Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 19, 2014, column:
Death isn't the end
By Mike Haynes
            As I left a Pampa church July 11, a longtime family friend said, “We’ve been to too many funerals lately, haven’t we?”
            I agreed with her. The friend, about my age, had attended three of the same memorial services I had the past six months.
            Of course, death is part of life, and as I get older, I put on a tie and black coat more often because many of those passing away are in my parents’ generation or in my own. They’re people I knew well.
            My mother, Joyce Haynes, 83, and her cousin, Vester Smith, 91, died within a day and a half of each other last December. (See Mom spent most of her life in my hometown of McLean, and Vester graduated from high school there before settling in Higgins.
            I suppose the death rate in my hometown isn’t any higher than in other area towns, but it seems like it. Les Darsey, 85, dad of my classmate Mike, died last October. R.C. Parker, 90, a longtime DPS officer, died in March. He was the father of my classmate Brad, who also became a highway patrolman. Colleen Mertel Sherrod, 88, a fixture at my home church, died in June. I had played alto sax in the Tiger band next to her daughter. No telling how many of my family’s shoes her first husband had repaired before his death or how many times I had watched her second husband roping calves.
            On June 25 my uncle, Sam Haynes, died at 85 after a long health decline. Like losing my mother broke up a close family unit, losing Uncle Sammy hit his wife Linda and huge family hard and broke up the lifelong pair of Sammy and Johnny. My uncle and dad had worked together as ranchers, played multiple sports (often trying to beat each other), sang in the church choir (Sam a tenor, Dad a bass) and volunteered for just about every organization in town.
            On July 9, Jack Bailey of Pampa died suddenly at his home. At this point in my life, Jack’s age, 74, seemed to need an “only” in front of it. A Pampa educator for decades, Jack was another McLean graduate. Judging from the number of mourners and from the remarks of his friends, John Curry and the Rev. Jerry Lane, he made quite a mark on Pampa.
            Jack’s granddaughter recalled when her supervisor at a local store, a black woman, told her about her grandfather. The supervisor had been one of the first black students bused to school as segregation ended in Pampa. The young girl was terrified to even step off the bus at her new school.
            As soon as her feet hit the ground, she said, a tall white man offered his hand and said, “Welcome. I’m Jack Bailey, and if there ever is anything I can do to help you, just let me know.” Jack, who didn’t take himself too seriously, knew how to give serious encouragement as a school administrator.
            It seems unfair when someone younger than you dies. Sherry Houchin, 54, had been my wife Kathy’s elementary school friend in Amarillo. An attorney and world traveler, Sherry died in Dallas in March. Billie Winton, 86, was the mother of Kathy’s friend Leslie. Billie had lived a full life at her death in June, but many still will miss her smile and wit.
            We just passed the first anniversary of the death of Dale Robinson, who died at age 50, leaving his wife and two young sons. His memorial was one of three for Amarillo College employees I attended last summer.
            It’s so unfair. But so inevitable. And if it isn’t easier for Christians, at least it’s more hopeful. I love 1 Cor. 15:55: “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” It isn’t the end.
            With so much loss around me lately, I was grateful as I read Amarillo College’s 2014-15 Common Reader book, “Blue Hole Back Home.” Joy Jordan-Lake’s novel about southern teenagers and racial bigotry quotes a poem by poet and minister John Donne. He wrote in the early 1600s:
            “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; … One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and Death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die!”
            My heart quivers as I apply that to those I love. But I believe it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

June 21, 2014, column:

Big things don't always make news

By Mike Haynes
            Important things are going on all around us that don’t make the front page or the TV news.
            One example has been happening for two years in a Clarendon rodeo arena and hit a high point in my cousin’s pond.
            Cody Heck, the rodeo coach at Clarendon College, told Randy Stalls a couple of years ago that he needed help. He was losing some of his students to the traps that young people often fall into: alcohol, drugs, out-of-control living. Stalls, a cattleman who lives outside McLean, had led a campus ministry a few years before that had run its course.
Jace Pugmire, a team roper on the Clarendon College rodeo team, laughs as he is baptized May 4 by the Rev. Thacker Haynes, second from right, in a pond near McLean. (Photo by Lashonda Whittington)
      Now affiliated with the Methodist Church in McLean, he got its pastor, the Rev. Thacker Haynes – the cousin mentioned above – on board. Volunteers from McLean and its sister church in Heald began traveling to Clarendon for weekly meetings with members of the college rodeo teams and students in the ranch and feedlot operations departments.
            Haynes calls the results so far “a phenomenon.”
            The meetings during the school year include hamburgers or hotdogs and a speaker or two talking about the Christian life – especially about choices. Around 30 students – from steer wrestlers to barrel racers – show up.
            “It seems to be way more effective than attending church,” said cousin Haynes. “Whether the speaker is good or bad, those kids give them their absolute, full attention.
            “The last two semesters, we’ve had five professions of faith. You don’t always see that kind of response in church. It may be just a riper field.
            “Like every one of us remembers, that first two or three semesters of college were when we were tempted to go against our upbringing. All we’re doing is offering them another way to go to college and to live.”
            The preacher Haynes doesn’t preach unless no one else is available. It’s mostly laypeople and mostly Christians “that are kind of cowboy-oriented,” he said. Some are well-known in rodeo circles.
            Stran Smith of Childress, a world champion roper who’s a fixture at the National Finals Rodeo, and his wife, Jennifer Douglas Smith, an ESPN rodeo commentator who was Miss Rodeo America in 1995, talked to the Clarendon kids one night.
            “Her talk really got to me,” Haynes said. “She just sat on a table, put her feet on a chair and started talking to them. She said, ‘I’ve got two young kids, and what would I like someone to speak into their lives in their first semester of college?’”
            One theme for the group has been choices, Haynes said, and the “rodeo kids” have heard Isaiah 30:21: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
            The Smiths have provided that voice, as has Frank Newsom of Paoli, Okla., one of the nation’s elite bullfighters. Newsom, an athlete who protects bull riders at the top pro events, needed help himself in 2001 when drugs had brought him down. Stalls and his wife Bobbi were instrumental in his recovery, which is another miraculous story you can read about on the Professional Bull Riders website. If Newsom’s Christian testimony couldn’t get to the Clarendon kids, nothing would.
            But this rodeo ministry is more than famous speakers. Teams from the Heald church feed the group three times a month, with McLean volunteers cooking once a month, and Haynes is used to lining up groups with the exhortation, “We’re going to Clarendon.”
            This May 4, about 130 people ate hamburgers and hotdogs before seven young cowboys and cowgirls were baptized in Haynes’s pond near McLean. “The Holy Spirit was really present down there,” said my sister, Sheri Haynes.
            Pastor Haynes said that after one weekly meeting, a Clarendon College agriculture professor stopped him with these words: “Not only is this making a difference on the rodeo team, but also a difference in our department, and not only that, but it’s making a difference on the entire school.”