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Grandfather, father, son span 98 years of evangelistic fervor

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The smell of sawdust. The cool breeze rustling the heat of the day into the night air as it tousles the corners of an enormous canvas tent. Hymns drifting from horns or keyboards. The words, “If you met Jesus tonight …” haunting the lost and comforting the homesick.
An old-fashioned tent revival, as familiar to yesterday’s generations as it is unfamiliar to today’s. At least one Texas family, however, believes in the revival meeting, adding even now to a 98-year, three-generation ministry.
C.L. “Les” Randall called the church and the lost to repentance in the early 1900s. His son, Bob, followed in his footsteps mid-century. As the century closes, his grandson, Rob, continues fulfilling the family calling.
“Our story is about how, in God’s wonderful calling, he blesses the generations,” said Rob. “We talk often about how sin visits the generations. So do the blessings of the Lord.”
These blessings began when a young musician traveled with his family from Oklahoma to Arkansas to head the southern office of Hope Publications in 1924. Les entered a singing contest, winning an opera contract, but he had no peace with the opportunity.
Les wanted to sing for the Lord and soon found places to sing and preach. He became known as the state evangelist for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in the 1930s.
His assignment: hold three-week tent revival meetings to teach churches how to win their communities for Christ. Flat-bed trailers would pick up 500 to 600 people to attend the meetings. Les formed “Booster Bands,” which taught children songs and Scripture, sponsored contests and dressed the children in rainbow colors.
A woman at First Baptist Church, Albuquerque, N.M., told Rob she had been in a Booster Band and had become a Christian during one of his grandfather’s revivals. She later served as a Southern Baptist missionary in Africa.
For the evangelist, Rob said, fruit sometimes doesn’t appear immediately but often remains long after the evangelist is gone.
Rob still meets people who say of his grandfather, “We never knew anyone with more compassion for souls.” When Les went to the annual Southern Baptist Convention, he would bring his trombone and play it on a street corner. After a crowd gathered, he would preach.
Bob grew up in churches pastored by evangelists like Joe Henry Hankins at First Baptist, Little Rock, Ark., or by pastors committed to using evangelists, like Robert Naylor at First Baptist, Arkadelphia, Ark. A piano prodigy, Bob also entered the evangelism ministry through music. He sang and played more than 2,000 memorized hymns on his trombone, crystal glasses and seven-foot Baldwin “portable” grand piano bolted to a platform that he took from crusade to crusade.
As a teen he traveled with cowboy preacher B.B. Crimm, who reached people who would never darken a church door. Crimm’s meetings would not end until God began to work as proved by the closing of the town’s picture show and pool hall.
Rob, too, believes the longer an evangelistic meeting the better, recalling his grandfather’s words, “You can’t pop corn on a cold skillet.”
“It took the first week to get the church ready, so rarely were people saved until the end of the two weeks,” said Rob, who still holds eight-day meetings.
“It takes time to see that righteousness is better than compromise,” he added.
“It took our forefathers a long time, and we wonder why we don’t see a movement of the Lord today,” Rob lamented.
Rob first ministered with the gospel group “Song of Deliverance,” during the Jesus Movement days. Blessed musically like his father and grandfather, Rob sings and plays the trumpet, guitar and crystal glasses.
Traveling with the gospel group, Rob soon realized he had the gift of evangelism. He saw 300 saved at a concert at North Texas State University.
Like his father and grandfather, Rob entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. L.R. Scarborough, the first-ever evangelism professor, was president when Les attended in the 1920s. Bob, a grader for C.E. Autry, the first full-time professor of evangelism, graduated with his master of divinity in 1960.
Rob credits much of his evangelist know-how to Roy Fish, distinguished professor of evangelism, and James Eaves, professor emeritus of evangelism.
Southwestern was the perfect fit for the family of evangelists.
“If the seminary had not been a stronghold in evangelism training, we would have gone somewhere else,” Rob said.
The seminary’s evangelistic precedent began when Southwestern was just a vision in founder B.H. Carroll’s heart, recounted Fish, who added the seminary was the first to offer courses in evangelism and, in 1955, the first to have a full-time evangelism professor.
The two presidents after Carroll, Scarborough and E.D. Head, taught evangelism in addition to their presidential duties. The evangelism department now has four professors and offers master’s and doctoral degrees.
After earning an M.Div. in 1981, Rob left his pastorate to answer God’s call to vocational evangelism.
He told his wife, Pattie, they had enough money for six months and “after that we will probably crash and burn. But evangelism is in my heart. I have to try it even if I fail.”
God has been faithful. In Rob’s 21 years of crusades — including three with his father — he has preached more than 500 revivals and crusades overseas and throughout many of the 50 states. His father preached 47 years and 1,100 crusades worldwide. His grandfather ministered 30 years in more than 400 crusades and revivals.
An evangelist’s life is forever a step of faith. Bob, in his early years of ministry, traveled to Europe just after World War II with Jess Moody and other young evangelists where they worked with Billy Graham.
Moody recalled when he and Bob missed their flight from Cannes, France, to Rome. The next day, they read in the newspaper the plane had crashed.
“We both went out onto the porch of our hotel and sang in loud voices, ‘His Eye Is On the Sparrow,'” Moody said, adding they never preached again without thanking God they had missed the flight.
Rob said his father would raise just enough money to get to a destination, stay and preach until he had enough funds to return to America. His father would preach wherever God provided an invitation, from the “county seat to the creek bottom,” at times preaching from water towers using a bullhorn.
Rob follows his father’s advice, scheduling the first firm date regardless of the size of the church.
Living by faith is not easy, but Rob believes it gives his message “an edge and a clarity.”
“I can’t call people to live by faith if I don’t live by it,” he said.
Acknowledging that the Holy Spirit alone makes crusades work, Rob said man-made revivals result in “churches full of people without commitment — they aren’t tithers or soul winners.”
Rob still prefers a tent because they attract people, “especially in the countryside where you can still capture a whole community for Christ in a tent.”
In 1998, 50,000 “revival” meetings were held in Southern Baptist churches, according to Fish, despite the influence of the church growth movement and “more innovative churches” away from revival meetings.
Although he believes churches not using revival meetings are the exception, Fish said many Southern Baptists fail to appreciate the vocational evangelists’ role to be a part of the ministry of the church as it was in the first century.
The evangelist has the special gift of communicating the gospel anywhere in the world, Rob said.
“Evangelists are the attack troops at the very front lines — they go in first and break down walls,” Moody said, adding more evangelists are needed today.
“God has always used the evangelist to call men to repentance,” he said. “Once the church gets right with God and cleansing comes, evangelism automatically follows.”
Rob and his wife have tried not to call their children into evangelism because “that’s God’s business.” His oldest son is pursuing the music ministry and his youngest feels called to preach. His daughter, Christina, a music student, is the fourth-generation Randall to attend Southwestern.
Meantime, Rob continues to fulfill his call. “There are more lost people today than yesterday, so an evangelist’s work is never done. I want to call people to repentance. It’s something Randalls do. This is not only my lineage, this is my life.”

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  • Cindy Kerr