jet for hours and never see a living creature, but when that plane, the pilot and I seated in it, when that plane went down, right there was a little village.
There are ten thousand miraculous circumstances that conspired together to preserve us in that tragedy. You could take a machete knife and hammer all day and cut all day in that jungle and maybe go thirty feet, and you’d disappear in the vast vegetation, the great trees, and the underbrush, and the ferns, and the swamps. You couldn’t live through an experience like that and not review what God wanted you to do.
So I came back searching the mind of God and the face of the Lord, and as I prayed, and as I searched, I came to the very definite and final conclusion that this thing of my laying this mantle down and retiring from this pulpit was not what God willed for me. I was not to do it. That came very clearly and very plainly.
Now, there are some who would say, “The reason God preserved you and left you alive is that you might be president of our Southern Baptist Convention in this critical juncture in the life and history of our people.” I never think about being president of the Southern Baptist Convention, nor does it enter my mind until someone reminds me of it. But by day, and by night, and in the wee hours of the morning, and at the dawn, and at the setting of the sun, I think about you and our church. And as that plane droned over those thousands of miles of that illimitable jungle, I came to my second very definite conclusion. The first one: that I was not to resign this pulpit; I am to stay with my people. Second—and this was the consummation of this trek through South America—second: I came to the definite conclusion that what God was saying to me—God has laid upon us this last, final, and great assignment—we’re going, with His help and in His wisdom, in His grace and in His blessing, we’re going to expand this church. If I had another hour I’d like to preach to you of what I found in the impressiveness of churches in South America.
Your denomination is an organization, and all of the other things, the accouterments and embellishments and instruments, are just so many things. But what impresses a city and a nation is a church! And when I read the Book, I never read in that Book, “Christ loved the denomination, and gave Himself for it,” or “Christ loved the organization, and gave Himself for it,” or “Christ loved the machinery, and gave Himself for it.” All of these things are necessities. I’m a denominationalist—I’m the head of this denomination now. I’m for it! I will give it all that I am capable; my life and blood. I am a denominationalist. I’m for our men; I pray for them. One of them just spoke to you, one of our blessed fellow elders. I am a denominationalist. But Christ loved the church! [Ephesians 5:25] It is the building up of the church that pleases God and makes a tremendous illimitable impression upon the people.
Wherever I went, there had been people who had visited this church. They’d never seen anything like it, this church. And I came to a very definite conclusion and conviction that God has called us to expand this church. So we’re not going up and down these streets wringing our hands—”O Lord, what are we going to do about the juvenile delinquent? And what are we going to do about all of the crime? And what are we going to do about all the lawlessness? And what are we going to do about the disorder? And what are we going to do about everything else that portends the moral catastrophe of the disintegration of this nation? What are we going to do?” We’re going to do something! We’re not going to wring our hands, we’re not going to lament, we’re not going to cry as those who have no hope; we’re going to get up and do something! We’re going to make a greater program for our children, all of them, from babies up. We’re going to get a greater program for our teenagers, all of them. We’re going to get a greater program for our young marrieds. We’re going to get a greater program for our adults. We’re going to get a greater program for all our people. We’re going to expand it. We’re going to put our arms around this whole city. If that means half a dozen more missions, fine. Lord, You just say the word; we’re listening.
Now, am I talking about a few dollars? No. Am I talking about thousands of dollars? No. I’m talking about millions of dollars, millions of dollars! I’m talking about millions of dollars. I’m talking about buying properties. I’m talking about building buildings. I’m talking about reaching people. And Dr. Bryant was invited here to be our pastor in charge of soulwinning and evangelism. God has set us here in this heart, in this strategic center, of a great city and a great state and a great nation. He has set us here to shine for God, winning people every service, teaching them the mind of Christ. And these buildings, a vast self-parking building, all of these things that I haven’t time to mention, all of them are instruments in God’s hands. Like the bricklayer has a trowel, like a carpenter has a hammer, like a soldier has a gun, these are instruments in our hands and God’s to mediate and to minister God’s Word, God’s saving grace, God’s hope, God’s blessing.
So we’re going to do it, and I have one prayer left to the blessed Lord Jesus: “Lord, if I am to do that, then I pray for strength, and health, and vigor of mind and body, and length of days to see it through.” I don’t want to plunge this church into a tremendous debt, and then go off and leave it, either in death or in illness or in discouragement. “Lord, if I am to be undershepherd of that great flock as we enter this vast expansion program, then, Lord, one other prayer: for health, and strength, and vigor, and length of days to see it through.” And the same Lord God that preserved me for this hour, and put it in my soul that this is His will, is the same Lord God who will answer the final prayer. And His presence, going before us, will make the way. “Thank You, Lord, and now, give us wisdom as we begin.”
Our time is done. We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, come and stand by me. “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today.” Or just you, giving your heart in trust to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], or putting your life with us in the church, as God shall open the door, as the Spirit shall press the appeal, as God shall answer the prayer, come and stand by me. Do it. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it, angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.