DURHAM, N.C. (BP)–Appreciation and celebration permeated the funeral of evangelist Ted Stone, who died July 16 “doing what he loved to do,” several observers said at the July 21 gathering at Grace Baptist Church in Durham, N.C.
Stone gained national notoriety by walking across the United States three times, attempting to draw attention to the problems of and cure for drug addiction.
Frank Zedick, a former pastor of Grace Baptist where Stone was a member, told the crowd of about 150 people that Stone, in his younger life, claimed to know God, was a church member and was involved in ministry.
“But then he took a detour,” Zedick said. That detour included drug addiction and a string of robberies, during the last of which Stone shot a man and was later convicted of armed robbery and attempted murder.
Zedick said the first place Stone wanted to go after his release from prison was to Grace Baptist Church. That’s where Stone “accepted his course correction,” the pastor said, “and came back to faithfully serve the Lord.”
Zedick noted three motivating characteristics that led Stone to walk across the United States three times and to attempt a fourth such trek at the age of 72.
“Necessity was laid upon him,” Zedick said, like that of the Apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel.”
Dedication was the second characteristic describing Stone’s ministry. “Ted gave it his best shot,” Zedick said, remarking that Stone had preached in more than 3,000 churches.
“A great cloud of support” also characterized Stone’s ministry, Zedick said, noting that Stone’s wife, Ann, “never left, never forsook, continually supported, was always faithful and is to this moment.”
Chris Doll, Stone’s grandson, said his grandfather “kept hand-delivering his message of hope” despite the cautions of doctors after Stone survived a bout with colon cancer.
Saying his grandfather’s “geographic tracks resemble Forrest Gump’s,” Doll gestured toward the casket and said, “Ted Stone walked out of that earthly form right there and into his Master’s arms.”
Doll related several ways that Stone had impacted his life, including the evangelist’s generosity.
“My grandfather’s financial resources -– sometimes they were few -– were almost always going out of his pockets and into the hands of those who had need,” said Doll, who also noted the grace and persistence in ministry that marked Stone’s life.
“These characteristics were characteristics of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry,” Doll said. “I want to tell you this morning that there’s no greater love a grandfather could ever have for his grandson than to show how to live like Jesus did. And that’s what my grandfather, Ted Stone, did, absolutely.”
“A great and mighty man has gone to be with the Lord,” said Steve Cobb, pastor of Temple Baptist Church in New Bern. N.C.
Cobb highlighted Stone’s wide-ranging notoriety by referring to a website dedicated to the evangelist’s ministry and memory, saying the site had received more than 19 million hits in the few days immediately after Stone’s death.
“If you can count the friends you have on one hand, you are a blessed individual,” Cobb said.
Citing several Bible verses to help describe Stone, Cobb said, “A friend loves at all times…. A friend sticks closer than a brother…. The wounds of a friend can be trusted.”
Stone was the kind of friend who “walks into your life when everyone else is walking out,” Cobb said.
Saying he was one among many who Stone had helped to turn toward God, Cobb noted that the nine years of his own drug abuse were wearing thin and that he was contemplating suicide when he first heard of Stone.
Cobb’s father had asked his son to meet with Stone. Cobb’s reply was, “Is it going to be about this Jesus stuff?” Cobb eventually relented, however, met with Stone and faced not only Stone’s probing questions, but also grew to trust, respect and to love him.
On a Saturday night months later, Cobb was driving home after consuming liquor, barbiturates and marijuana. Cobb told Baptist Press in a later interview, “I remember thinking that night, if this is all there is to life, I’m going to end it.”
It was at this desperation point that Cobb remembered Stone was scheduled to preach at a nearby church the next morning. So, suffering from a hangover, Cobb went to hear Stone tell of “what a wreck of a life he had — most people would never have recovered from that — and how God took him. The Lord came in his heart, gave him God’s power for daily living and gave him a home in heaven and purpose.”
Stone’s sermon and God’s power impacted Cobb so that he turned from a life of drugs and rebellion and committed his life to Jesus Christ that day.
“You did it boy, you did it,” Cobb’s father told his son as they embraced. “And nine years of hatred and animosity and drug destruction was washed in the blood of Jesus and settled at the cross,” Cobb said.
Twenty-five years later, Cobb is pastor of a church that drew more than 1,800 for its initial service in new facilities June 25. When Cobb arrived there as pastor eight years ago, active church membership was 150. And it was Stone who sent Cobb’s resume and name for the church’s consideration.
“I will be forever indebted to Ted Stone for being the instrument through whom God led me to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ,” Cobb said.
Pointing indiscriminately at various people in the crowd, Cobb said of Stone’s ministry, “I know he has passed the mantle to me, and to you, and to you, and to you, and to others here to keep on keepin’ on walking with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Sean Reece, described as a “son in the ministry” by Stone, also spoke of how Stone had helped him turn from a life of drugs and rebellion and led him to faith in Jesus Christ. Serving as a driver and ministry assistant, Reece accompanied Stone on his most recent attempt to traverse America.
Philip Barber, a former heroin addict rescued by Stone, also spoke at the memorial service. Noting the compassion of Stone, Barber said he’d seen him capture a mosquito in his hands and launch it through an open door and back into the night air.
The comparison was obvious: Stone’s compassion knew no limits. Barber, who helps direct Ted Stone Ministries, said Stone “entered an east Dallas neighborhood where life was cheap and death was abundant.”
Recounting the event, Barber said Stone rescued him from a drug distribution house where he was trapped in a life of heroin addiction. Stone essentially took Barber to a hotel for a week and helped him kick the habit.
Barber said he awoke one time after passing out in the throes of withdrawal. “There was no ambulance, there was no E.M.T. There was an old man lying prostrate on the floor, crying out to God to save me. And He did.
“I had been told by professionals that drug addiction was a progressively incurable disease,” Barber said. But he related that God used Stone to confound what the professionals had said.
“Ted Stone never gave up on me. He believed in me and loved me when it was unreasonable to do so,” Barber said. “Ted is responsible for saving my life as well as leading me to salvation in Christ.”
A high school dropout, Barber said he is now a seminary student because of Stone.
Both Reece and Barber are students at separate Southern Baptist institutions because of Stone’s generosity. Reece attends Southeastern College at Wake Forest, N.C., and Barber attends Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Both schools have established a Ted Stone scholarship fund to which memorials may be sent to assist students in their studies; for further information, prospective donors may call Southwestern at 1-888-467-9287; Southeastern, 919-556-0998.
Southern Baptist leaders, meanwhile, continued to voice appreciation for Stone.
Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Stone was “a Southern Baptist Jeremiah. Like that Old Testament prophet, with a tear in his eye and a catch in his voice, Ted proclaimed, with both zeal and pathos, the devastation of drugs on people, families, churches and our nation. In doing so, however, he never left people without hope.
“He knew from personal experience that Christ was the answer and that His power in the lives of yielded believers could overcome any problem, including the ravages of drug addiction,” Land said. “His vibrant testimony will be missed, but we can take comfort in the fact that we know he is now in the arms of Jesus.”
William F. Harrell, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee and pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., described Stone as “a giant of the faith who lived his convictions about the changing power of Jesus Christ. I remember having him at Abilene Baptist Church and our people were blessed beyond measure by his testimony which gives hope to everyone who will accept Christ as their Savior. The Southern Baptist Convention is a much better place because Ted Stone was among us. While we have personal sorrow at his departure, we are happy that our paths in life crossed with his, for we are much better as a result.”