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WORLDVIEW: Living a Resurrection life

Editor’s note: Buck Holloway passed away around 3:30 a.m. Friday, just hours after this column was posted

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–After the long, dark night of winter, Easter’s approach brings thoughts of new life, new hope, new beginnings.

Buck Holloway, 83, is waiting for a new beginning, too.

The morning light of spring washes across the bed and the nearby easy chair where he spends most of his time at home these days. Airplane models of all sizes perch, as if ready for takeoff, on his shelves. Hanging from the ceiling right above his bed is a spiffy P-40 fighter that looks just like the one Buck trained in during World War II.

Kitty, Buck’s wife of 60 years, cares for him with help from other family members. When he feels up to it, he enjoys visits from some of the legions of folks he and Kitty have blessed over the years.

Buck labors to breathe, but he still grins, still cracks jokes, still teases visitors. He even struggles out of his chair from time to time to help with chores around the house and in the rolling fields on his property. Will he be able to mow his beloved fields this spring? Just in case, his son Craig has mounted a bucket seat, salvaged from an old car, onto Buck’s trusty tractor.

Buck has good days and bad days. He doesn’t always recognize people or remember names, but that’s OK. One day soon, Buck will awake to see a face he surely will recognize. He will behold a light far brighter than the morning sun of Virginia.

Buck’s heart, which I always thought was big enough and strong enough to beat forever, has just about given out. We all knew it was coming, but we didn’t want to imagine a world without him. Buck slowed down a lot over the last few years. He stopped going on mission trips. He couldn’t ride his motorcycle (complete with sidecar) anymore, or pedal a bicycle backward, or pull laughing kids behind his tractor during the annual church hayride at his place. He endured multiple operations and hospital stays related to his weakening heart. He grew thinner as his Sunday suits hung limply on his stooped frame.

And now, Buck is waiting to see Jesus –- not through a glass darkly, but face to face.

Buck’s older son is my pastor, Guy Holloway. Our church, Grace Community Baptist in Richmond, began 22 years ago in Buck and Kitty’s living room. He’s a spiritual father to everyone in the church. He’s also one of the greatest men I have ever known.

Buck Holloway epitomizes that “Greatest Generation” of Americans who served the cause of freedom during the dark days of war -– and went on to serve an infinitely greater cause: the mission of Jesus Christ.

Buck grew up riding a horse to school. He never lost his love for horses, but his true passion was airplanes.

“As a young boy he was intrigued and mesmerized by airplanes,” Guy says. “I’ve got wooden model planes he hand-carved that look like they were made from kits.”

War raged when Buck finished high school. He joined the military almost immediately. “There wasn’t much choice,” he told me with a chuckle the other day. “If you didn’t choose them, they would choose you.”

By 1944 he was flying P-51 Mustangs and cargo planes with the famed 1st Air Commando Group, ferrying supplies “over the hump” (the Himalayas) from India to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese in northern China. The day before his first scheduled mission over mainland Japan, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

After the war, Buck married Kitty, his high school sweetheart. They settled down and started a family. He attended optometry school on the G.I. Bill and began a 51-year career as an eye doctor. Buck eventually opened his own optometry practice, became a Southern Baptist deacon at a prominent Richmond church, served punch and cookies to junior boys every week in Sunday School.

“He was a nice guy. He didn’t run around with women or drink or smoke or cuss,” his pastor son relates.

But deep down, Buck wanted more. He’d made a commitment to Jesus as a 12-year-old and been baptized, but he wasn’t growing spiritually –- until he encountered a modern English version of the New Testament. He read the book of James once, then again –- and again. He began reading the Bible between eye exams. He read to his patients.

“It was just going deeper and deeper, and the Holy Spirit was fanning the flames,” recalls Guy, who at the time was a college sophomore headed for the ministry. “Dad had this insatiable hunger for the Word of God. I came back at Christmas, and I thought I was going to tell him (spiritual) stuff -– and he had stuff to tell me.”

An even bigger surprise came later. It was the early 1970s, and Buck couldn’t tolerate hippies or the rebellion they represented. But the downtown church he attended was reaching out to longhairs, bikers and other non-traditional folks.

“I got this picture from him after Thanksgiving,” Guy says. “All these hippies were sitting around Mom and Dad’s Thanksgiving table. Dad’s got this big smile on his face, and he’s leading a Bible study with all the people he used to detest, reject and castigate. It blew my mind. It was a fundamental value change. He had a love for anybody that had any sensitivity or interest toward the Lord –- and these guys loved him, too.”

Buck sold his optometry practice -– just when it was beginning to make some money -– and went to Bible school while continuing optometry on the side. He and Kitty later began a ministry to singles at their Richmond church; it became one of the largest Christian singles groups in the city. After finishing seminary, Guy (and his new bride, Gay) returned to lead the singles ministry his parents had launched. When Guy felt led by the Lord to start a disciple-making church designed to “raise up saints for ministry locally and internationally,” his parents opened their home.

Buck and Kitty, of course, had long been modeling the kind of missions-oriented discipleship their son had in mind. They ministered to survivors of the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, led lay witness renewal conferences up and down the East Coast, participated in partnership missions projects in Europe and South America.

When the young church began sending volunteer mission teams to Central America, Buck and Kitty went repeatedly. They collected boxes of old eyeglasses to help needy people see clearly for the first time, taught children and adults about Jesus, handed out medicine, hugged orphans. Buck, the tough war veteran, always choked up when he came back and told church folks about his mission excursions.

Closer to home, Buck and Kitty have led scores of people to Christ, discipled hundreds more –- and taken needy folks into their own home over the years, ranging from young people desperate for direction to a couple struggling to overcome drug abuse.

They have experienced many joys, including seeing their children and grandchildren become committed followers of Christ and mission volunteers. They have felt great sorrow, such as the day their youngest son, Jeff, drowned in 1976. But that tragedy enabled them to minister to many others in pain. They have led more than 40 people to Christ using the evangelistic tract Jeff had in his pocket the day he died.

I could go on and on. My point is this: Buck could have lived a very comfortable life over the last 40 or so years. Instead, he chose a meaningful one.

“We need to encourage believers to live for eternity and not just for time,” Guy reflects. “We don’t have a whole bunch of models around, and a model is so much more than a sermon. Dad reminds me of what God can do through a normal person saying, ‘I’m not my own.’”

Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and He is alive today. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within the great heart of Buck Holloway.

Buck’s heart might stop one day soon, but it will never die.
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges