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They’re emissaries for God in unusual ways, unusual places

ST. LOUIS (BP)–A tall, bearded man clad in fatigues leaped from the taxicab in front of one of the city’s most prestigious hotels. The alert bellman quickly inquired of the stranger, whose ponytail extended to his waist, “Are you dropping off or picking up?”

Richard Headrick, president and chairman of the board of 13 national and international corporations, tried to politely explain to the hotel employee that he was not the taxi driver but that he and his wife, Gina, along with their pilot and his wife would be registering as guests of the Adam’s Mark hotel.

The couple had just arrived in St. Louis in their own private airplane, inspired from a hurried 19-day, nine-country tour of encouragement visiting students from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who are finishing their missions degrees by two years of evangelism and ministry on the field.

Richard and Gina spend more than 270 days a year away from their homes in Laurel, Miss., and southeastern Wyoming, sometimes traveling for business purposes, but most often making spiritual connections in countries quite hostile to the gospel of Christ.

Headrick, however, was not always committed to such noble missions. The enterprising businessman grew up working in a sign business founded by his father in Mississippi in 1927. And his driving, ambitious spirit soon led him to establish his own sign and billboard company that prospered for years.

He had grown up in a Christian home and became a respected lay preacher in area churches, fueling the fires of the Christian faithful on Sundays — but pursuing dark international adventures during the week. He was living two lives — one publicly for Christ and another sowing wild oats for the devil that, at times, led him to brushes with the law.

Gina, a trusted employee and devoted Christian, knew about both sides of Richard’s personality and soon lost faith in her boss, though she and a close friend continued to pray for his redemption. Sid Hughes, a respected Christian associate, sat down with his fallen friend, and during that conversation the entrepreneur recognized the truth about himself, a person he now describes as “counterfeit.” He had acknowledged Jesus as mankind’s Savior, but for years he had pursued his own selfish desires, refusing to take Jesus into his heart. That day the Master took over, and a new man was born.

At the same time, his business suffered what others would have described as irreversible losses, millions in debt. But with steely determination coupled to the grace of God, he quickly reclaimed his credit standing and soon had 4,000 billboards scattered throughout several states.

God further rewarded his faithfulness: Gina had found a new respect for the man she once held in such low esteem and the unlikely couple soon became husband and wife, dedicating their new partnership to doing God’s will, no matter what the cost.

Headrick sold his first billboard company, often telling friends and strangers, “The money belongs to God, not to Gina and me.” They initiated two nonprofit corporations, The Good Samaritan Foundation, which provides for physical needs for lepers and orphaned children, and The Hope Foundation, which exists largely to encourage the ministries of student and career missionaries especially in lands not open to a Christian witness.

Everywhere the couple journeys they carry the message of Jesus. In leper colonies the opportunities are numerous. “We hug each of these special people,” Gina said. “We don’t want any one to feel neglected or left out.” Richard preaches a five-minute message, and Gina busies herself with providing balloons and T-shirts. They both often seem like happy young children, content with doing whatever God lays before them.

Gina smiles when she remembers the 91-year-old lady who accepted Christ in her presence. “You preached the sermon,” she reminds her husband, “that moved her to make the choice.”

“We are a team, Gina,” Richard responds to his devoted partner. “Sometimes one sows and the other one reaps.”

But Headrick has some unusual ways of communicating the gospel in challenging settings. He invited Southeastern Seminary President Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, to accompany him and Gina to a Central Asian country where he had recently met a “king.” During the previous visit, Headrick, a seminary trustee, had discovered that this warlord might be ripe for an introduction to Christ, and he felt inferior for the task. Keenly aware of the seminary president’s love for hunting, Headrick had masked the real reason for the meeting with the “king”/warlord under the guise of a deer-hunting trip.

It proved to be a unique hunt. A tractor hauling an entourage of rough-looking characters accompanied the two cars, one bearing the “king” and Patterson, and the other containing Headrick and the warlord’s brother. Once at the site, a huge circle was formed and the deer were driven into the middle while the “hunters,” outfitted with everything from AK 47s to .45 automatics, waited on the edge for clear shots at the game.

Suddenly the whole cast of nearly 50 started shooting toward the trapped deer from around the circle. Bullets bounced all around the frightened American visitors. “Paige spent most of his time on the ground, dodging the bullets,” Richard jokes about his friend and former Southern Baptist Convention president.

The two adventurers returned to their wives in separate cars. Patterson arrived first, still shaken from his close call. “Where’s Richard?” a concerned Gina asked.

“I don’t know. When I last saw him, he was in the midst of the ‘king’s’ brother and those they brought with them. Your husband almost got me killed today!” he exclaimed.

The missing hunter returned three hours later, laughing that the car carrying him and the warlord’s brother had broken down in the middle of nowhere. When alone, Headrick excitedly asked Patterson, “Did you get a chance to witness to the ‘king?'”

“I tried, I tried,” Patterson said, “but every time I brought up the Lord, he changed the subject!” Just before they left his country, however, the warlord tearfully asked Patterson and Headrick to pray for him.

Headrick recounted to Patterson, “I offered a copy of the Bible to his brother to read. He agreed to accept it if I would accept his gift of a copy of the Koran and read it. I agreed, and I’ll keep my word. I’ll read it.”

A few weeks later Headrick answered his phone to pleasantly discover that his caller was the warlord’s brother, who had recently been involved in a car accident. “I’m just checking up to be sure you’re keeping your end of our agreement,” the foreigner ventured. When Headrick affirmed that he had made progress in his reading assignment, the caller responded, “Well, I’ve been reading your Bible, and I want you to know that it is a good thing!”

“God still works miracles in strange ways,” Headrick rejoiced.

The Headricks travel in many ways, sometimes by private or commercial plane, sometimes on motorcycle, or in a Hummer that bears their ministry emblem. For 15 years Headrick has served as member of the board of directors for Bailey Smith Ministries and is now chairman. In addition to being a trustee at Southeastern Seminary, he and Gina also serve as members of the Southeastern Seminary Board of Visitors. Headrick also is a mainstay on the boards of several other ministries. And they have recently begun a new billboard business in several states, another opportunity to make additional money to share in the Lord’s work around the world.

“Occasionally I wondered if we had overextended ourselves,” the self-styled servant of God confessed. “We stay on the road so much, and I have sometimes wondered if being spread so thin was detrimental to our calling. But we got our answer during a visit to Thailand.” A conference speaker was telling some Southeastern seminarian-missionaries, “If you can explain everything you’re doing for the Lord during the year, you’re not serving the Lord.”

“It was like God spoke to me in midst of my doubt, ‘You and Gina do it all, and I’ll give you the strength,'” Headrick said, recounting God’s promise as they have continued their global, creative efforts in carrying his light into the darkness.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: GLOBAL PASSION, LOVING LEPERS, HUNTERS FOR CHRIST, RICHARD AND GINA HEADRICK and CYCLISTS FOR CHRIST.

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  • Philip Barber