by Jamie Buckingham
Every year, for the last 15 years, a group of us—dressed in old clothes, carrying shotguns, rifles and sleeping bags—have gathered in a little hunting cabin deep in the swamps of south Florida.
We come from different towns and states. Each year we add or subtract someone, but the core group has remained the same. The four days are spent in the woods southwest of Lake Okeechobee on the edge of the Florida Everglades—30 miles from the nearest phone.
Early mornings and late evenings, we wait in deer stands in trees or walk through the woods with our guns. Nights, we gather in the little cabin with its tin roof, nestled deep in a hammock—a thick stand of oak, cypress and palm trees surrounded by a slough.
This year was different from all the other years. Months earlier, when news spread that I might be dying of cancer, the men had prayed for me. When I arrived, there were genuine tears of thanksgiving. My old friends, you see, had wondered if my cot might be the one left vacant.
Something else was different. The thrill of the hunt was still there; but rather than taking life, my purpose had changed. I had come to get quiet—and talk to God. Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian, once described God as "wholly other." I used to think of Him that way. Distant. Apart, A Creator removed from His creation.
Last summer, though, I discovered Him as Abba. He's my Daddy, and He loves me far more than I loved my sons who accompanied me on the trip. The last morning of the hunt, the alarm went off at 4 a.m. Rather than going out. I opted to stay in camp alone. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and listened as the men dressed, checked their weapons and quietly made their way outside.
I heard someone start the big swamp buggy. Minutes later, men aboard, it rumbled out into the darkness, its oversized airplane tires squishing across the swamp, taking the men to their tree stands.
Just before dawn, I got up, dressed and walked outside. The brilliant stars provided light as I found a huge oak that formed a natural chapel. I sat on a low branch, my back against the rough bark of the trunk, watching as the sun resurrected the world. Few things on earth match the beauty of a Florida sunrise over the Everglades.
by Jamie Buckingham
The summer after I graduated from high school, my father had surgery for a double hernia. The operation was performed in a small hospital in Asheville, N.C., near my parents' summer cabin in Hendersonville.
In those days, it was customary to employ a private nurse because there were very few hospital staff nurses available. The surgeon recommended a mountain woman by the name of Julia Baldwin. Julia was typical of the raw-boned, hard-working women who live in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
She came into my father's room the morning he was to have surgery. "Praise the Lord," she said, grinning. "Let's pray!" I was embarrassed. It was a critical time in my life. I was getting ready to leave for college. I wanted a relationship with God, but I was afraid of what that might mean.
Now here comes this ruddy-faced, middle-aged woman—bubbling like Alka-Seltzer in water. She assumed, when she heard I was enrolled at a Christian college, that I had a relationship with Jesus.
"Come visit my church," she said. "You'll love it," There was no way to back out. The following Sunday, using my mother's car, I drove out to the little Christian and Missionary Alliance church.
The service was just starting. The people were singing and clapping. I'd never heard this kind of music. Julia was in the choir. She saw me come in, grinned and waved, motioning me to join her. I was terrified. People turned and looked. Then, incredibly, she came down out of the choir loft, took my arm, and suddenly I was up there—singing and clapping my hands with the rest of the congregation. I loved it!
It was the first time in all my life I had been in a church service with vigor, and the people responded vocally—with even more vigor. I had only heard of folks who said "Amen!" in church. Now I was surrounded by them. That morning of my 18th year, sitting in the little choir loft of a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, something sparked in my heart.
This was what I had been looking for and didn't even know existed. I ventured out and said my first hesitant "Amen!" It felt good. After church. Julia took me to her house. I still remember he location on Merrimon Avenue.
She fed me lunch and talked about God. She was the only person I had ever met who talked about Him in the present tense. She was also the first person I had ever warned to tell all the sins in my life. As I was leaving, she gave me a book with a green dust jacket. It was called Rees Howells, Intercessor by Norman Grubb. "It will save your life," she said. I mumbled my embarrassed thanks and left.
by Jamie Buckingham
When I was in high school, I had a football coach who met every player at the sideline as he came off the field, shook his hand and said, "Good job!" I remember very little else about him—but I remember that.
No matter how badly I had played, he shook my hand when I came off the field. Under his coaching, we went undefeated for two years. An incredible feat for a tiny Florida school with a graduating class of 58.
One New Year's Day, after our second undefeated season, he took the entire team—all 33 of us—to the Orange Bowl in Miami. His alma mater, the University of Tennessee, was playing, and he had gotten us tickets. He piled us into a bus and drove 130 mites down the coast, coming back the same night.
It was his way of thanking us for a great season. The next summer we heard he had been fired. There might have been other reasons, but the one we were given was that the Quarterback Club—a group of businessmen who met on Monday mornings in the local drugstore to discuss Friday night games—said the coach had lied on his application.
He was not a graduate of the University of Tennessee. He had gone to a much smaller school. Some said he had never even played college ball. They said he was just a super-promoter who had fooled a bunch of folks. We kids didn't even get to tell him goodbye. When we reported for practice two weeks before school began, there was a new coach on the field.
"He was a fake," we were told. "We don't need someone like that in our town." We didn't know about that. All we knew was that he won ball games. He taught morality. If he heard us cussing, we ran laps until we dropped.
When he found out our star fullback was bragging about his sexual exploits, he benched him. We loved our coach because he was tough—but clean. And because he gave us confidence. I remember the Sunday night before the big Thanksgiving game with our longtime rival.
by Steve Strang
Author/pastor Jamie Buckingham had a huge impact on my life and on our organization. He encouraged me to start Ministry Today and wrote in it many times. He served as editor several years before his untimely death in February 1992.
You can read some of Jamie's best "Last Word" columns for Charisma that were chosen by his family and the magazine's article on Jamie's passing. Additionally, you can write your own tribute or reflections about him by commenting on the various articles.
by T.J. Buckingham
I recently made the very picturesque journey from my hometown, Melbourne, Fla., to the beautiful, small city of Vero Beach, Fla.
This quaint old city has the prudence of huge oak hammocks as well as the tropical views of giant palm trees. The air is persistently humid and filled with the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms, with an occasional trace of the not-so-sweet Indian River.
I absolutely love Vero Beach because of the wonderful memories of my grandfather, Jamie Buckingham, that resurfaces whenever I visit. This particular trip was special because I made it with my grandmother and Jamie's widow, Jackie Buckingham.
I had the ultimate tour guide, and she didn't disappoint. We drove by Vero Beach High School, and I saw her eyes light up as she recalled all of the mischievous things my grandfather had done in his youth like racing his old Ford pick-up truck as fast as it would go down the steel railroad tracks.
As I listened, it was obvious why she never remarried. Jamie's playful spirit and tendencies to be unpredictable had won her over as a teenager, and she was still very much in love with him two decades after his passing in February 1992.
She recalled with a laugh how she had to wait to wear her engagement ring until she was enrolled in college because my great grandfather, Walter Buckingham or "Daddy B" as we all called him, said that it would not be proper for her to wear it while still in high school.
We even drove down to the Baptist church where my grandfather spent his summer home from college as the acting youth pastor—his first real role in ministry. I suppose that was where he had his calling confirmed as he spent the rest of his life in ministry.
As part of the January-February issue on social transformation of Ministry Today, James Robison, the president of Life Outreach International and the co-host of the Life Today television program, wrote a challenging and informative column on what pastors and churches can do to help avert a cultural tsunami.
You can read Robison's timely "Turning The Tide" article in the magazine's latest issue by clicking here. He explains why the church has failed to change the culture largely because of our lack of unity.
In the social transformation issue, which goes beyond political activism. Guest Editor Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. invited other outstanding authors such as Chuck Colson, David Barton and Tony Perkins to write. The end result is something much more powerful—an issue on social transformation, which involves being involved politically. Read it and be transformed, so you can in turn transform society.
Now is the perfect time to subscribe to Ministry Today. A great gift idea for Easter, we're currently offering a special promotion that includes evangelist Reinhard Bonnke's "Full Flame" DVD series and the ESV (English Standard Version) Thinline Bible with a paid subscription. It's $100-plus worth of resources for $24.97. Click here to subscribe to Ministry Today.