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Bombing was turning point in preacher & son’s relationship

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Ralph Crawford Sr. and his son, Ralph, are celebrating a new dimension to their relationship.

The elder Crawford, who retired in 1990 after 25 years as pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, and his son, an Oklahoma City firefighter, swap tapes of their favorite preachers and talk enthusiastically about what Jesus is doing in them and around them.

“Talk about a total transformation,” said the younger Crawford, 49. “You can ask my parents.”

Transformation came, but only after many years of his parents’ prayers and patient love.

“I didn’t have any more leverage to do anything to make him change,” Crawford Sr. said. “So, consequently, everywhere I went to preach, I asked the people to pray that the Lord would make him so miserable that he wouldn’t be happy until he got back in church.”

The younger Crawford said he always felt conviction, but he didn’t respond until an event six years ago shook him out of his spiritual stupor.

The morning started bright and crisp. Crawford had finished his shift as a firefighter, gone home and cleaned up for his off-duty job at a tennis center.

But upon arriving, his boss told him fire officials were hunting him and needed him to report for duty.

Moments later he found himself standing between two colleagues on a downtown street, peering up and around at unspeakable horror.

The scene in front of the devastated Murrah Federal Building seemed eerily still, Crawford recalled, except that the sound of paper and debris in the offices above whipped back and forth in the springtime breeze and seemed to ring loudly in his ears.

“Can you hear that noise?” Crawford asked the fellow fireman standing beside him.

“He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Ralph, those are angels’ wings.’

“And from that moment on I realized something had changed … that [God] was trying to get my attention. Over the next hours, days and weeks that we were down there, these things were on my heart,” he said.

During the difficult days of search and recovery that followed, Crawford said he was overwhelmed by the gratitude expressed by total strangers in cards, letters and even flowers on his doorstep when he was able to go home for a few hours of rest.

Crawford Sr. said the many years their son rebelled against God were an “awful burden” for him and his wife, Beverly.

At age 8 Crawford Jr. made a profession of faith, but his interest in discipleship waned as he grew older. After joining the Army and later becoming an Oklahoma City firefighter, Crawford said he attended church occasionally to hold a membership and to “pretty much keep Mom and Dad off my back.”

He said a divorce and a series of disappointments embittered him.

“I prayed. But only when I was in trouble. To me, this is as bad as being a drug addict or sex offender. Here I was, scoffing at God. That’s why I’m so moved now when we praise the Lord and I think of his grace toward me.

“As an Oklahoma City firefighter I lived the life I wanted to live, did things I’m not proud of, said things I’m not proud of — just pretty much lived in the gutter, all the time thinking this was happiness and all the time it wasn’t.

“There was a constant tug that was always present. I remember it distinctly and I just kept turning my back.”

After the bombing, Crawford Sr. recounted, his son began having “very serious thoughts about life, consequences of living, and so on.”

As the months passed after the tragedy, Crawford Jr. began reading his Bible, tuning in to radio and television preachers and attending church more.

He also met a woman, Laura Herriage, who later became his wife. “We started going to church and doing things together. The Lord was using [Laura] to teach me some of the things I needed to know. Not just Bible stuff or spiritual stuff, but just things in life that I had totally messed up.”

A few months later, in fall 1996, Crawford and Herriage, an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate who taught English and helped start churches in Russia for several years, were married.

“God kinda put me on a crash course and he knew I had to have a live-in teacher, so he sent her along,” Crawford said of Laura, who teaches seventh-grade English.

While dating, they attended and later joined Heritage Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, where Laura sings in the choir and Crawford is involved in the prayer ministry.

Crawford Sr., who still preaches frequently as an interim pastor or in revival meetings, said his son kept giving him sermon tapes of the pastor at Heritage, Dan Maxwell. At a recent revival meeting in which Crawford Sr. was preaching, he introduced the oldest of his two sons, who had slipped into the service.

“This is the kid I had you all pray for, and right now he’s driving me crazy listening to tapes from church, from Chuck Swindoll, wanting me to hear this and that — and he’s driven me crazy to the point that I had to join his church.

“I’m just as engrossed in his church as he was before we joined there, and it just thrills his soul to know that his dad is following in his footsteps now,” Crawford Sr. said.

For Crawford Jr., life is markedly different than 10 or 12 years ago.

“What makes it even better is my children [ages 19 and 13] have a Christian walk and now they’re seeing their dad have a walk with the Lord, not use the language that he did before, not act the way he did before, not have the self-centered attitude, but just seeing me rely upon the Lord.”

His newfound zeal for God has strengthened the relationship of father and son, Crawford Sr. said. “It’s like [the apostle] Paul said to the Romans — ‘I long to see you that I might impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end that you and I could be established in the faith.'”

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  • Jerry Pierce