'Billy Sunday and the Banker'
March 19, 2008
My mother's oak desk/bookcase that she got with Larkin Soap coupons has a drawer I have stuffed with ideas for my column. Among the stuff is a 1977 "Guideposts." It has quite a few ideas.
One by Dr. James Dobson is, "What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women." Guess I don't need that anymore. The one I have chosen is, "Billy Sunday and the Banker." I used to hear my parents talk of Billy Sunday, the evangelist.
"There never was a more colorful Christian evangelist than Billy Sunday, the onetime baseball player who rose up out of middle America in the teens and twenties to stir great throngs wherever he went. The stories about his exuberant, unorthodox ways of bringing people to the Lord abound to this day, and one of them was told to me years ago by the vice-president of a bank in Pennsylvania, Wallace Byrd.
"Byrd was head teller in the bank at the time Billy Sunday came to town to conduct his crusade. Huge crowds gathered to hear him, but Byrd did not attend. He wanted no part of religion—especially that of itinerant evangelists.
"But by some quirk of fate Billy Sunday arranged for an account to be set up in Byrd's bank.
"Day after day Byrd watched Billy Sunday's account grow. And as it grew, so grew his animosity toward the evangelist.
"On the Monday after his crusade ended, Billy Sunday came into the bank to settle his affairs. Among the checks from the previous night's collection was one for five dollars. That gave Byrd a chance to loose some of his resentment.
"'Sir,' Byrd said, "we can't honor this."
"'Why not?' Sunday asked.
"'The woman who wrote the check has less than five dollars in her account,' he replied. 'She is a widow, and very poor.'
"Sunday frowned at the check, and Byrd saw the opportunity for an extra harpoon.
"'Actually sir, we are holding a mortgage on her home for fifteen hundred dollars. We'll have to foreclose very soon.' That, Byrd thought, should hit this money-grabber where it hurts!
"Sunday responded by tearing up the widow's check. A moment later he laid a slip of paper in front of Byrd and said, 'Will you honor this one?'
Byrd looked down to see a check for $1500. 'For the widow's mortgage,' Sunday said.
"'Why are you doing this?' Byrd asked.
"'Friend,' Sunday answered, 'have you never read in the Great Book what a person of means is supposed to do about orphans and widows?'
"After the evangelist left, Byrd was shaken. Again and again he thought about what happened. He began to wonder how many other times Sunday might have done something similiar, and he began to revise his thinking about evangelists.
"He thought,too, about the widow. Had she, by giving in faith out of her tiny possessions, been rewarded by this gift?
"That was the turning point in Wallace Byrd's life, the event led to his becoming a Christian. As Wallace Byrd told me, he never heard Billy Sunday preach from the pulpit. Sunday's only sermon to him was a signature on a personal check." —Lon Woodrum Westerville, Ohio