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Pastor ventures to ‘Millionaire’ show, misses ‘hot seat,’ shares his faith

SCRANTON, Ark. (BP)–He may not have gained a fortune, but he gave away the greatest treasure of all.

As a recent contestant on the popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show, Arkansas Baptist pastor Les Frazer did not emerge an instant millionaire. Frazer, who program officials said was the first-ever senior pastor to appear on the prime-time ABC television program, did not move beyond being one of 10 semifinalists on the top-rated program — which aired nationwide April 12. But Frazer did have the chance to award many others the riches found in Christ.

“Although I didn’t make it to the ‘hot seat’ or win any money, I did have the opportunity to basically share the gospel message with a whole lot of folks,” said Frazer, pastor of First Baptist Church, Scranton, located near Fort Smith. The “hot seat” is the ultimate goal of contestants where they have the opportunity to win up to $1 million as a result of answering a variety of trivia questions posed by show host Regis Philbin.

Noting that prior to the taping of the New York City show he had developed several “sermon illustrations” depicting elements of the famed program, Frazer said he later had the opportunity to share a few of these Christian examples and principles with a number of people. Among this crowd were the program’s producers who questioned him about his life, family and ministry during a pre-show interview.

Frazer’s illustrations included “Heaven or hell: What will be your final answer?,” “Lifeline: The Lord is our lifeline” and “Poll the audience: It is not always best to follow the crowd.”

He also had the opportunity to inform producers about his ministry as a Christian clown. Noting that the producers “really were looking forward to having Les in the ‘hot seat,'” his wife Kathy said, “they already had a bunch of animal balloons that they were going to have Regis present to Les. That could have been a neat witnessing experience.”

Back home in Arkansas, Frazer’s “million dollar” story caught the eyes of many. Several media outlets, including an ABC affiliate in Fort Smith and Scranton-area radio stations and newspapers, interviewed him about his experiences and his sermon illustrations. In recent weeks, a Los Angeles Times reporter, who had heard of the pastor’s story from another contestant, telephoned Frazer inquiring about his recent adventure.

“First Channel 40 aired my entire sermon illustration and then the L.A. Times called,” he enthusiastically recounted. “There is no telling how many people have heard it [the gospel].”

It was his passion for trivia that first prompted Frazer to try out for the “Millionaire” show. “I’ve always been a trivia buff, and so I thought I’d give it a try,” he noted, adding that “I never imagined that I would make it as a contestant on the show.”

According to the show’s Internet site, Frazer was in fact fortunate to have made it as a contestant. An average of 240,000 people telephone the show on each “contestant day” seeking the chance to become a participant. Of these, only 6 percent will answer three questions correctly within the time specified in order to advance to a semifinal playoff.

As one of the lucky ones, Frazer became eligible for a random drawing of all players from the same contestant day who had answered all three questions correctly. His name was then one of 40 drawn by officials, qualifying him for the playoff. As a result, he received a telephone call from officials who again asked him five additional questions.

Correctly responding to these trivia inquiries, Frazer was then selected in a computerized random drawing as one of 10 people who each received a trip to New York City with a companion. Frazer’s selection awarded him and his wife airline transportation to the Big Apple, accommodations and the opportunity to compete on the show.

The trip itself was an unforgettable experience for the duo, especially Kathy who had never visited the big city. Noting that she had spent most of her life in southwest Missouri and Arkansas among “Christian circles,” Kathy said the trip “opened my eyes to the vast, multi-cultural world — a world that needs Jesus.”

“So often we as Christians get caught up and so busy with our own lives that we tend to forget there is another realm out there that does not know the Lord,” she said. “Seeing the many different cultures of people living in New York helped give me a new view of the world and their need for Christ.”

Her opinion of game shows hosts and Hollywood personalities changed as a result of her trip, she added. “Many times we sit at home and watch these type shows and idolize these people and their lives,” she said. “After meeting them, I learned that they are just regular people who in some way or another need to know the Lord.”

Les Frazer said his church family was very supportive of his opportunity to be a part of the show. Noting that he had planned to take a few vacation days to travel to New York, Frazer said his congregation decided to “just give me the days off.”

“They even let me miss a Wednesday night service, and it was a business meeting,” he jokingly said. “I think they were looking forward to getting that 10 percent” of his possible winnings.

Throughout the entire game show process, Kathy said that she and her husband had sought God’s guidance. “We prayed the whole time, not that we would win a lot of money — although that would have been very nice — but that the Lord would make this opportunity what he wanted it to be,” she said. “He did just that by allowing Les to minister and share [the gospel message] with so many people.”

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  • Stella Anderson Prather