News Articles

Hefleys remembered as passionate about family, faith & writing

HANNIBAL, Mo. (BP)–The lives of Jim Hefley, the key chronicler of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, and his wife, Marti, a distinguished writer in her own right, were celebrated in a memorial service June 5.

Mark Albee, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Hannibal, Mo., where the service was held, stood behind an easel with a portrait of Jim and another with a portrait of Marti — both painted by one of the Hefleys’ daughters — as he noted the “hope” the duo had as they “kept an eye heavenward for the promise that was theirs.”

In addition to Albee, the memorial service — held, as it turned out, on the same day President Ronald Reagan died — included remembrances by several family members, along with family friend Larry Lewis, former president of the SBC Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and, representing the SBC, Phil Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

James “Jim” C. Hefley Jr., 74, who hailed from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, died March 20; his wife, Martha “Marti” Lou Smedley Hefley, 70, a Michigan native, died May 30. They were married in New Orleans in 1953.

Jim Hefley, a prolific writer as well as a teacher and pastor, authored the popular five-volume “Truth in Crisis” series, which culminated in 1991 with “The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.” He was writer-in-residence at Hannibal-LaGrange College in Missouri.

Marti Hefley, meanwhile, was a communications instructor at the college, a writer and a trustee of the SBC’s former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board).

“We have a big void in our hearts and lives,” said Albee, standing near the matching urns holding the Hefleys’ remains.

“But we have hope,” Albee said. “We come together today to celebrate life, for Marti and Jim knew life, more abundant and free because of their relationship with Jesus Christ. And this day … they are more alive than they have ever been, in the presence of their living God.”

In heaven, “Jim’s mind is clear and concise; he’s got his notepad out, taking notes of all the things that are going on before him,” Albee speculated, referring to the last decade when Hefley suffered from Parkinson’s disease. “Imagine the book he’s writing now.”

Of Marti in heaven, Albee said “her eyes twinkle and her smile has never faded and is even bigger.”

“They have gathered before the Lord Jesus; truly He has welcomed them home.”

Lewis was president at Hannibal-LaGrange College when the Hefleys were invited to teach there and he then became HMB president. He now serves as a missions pastor and a facilitator for Mission America.

In remembering the Hefleys, Lewis said he and his wife, Betty Jo, had “a special bonding and binding with these two people that just enriched our lives tremendously.”

Jim “always had a joke, a story, an anecdote, something funny to say,” Lewis said. “Not griping, not murmuring, complaining, but [he was] always one who lifted your spirits.”

Lewis also noted that the Hefleys both “were strong supporters for the pro-life movement.” Lewis said he met Hefley amid efforts for a pro-life resolution at a particularly important SBC annual meeting in the 1970s and learned of Hefley’s belief that grass-roots Southern Baptists would be surprised at the pro-choice attitudes evident at some of the SBC’s entities at the time.

“What an encourager he was. What a superb reporter,” Lewis said, recalling Hefley’s coverage of the SBC’s annual meetings. “He would be walking those corridors with that notebook in hand, he would be asking questions, he would be interviewing anybody and everybody on every side of every issue. And if you wanted an exact, incisive report of the SBC, you wouldn’t get it at the state papers, you got it from CT [Christianity Today] or Moody Monthly. His incisive mind and his brilliant mind brought the best reporting of the SBC … of anybody.”

As president of HLG, Lewis said he was grateful for Jim’s contribution in assisting faculty members in writing, establishing the Mark Twain Writer’s Conference and in teaching a writing class.

Lewis recalled telling James Hefley to do one more thing at the time — to begin writing a book for people who want to understand the theological crisis that had enveloped the SBC. People would accept a book written by someone with the proper credentials, such as Hefley who had a Ph.D. in mass communications, Lewis had reasoned. “‘… I don’t know what way it’s going to go and who is going to win that conflict,'” he told Hefley, “‘but as long as this planet exists, people are going to be interested in the details of that.'”

Above all, Lewis said, Jim was dedicated to God and to his family.

“I want you to know that he loved you, and about every time we got together … he always had something to say about his family. He loved his family,” Lewis told the gathering.

Of Marti, Lewis said three words were appropriate to describe her — joy, smart and love.

“I never saw her when there wasn’t a big smile from ear to ear,” Lewis said. “I never knew her when she wasn’t happy. Even in the misery of her physical pain, there was joy in her heart and soul.” He said his last memory of Marti is of the big smile on her face just before she slipped into unconsciousness days before her death.

Of her time as a trustee at the HMB, Lewis said she was “smart” and had knowledge of almost every subject. She was known to cut through red tape and get to the core of the mission organization’s purpose — “Christ-centered redemptive ministry.”

“It always amazed me how we could get caught up in some kind of conflict and some kind of verbal fisticuffs and she would step in with some incisive words and she would cut to the chase,” Lewis said. “She cut right to the heart of what we were about.”

Jim Hefley’s younger brother, Howard Jean “Ozark Monk” Hefley, one of six surviving siblings, said he would never forget the impact preaching had on Jim, who, early in life, had operated a gambling business out of his parents’ country store.

“James got saved and got religious and beat those old slot machines up to pieces,” recalled “Monk,” the subject of one of Jim’s country books in a series which began with a classic “Way Back in the Hills.”

Speaking emotionally of both her mother and her father, Cheri Grace Hefley Grubbs of Chattanooga, Tenn., who spent the last seven months caring for her parents in their Hannibal, Mo., home, said she would remember her dad as her “hero” and the “kindest person I ever knew.”

A registered nurse with two children of her own, Grubbs said her “greatest goal” is to be “just a little bit of the person” her dad was.

“I know that we say as Christians that we are supposed to be like Jesus; but my dad actually did that,” Grubbs said.

“My mom was the bravest person that I ever knew,” she continued. “For the last year and a half she had terrible illness and she suffered so much for the last few months.

She never complained, she never was bitter, she was thankful, she praised the Lord, and she always smiled. She’s my inspiration. I know that the love she gave me will be in my heart forever.”

Roberts brought greetings on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention and two of the SBC’s entity presidents, Robert E. Reccord of the North American Mission Board and Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

As a former head of the HMB’s interfaith witness department, Roberts said he had worked with the Hefleys on many occasions when Marti was a trustee.

“They were always together; it was like having two trustees in one, and they were always very interested in the work of interfaith witness,” Roberts said.

Roberts cited one of the many books the Hefleys co-authored — “By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century,” which received a Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in 1980, as a “very important publication” during a century in which American Christians have had so much to be thankful for.

Speaking to Hefley’s Truth in Crisis series and his “Hefley Report” in the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, Roberts said the writings were inspiring to him and many others.

“[I] eagerly looked forward, every year, to the next issues, realizing that we would get a faithful and courageous presentation of the realities of our convention, in faithfulness to the Scripture and [with] a priority on evangelism and missions,” Roberts said.

Roberts said Midwestern Seminary moved to establish the James C. Hefley Chair of Christian Writing a few years ago, but, he reported, “Unfortunately, due to a change of administration, that chair did not develop as we would have it.” The seminary will redirect funds from the project to provide a conference room in memory of Jim and Marti Hefley at facilities MBTS currently is renovating.

Roberts said the room will house the Hefleys’ portraits as well as copies of their books, “so that when we gather to do significant work for the Kingdom of God, the important contribution of these servants of God will be remembered.”

Roberts presented a certificate to the Hefleys’ children drafted on behalf of the leadership at MBTS, the ERLC and NAMB.

It noted that “thousands upon thousands of people throughout our globe have been enriched and strengthened through the writings, teaching, and witnessing of the Hefley family. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the North American Mission Board, and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have also benefited greatly from their service and faithfulness…. Missourians have been favored because the Hefleys lived and loved among them for so many years. Our remembrance and appreciation of them will endure for a long time. May the sorrow of this day be softened by an awareness of how wonderful they lived and cared for the Lord and for His people.”

Jim Hefley held the Bachelor of Arts degree from Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Ark., a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.

Marti Hefley, a native of Traverse City, Mich., earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible from Hannibal-LaGrange College and also completed courses at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Mississippi College.

They are survived by three daughters and their husbands, Cyndi Joy and Kent Taylor of Hannibal, Mo.; Cecilia Faith and Ernest Benoit of Chattanooga; and Cheri Grace and Steve Gruggs of Chattanooga; and eight grandchildren.

Memorials may be made on Jim’s behalf to the James C. Hefley Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o James O’Donnell Funeral Home, 302 Fifty St., Hannibal, MO 63401, and on Marti’s behalf to Blessing Hospice, Quincy, Ill. Midwestern Seminary also is accepting donations to the “Hefley Fund” at MBTS, 5001 N. Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64118.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com. She is a 1992 graduate of Hannibal-LaGrange College and a former student of both Jim and Marti Hefley.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan