By Loretta Fulton

“Happy Thanksgiving! Jesus loves you!

Long lines of hungry diners were greeted with well wishes and a blessing Thursday at the sixth annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Robert and Amy Graven in their restaurant on South 27th Street, Lucy’s Big Burgers.

Instead of big burgers, hundreds of guests feasted on the traditional Thanksgiving fare, including pies cooked up by women who are part of Missy Denard’s ministry, New Beginnings.

The women, who have been incarcerated, live in homes sponsored by New Beginnings. The owners of Lucy’s, Robert and Amy Graven, employ several of the women.

Robert Graven and friends smoked 60 turkeys for Thursday’s feast. Lucy’s employees helped with the fixings–dressing, green, beans, rolls, gravy, all the traditional dishes. And volunteers with New Beginnings contributed pies.

“This is our deal,” said Randa Russell, a graduate of the New Beginnings program and now a peer recovery coach at Serenity House.

Robert Graven said the inspiration for the dinner came from his wife, Amy. She grew up in a large family that didn’t have much money. In addition to the large family, her brother would bring home friends from the neighborhood to eat with them.

“Her mom made sure to feed those boys, too,” Graven said.

Amy suggested that she and Robert and their family have Thanksgiving together either the week before or after the traditional day. On Thanksgiving Day, they would host a community dinner.

The first year, 175 people showed up to dine on 14 turkeys, Robert Graven said, and 40 volunteers helped. Now, 600-plus diners isn’t unusual, with 60 turkeys and pans and pans of fixings prepared by volunteers.

Graven said 60 percent of the diners who attend can’t afford a meal and the other 40 percent come because they have no family in town and don’t want to eat alone. Many leave donations. Paying for the meal is something the Graven’s never worry about.

“God has recouped 80 percent of our expenses every year,” Graven said.







By Loretta Fulton

Just days before Thanksgiving, Santa’s elves were already busy in Abilene, getting Operation Christmas Child boxes packed with goodies and ready to ship.

First Baptist Church and Wylie United Methodist Church served as dropoff locations for churches and organizations in the Abilene area. On Dec. 15 volunteers will tow trailers loaded with packed boxes to a sorting warehouse in Grapevine.

There, thousands of boxes will be opened, inspected, resealed, and packed into shipping crates for distribution to children in 100 countries. Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief agency.

Joy Daffern, a member of First Baptist Church, has been a volunteer for several years. She helped with the collection process at First Baptist and will join about a half-dozen other volunteers from the church for the trip to Grapevine.

“We have so much fun,” she said.

At the warehouse in Grapevine, all the boxes will be opened and inspected to make sure no prohibited items are shipped. The boxes are filled will all sorts of fun stuff, from toys to school supplies, to clothing, hygiene items, and cards offering Christmas wishes.

People get innovative, Daffern said, with their packing, including stuffing a deflated soccer ball and air pump into the small space. Seeing all those donations and thinking about the people who did the shopping and packing brought a smile to Daffern’s face.

“You just see the love that people have put into them,” she said.

Each year, Sunday School classes, organizations, families and individuals participate in Operation Christmas Child. This year, children receiving the boxes also will get a booklet titled, “The Greatest Journey.” The children will be invited to go to a local church and participate in a 12-week study based on the booklet.

Samaritan’s Purse website,, tells the story of the beginnings of Operation Christmas Child: “The program was started in the United Kingdom in 1990 by Dave and Jill Cooke. Three years after this beginning, the Wales-based shoebox gift project merged in a partnership with Samaritan’s Purse, allowing us to share 20 years of expertise in relief and aid work with the project, and expand the reach of the shoebox gifts to more than 28,000 children that year. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 146 million children in more than 100 countries.”






Click on link below to see Allison Ball, a Hardin-Simmons University physical therapy student, in a promotional video for Joni & Friends, a foundation to raise money and awareness about disabilities. Ball also was invited to speak to donors to the foundation in October.
Click on link below to learn more about funding a Hardin-Simmons University mission trip to Peru.

By Loretta Fulton

Appearing in a fundraising video for a foundation that advocates for people with disabilities and speaking to a donor meeting in California came naturally to Allison Ball, a second-year student in the Hardin-Simmons University physical therapy program.

She knew firsthand what she was talking about. Ball’s brother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck when he was younger. Now a student a McLennan Community College, he is doing well. But the experience left Ball with a desire to help people in similar situations, so it was no wonder that she was the perfect person to be an advocate.

“A lot of it, I could relate to,” Ball said.

Ball, from Arlington, was invited in October to fly with her husband to California to talk to donors to Joni & Friends, a foundation started by Joni Eareckson Tada, who in 1967 suffered a diving injury that left her a quadriplegic. In 2010, she suffered another setback when she was diagnosed with breast cancer but today still keeps an active ministry schedule.

The Hardin-Simmons Department of Physical Therapy partners with Joni & Friends to offer a course titled, “Beyond Suffering.” According to the Joni & Friends website, people with disabilities are considered one of the world’s largest under-represented groups. One of the primary goals of the “Beyond Suffering” is to address this issue by preparing leaders in ministry, education, medicine and science to become involved in this life-changing ministry.

The course shows what disability ministry looks like, Ball said. One thing she learned is that most churches are not prepared to welcome people with disabilities.

“That was  a surprise to me,” she said.

“Beyond Suffering” is taught is six one-hour sessions in the Hardin-Simmons program. The course ended in June and was followed by students participating in a family camp near Houston and then in a mission trip to Peru.

In October, Ball was invited to speak to the Joni & Friends donors in California about that trip and to appear in a promotional video. The summer trip to Peru was a first for Ball. She had been on a mission trip to Louisiana as a high school student but had never been on a trip like the one to Peru. That kind of opportunity was a draw for her when deciding which physical therapy school to attend.

“That was one of the big reasons I chose Hardin-Simmons,” she said.

Ball, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Baylor University, is focusing on neuro-developmental pediatrics in physical therapy school and plans a career working with children suffering such disabilities as Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

The trip to Peru was a first for Ball, but definitely not a last. Ball learned how to incorporate ministry with her work and to practice what she had learned in the “Beyond Suffering” course, which focused on compassion and a bringing a positive perspective.

“You literally get to be the hands and feel of Jesus,” Ball said.







By Mike Patrick

Nancy and I decided to get away for a few days at Thanksgiving because of our busy schedules—her grading English papers at the university and me starting a new teaching series at the hospital. We chose simply to go with no specific plans other than to relax—read, watch movies, eat. We left Wednesday afternoon and managed the two hour drive in heavy holiday traffic with no difficulty.

mike patrick2014

Mike Patrick

Originally, we planned to go to a French restaurant that advertised having a Thanksgiving special, reservations required. I thought it might provide an enjoyable new experience especially with their reputation for pies! As time got closer, we both decided we really did not need to eat that much food. So we drove around the area to see what restaurants might stay open for the holiday. As expected, very few did. Luby’s had a long line out the door.

Of all places, we chose to eat at an IHOP. The hostess seated us and we began going through the menu deciding whether to eat breakfast or not for our Thanksgiving meal. Nancy decided on fish and I went for the chicken fried steak.

As we sat there, I noticed a family of six seated at a table toward the other end of the room. Based on appearances, they seemed to live on a pretty tight budget. The four children ranged in age from an infant in a stroller to about eight years old. The father wore a T-shirt, shorts, and a ball cap. The mother, hair slightly unkempt, seemed a little haggard. The older children acted very excited as the waitress brought their meals. I could tell eating out was not a normal experience for them—well behaved but very excited. They all enjoyed a big breakfast—pancakes, eggs, bacon, biscuit, sausage.

As I watched them, I could not help but think about my childhood when our family, also with four children, moved from Texas to Chicago. I know those were tough times for my parents who had both been in school the previous three years. For a while the six of us lived in a two-bedroom house. At times we did not have much to eat; but we always had a meal. On the trip to Chicago we checked out of the motel that first morning and ate breakfast at a nearby restaurant.

All of a sudden, with those memories came a flood of emotion.

I thought I would like to anonymously pay for this family’s meal. I asked my wife if she agreed, knowing she would because she is more giving than I. When Nancy looked at my face, she said, “You’re getting emotional aren’t you.” I had to lower my head as tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t speak. She asked, “What’s going on? I couldn’t speak. She added, “You’re thinking about your family aren’t you?” I couldn’t speak but nodded yes.

When I finally got my composure, I told our waitress that I wanted to pay for the other

family’s meal without them knowing who. She later brought me both tickets. When they finished their breakfast, the father asked for the bill. Their waitress told them that someone else had already taken care of it. He asked who and she simply pointed in the general direction of another section of the restaurant. One of the little boys asked, “What did they do, Daddy?”

The couple looked at each other with a degree of amazement. The father didn’t want to risk the waitress missing a tip, so he asked her if she could charge him a penny and then he could add a tip and put it on a credit card. They filed out of the door to their car and were gone.

Of all places, we had eaten Thanksgiving at IHOP. Of all places we were thankful to have eaten at IHOP.



Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland Church of Christ, addresses Hardin-Simmons University students during a forum Nov. 7. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

“Is Christianity intolerant?”

Yes, and we should be thankful for that. Christianity makes us intolerant of racism, super-nationalism, and other “isms” that are hurtful.

“Praise God, it makes us intolerant of certain things,” said Jonathan Storment, preaching minister at Highland Church of Christ.

Storment was one of the speakers for a student-led forum called “Inquire” Nov. 7 at Hardin-Simmons University. Five questions were covered during the day: Is Christianity intolerant? Is Scripture reliable? Does the reality of suffering prove that God doesn’t exist? What’s God’s will for my life? and What’s God’s design for my sexuality?

Other speakers in addition to Storment were Daniel Rangel, with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Andy Flink, and Stan Allcorn, pastor of Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.

When wondering whether Christianity is intolerant, look at Genesis, Storment said. Genesis Chapter 1 was not written to argue with Darwin, Storment said, but to show that only God deserves our worship.

Genesis tells of the Pharaoh believing in nine gods. The one true God sent 10 plagues to destroy Pharaoh’s dynasty.

“If you want to know where the Bible is intolerant,” Storment said, “it’s on idolatry.”

Storment suggested that asking whether Christianity or the Bible or the church is intolerant might be the wrong question. Yes, Christianity is intolerant of false gods, or idols, but Christians shouldn’t be intolerant of people who worship those instead of God.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute is a biblical mandate. Storment posed a different question:

“How are you going to treat people on the other side of the boundary?” he asked.

The “Inquire” forum was put together by a team of Hardin-Simmons students. One of the leaders, Molly Warren, a senior from Indiana, said the team wanted students to be inspired to inquire about their faith.

“We want them to really ask questions about why they believe what they believe,” she said in a news release from Hardin-Simmons.

Warren said she and other students struck up a conversation last spring about asking the questions that were posed at the forum, plus others. Many of her friends have analytical minds, and she wanted them to know that it is OK to ask those questions.

“Loving God with all your mind is a huge part of their faith walk,” Warren said.

The team of students posed their plan to Travis Craver, HSU chaplain, who gave them the green light. From there, the team whittled an original list of 30 questions to five and lined up speakers. Then, Warren said, they turned it over to God.

“Lord, we’re just being obedient,” they prayed. “We’re going to work hard, but you’ve got to make this a success.”

Warren, a business administration major, said a high school friend, who was a pre-med major, died after his freshman year in college. He was a strong believer but had an analytical mind, Warren said.

Conversations with him, and HSU friends who also are analytical thinkers, gave her the insight to see that people of faith need to understand that it’s OK to ask questions–God can handle it.

“God is not scared of our tough questions,” Warren said.









Dr. Mark Goodacre, left, visits with Dr. Jeff Childers, center, and Dr. Robert Rhodes Nov. 9 during the Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University. Goodacre, a religion professor at Duke University, was guest speaker for the lectures. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

There is a reason Dorothy L. Sayers chose the gospel of John when she wrote her series of 12 radio plays in 1943 depicting key events in the life of Jesus titled, “The Man Born to Be King.”

And, there is a reason that director Franco Zeffirelli, who co-wrote the script to the 1977 television series, Jesus of Nazareth, chose the gospel of John for the script. In fact, the gospel of John is used as the basis for the script of most movies and television shows about the life of Jesus.

The reason that the gospel of John, not the gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke is most often used was at the heart of of Mark Goodacre’s first of two talks Nov. 9 during the annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University.

“John,” Goodacre said, “more than the other three is a drama.”

Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University. Born in England, Goodacre earned two master’s degrees and his doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (England) until 2005, when he joined the faculty at Duke.

In his first lecture, Goodacre spoke on, “John’s Dramatic Transformation of the Synoptics.”  Title of the second lecture was “John’s Christological Transformation of the Synoptics.”

Goodacre distributed a handout with parallel passages from John and the other gospels that proved his point. For example, Mark 6:42 reads, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”

The parallel passage in John, Chapter 6, verse 26, reads, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, ‘You are seeking me not because you see signs but because you ate from the bread and were satisfied.'”

Another way John shows his dramatist side is by reducing anonymous people or crowds to a named person. An example is Matthew 28:17, which reads, “Some doubted,” compared to John 20:24-28, which reduces that to “Thomas.”

“John, like a good dramatist,” Goodacre said, “makes sure his characters have names.”

Goodacre also addressed the question of whether John presupposes that the readers of his gospel were familiar with the synoptic gospels. Goodacre suggested that John is best read alongside the other gospels for that very reason. In fact, he said, some of John only makes sense if the reader already knows details from the other gospels.

As an example, he cited John 11:1, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” The verse presupposes that the reader knows who Mary and Martha are from reading the synoptic gospels.

In a question and answer session following the lecture, a man asked whether, because of its dramatic style, the gospel of John was meant to be performed. Its wording has been used, sometimes in whole, by script writers, but Goodacre stopped short of saying it was written to be performed.

“I don’t think they acted it out,” he said.