Dr. Gray Allison Preaches “The Miracle of Mid-America”
The following story is told by Dr. B. Gray Allison, late founder and President of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary from 1972–1997 and President Emeritus until his death in 2019. “Dr. Gray,” as he was called, told the story each year during the Seminary’s annual Founders’ Days that kick off the school year. Over the years, new chapters were added to the story, eventually becoming known as “The Miracle of Mid-America,” as God continued to work. The rendition below is based primarily on the story as told by Dr. Gray during Founders’ Days 1986, but some additions have been added from other years to make this account as complete as possible.
I want to tell again the story of the Seminary. There’s no way in 35 or 40 minutes, but I would like to give you some highlights.
I decided several years ago maybe this was getting repetitious when two or three people told me it was, and when one man said, “I don’t come on Monday night [of the annual Founders’ Days] because I’ve heard that story so many times.” So I mentioned it to several other folks, and they said, “Oh, please don’t quit telling the story. That’s why we come on Monday night.” And then others bring people with them to hear the story, and I think perhaps it’s good for us at least once a year to hear it again. And I hear it all during the year. If I don’t get to tell it, I put a tape in my tape deck while I’m driving and listen to it anyway. But I take every opportunity I have to tell it to somebody else.
Number one, our motto was carefully chosen. “That in all things He might have the preeminence” [Colossians 1:18]. It’s all Him.
In 1962, some of us began to talk about the need for a seminary—a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching, Bible-preaching seminary—the need to get these young preachers filled with the Word of God and filled with the Spirit of God out witnessing.
Most of you are too young to know, but our [Southern Baptist] Convention had gone a long way in the wrong direction. The seminaries were liberal. The colleges were liberal. Our whole Convention had just drifted. Some of us were really burdened. We began to talk about it and pray about it and ask God to give us a seminary.
For about nine years a group of us talked about the need for a seminary where every professor would believe all the Bible, all the way through without any question at all. Where every professor would be an active member of a local cooperating Southern Baptist Church. We had some professors in some seminaries who weren’t. How are you going to have Baptists if you don’t have Baptists training them? Where every professor would be a soulwinner. A seminary that would be centered in missions and evangelism. Just unashamedly conservative. Unashamedly evangelistic and mission minded. We didn’t have regular meetings. We didn’t have called meetings. Finally had one. But we just talked about it when we got together, and we prayed about it, asking God to give us that kind of school.
In 1971, we felt led of the Lord to begin a seminary. Now that’s a very ambitious project for a half a dozen folks, or a few more than that, who have no money and no buildings and no property and no library—just a conviction that God wanted a school. But we really became convicted that God wanted this school, and so we purposed to start the school.
Now we wanted to do the right thing in the right way. You know you can do the right thing in the wrong way, and that’s almost as bad as doing the wrong thing.
We’re Southern Baptists. We’re glad. I was up in New York recently and met with a group of pastors of various denominations to share with them about our proposed Northeast branch. One of the men held up Sam [Simmons, Northeast Branch Director], and he said, “Man, you’re just so Southern Baptist. Couldn’t you be just a little more ecumenical? A little more lenient?”
And I said, “No, sir, we’re just Southern Baptists.” Glad to be.
Now, we praise the Lord for other folks who love the Lord, who are not Southern Baptists, but our purpose, our task is to train people for a Southern Baptist ministry.
We’re delighted to train folks of other groups and other persuasions who come here, but we wanted to have a Southern Baptist school where every professor believes all the Bible, all the way through, a school centered in missions and evangelism. We wanted to do it the right way.
I was asked to be the spokesman. I called the Presidents of the six Southern Baptist Convention-supported seminaries, the head of the Home Mission Board, the head of the Foreign Mission Board, the head of the Sunday School Board, and Dr. W.A. Criswell—set up appointments with these men. Flew to their cities and went to their offices, one on one, to tell them what we were going to do, why we plan to do it, how we plan to do it, and to assure them we were not fighting anybody but Satan or anything but sin. We wanted to meet what we believed was a genuine need in our Southern Baptist Convention life. All of them were kind and gracious to me, and assured me we had every right to begin the school, and they assured me that they wouldn’t fight us either.
I wrote a letter to all the pastors listed in the Southern Baptist Convention Annual. We had this printed by a printer in Jackson, Mississippi, who furnished the paper and printed the letter and didn’t charge us. Thank the Lord for folks like that. We purchased over 34,000 stamped envelopes with my name and address up in the left-hand corner and hand addressed more than 34,000 envelopes. Hand stuffed them. Tongue licked the first few, and then we learned better than that and got some sponges. It took us about three months to get those envelopes addressed with the help of GAs and YWAs and so on, and get those letters mailed, writing to all the pastors in our convention, telling them what we’re going to do, why we plan to do it, how we plan to do it, and ask them to pray for us.
Well, as I said, we didn’t have any land. We didn’t have any buildings. We didn’t have any library. We didn’t have any money. God provided the money for those trips that I made. God provided the more than $3,200 in postage, 8-cent stamps. Remember those days? I flew to see all of those men one on one for a little over $1,500. Can you believe that? And God provided that money, around $5,000. But we still had no money to start with.
We were offered 20 acres of property in Maumelle “New Town,” [Arkansas], if we could build on it. Our Trustees met in Little Rock and voted to accept that offer. [In the meantime] Dr. [Robert] Clearman led his church [Olivet Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas] to offer us the use of her facilities, and they offered them to us at a rent of extra utilities and extra janitorial service. I looked at that building there at Olivet. Summertime, the whole bottom floor is lit because the offices were on the bottom floor. The whole bottom floor was cooled. I assumed if they cooled it in the summer, they would warm it in the winter. So we put our business office, our Seminary office in the church library on the first floor. We used classrooms on the first floor for our classes, and we didn’t have any extra utilities. One of our students did the janitorial work, and that’s how we started [in 1972].
I gave my library. [Dr.] Phil [Allison; Dr. Gray’s brother] gave a lot of his books. Dr. [Roy] Beaman gave many of his books. Other people began to give us books. We didn’t even have a librarian, and we just put those books in a room on some shelves, arranged them according to subject alphabetically by authors, and turned the boys loose, let them use the books.
When my daughter Suzanne was in Louisiana Tech, she came to me one day and said, “Daddy, you know, I’m not majoring in library science, but I’d like to get a minor in library science. I really don’t know why. I’m not interested in being a librarian. What do you think about it?”
I said, “Honey, I think they’d just be great if you want to.”
And so she did. Married a baseball player. God called him to preach. But before he did, they moved to Little Rock, and Charlie was with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, & Smith there. And there was Susie in Little Rock with a minor in library science. Folks, God doesn’t make mistakes. So far as I know, I don’t think she’s used that library science since then, but she really used it and helped us set up that library and helped us get things going and even helped us to move over here and get things kicked off here, and so praise the Lord for that.
Well, we agreed that we wouldn’t ask people for money, wouldn’t ask churches for money. But we do what Dr. J.B. Lawrence used to say when he was head of our Home Mission Board: we would trust the Lord and tell the people. We have trusted Him. We’ve told as many people as we know how to about the Seminary, and God has miraculously provided for us now for 14 years.
We began our first year with a budget of $125,000, which is a very ambitious budget if you don’t have any money, and I mean we didn’t have any money.
Somebody said you’re a man of great faith. Well, not really. I had some places to preach. I was in evangelism. Phil is the one who had great faith. He moved his wife and three children to Little Rock on faith in the Lord and me. And God has taken care of him and of those children and his wife through these years.
But God provided for us. We began with four professors, a secretary, a business manager, and 28 students from seven states. Our first faculty meeting was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in April of 1972—Phil, Dr. [T.V.] Farris, Dr. Beaman, and me.
God had put me with some unusual men—one of them, my brother Phil. Brilliant. Doctorate, New Testament and Greek, New Orleans Seminary. Been a pastor for 20 years and a great soulwinner and churchman. And Dr. T.V. “Corky” Farris with a doctorate in Old Testament and Hebrew from New Orleans Seminary and a year of post-doctoral studies and Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins. Missionary to Japan for seven years with his family. Dr. Roy Beaman, who was my professor there at the [New Orleans] Seminary, in Greek and archaeology. Worked in 39 languages other than English. And knew everything. That’s the truth.
And we set up in that meeting our curriculum, and set up the schedule for the first-year classes, and started out with four faculty members to teach a whole curriculum for a Master of Divinity [at that time ThM] and also diploma students and also a PhD.
When we sought accreditation with the North Central Association, which works in Arkansas, they asked us to have a consultant come down, and we did, and he got off the plane. I picked him up, and he said I want to see four men who think they can carry a whole seminary program.
When I took him back to the plane, he said I’ve seen four men, and they’re carrying a whole seminary program. It’s great to have men like Roy Beaman and Corky Farris and Phillip Allison who were capable and qualified, trained to do it, and who could carry that program.
Well, we began there in Olivet with those 28 students. We had a wonderful time. God provided everything we needed. We had just gotten there. A man came out and interviewed me from the paper. I do like that. How many of you read the article in the paper Saturday here in Memphis? That was a good article. I like for folks to interview me about the Seminary. This man came out and interviewed me, and he said, “I don’t agree with your theological position, but I’m interested in what you’re doing.”
Interviewed me, put an article in the Little Rock paper. A lady called the next week and said, “Oh, I’m glad to see you folks are starting a seminary. Do you need a typewriter?”
I said, “Oh, dear lady, do we need a typewriter.”
She said, “I’ll give you one.”
A lady called and said do you need a desk and chair? I said, lady, we need a desk and chair. She said I’ll give you one. I said tell me where to come, we’ll come get it. She said we’ll bring it to you.
A man called and said do you need an adding machine? I said, yes, sir, we have a business manager and a business office, but we don’t have an adding machine. He said I’ll give you one.
Now folks, that’s the way it happened. It really did, and we began. God blessed in every way.
We came to the end of that first semester, and from the very beginning, we’ve taken off the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We don’t even answer the phone those days. We give our folks some family time. We wanted to pay the salaries because we would not come back until the 2nd of January. But our business manager came, he said, Doc, if we pay the salaries, we’re going to be $176 overdrawn, and I said, well, Jim, Voncille and I borrowed money to make a down payment on a house—that’s not the way to buy one, but that was the only way we could get one—and it hasn’t cleared. We borrowed the money. I’m paying interest on it now. You go ahead and write the checks. I’ll hold mine. I’m sure we have the money, but did you get the mail today?
He said not yet. I said, man, go get the mail. He went and got it, and there was $200 in the mail. So it’s just like God to give you $24 you don’t even need. He knew we needed $176, and He gave us $24 we didn’t need.
He has done that all the way through. We began that second semester. A friend called me from Alabama, and he said, Gray, you know I’m interested in what you folks are doing there. I want to see young men trained in a school like that. My cash flow is terrible. He said I can’t help you right now, but I have an aunt who’s in her 80s. She’s a widow, has no children. She’s not in good health. She’s planning to leave what little estate she has to the Lord’s work, and right now, plans to leave it to her little church. He said I believe it would be a mistake for her to do that. It’s a small church. They owe a little bit of money, but not much, and I just don’t think it would be good for the church. He said they’d get money in the bank. Folks would say the church has money in the bank; they don’t need my money. He said the church doesn’t need it, but they need to give it, and he said I would like to go out and talk to my aunt about leaving part of that estate to the Seminary. I said you’ve twisted my arm, please do. He went out and talked to her, and he said, Auntie, it would be a wonderful thing if you would participate in that school. If you would leave part of your estate to that school, you would have an investment in the life of every person who studies there and in all of the folks that they lead to Christ through the years. She said I’d like that. She changed her will, left 65 percent of her estate to her little church, left 35 percent to the Seminary, died two weeks after she signed the new will. And we got almost $20,000 from that estate. The church got exactly enough to pay off the indebtedness on the parsonage and on their church building.
Isn’t that just like God? Work it out just right, and there we were with $20,000 in a building fund.
Well, we began our second year with 86 students from 17 states. We began our third year with 153 students from 20 states. By then we knew somebody had to move out of that building. We were just about to push all of that out. We were using all the buildings, double using all of the rooms. All of our offices were used as Sunday school classrooms, but we were just about to push that church out of our building. So I went to Russell Clearman, and I said, Russell, I believe if the church had the Christian spirit, you’d give us this building, this five acres of land, go somewhere else. He said, Gray, I really hate to tell you, but we don’t have that much Christian spirit. Then I knew who had to move.
Well, we could have that 20 acres if we could build on it. A wonderful architectural firm in Jackson, Mississippi, drew up plans for us for a library building. We still have those plans. Marvelous building. Now a library building is the most important building on a seminary campus, and I will tell you why. Offices are nice. Boy, I love my office. If you come and see it, I’d like for you to. I’ll tell you that some folks furnished it so you won’t think I spent the Seminary money. It’s furnished so beautifully. It’s such a wonderful office, and it’s nice. It’s great for the professors to have offices, but we don’t have to have offices.
It’s wonderful to have classrooms, but we don’t have to have them. We could meet under trees or in school buses or cars or somewhere. But I tell you folks, you have to have a library building, if you have books. There has to be a place to keep the books. There has to be a place to arrange them so they’re usable, or there’s no use having them.
The library building is the most expensive building. Ours would be even more expensive than that because it would be a multipurpose building with temporary classrooms, temporary offices, temporary chapel, and a library. It was to be built to house 30,000 volumes in the library and take care of 200 students. We let out the bids on that building.
In the meantime, I went to the Southern Baptist Convention, and walking down the hall, ran into Dr. Adrian Rogers [Pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee]. He’s been a friend for years, and I stopped to visit with him. He said, Gray, the Seminary ought to be in Memphis. I said, Doc, if we put the Seminary where people think it ought to be, we’d been in 35 cities right now, looking for locations in 15 other. God put us in Little Rock. If He wants to move us, He can move us. He said, Gray, it ought to be, I thought he said, in the Jewish synagogue a block from Bellevue. I laughed, waved at him, went down the hall.
He’s persistent. I don’t know how well you know Dr. Rogers. He called me, he said, Doc, instant seminary. Man, everything you need. I said if God wants to move us, He can move us.
He called me again. He said, instant seminary, man. They’ve got a synagogue that’ll seat about 1,000 people, and a kitchen and a social hall you could use for your dining room and other social events. All downstairs you could use for a student center, and a classroom building with 23 classrooms in it—built for a school, 18 x 20 to 18 x 30 to 18 x 40, and he said they’ve got offices you can use for administrative staff and faculty. Instant seminary. Everything you need but a library building. Plenty of space to use for a library until you can build a building. And I said, if God wants to move us, He can move us.
Well, God wanted to move us, so He notified me.
We got the bids back on that building. The lowest bid for that library building to take care of 30,000 volumes and 200 students was $700,000.
Now, we had $100,000. If I had a lot of time, I could tell you the whole story and tell you how we got that $100,000. But it was a downright miracle that we had $100,000. We had gone from $125,000 a year budget to $163,000 to $233,000, operating in the black, and the Lord had given us $100,000 over and above in a building fund.
We would have had to borrow $600,000. Do you remember 1974 interest at 15–16 percent? We would have had to borrow $600,000 at high interest, built a building. We would have filled it up almost immediately. Would have had to turn around, borrow more money, built another building. We would have been head-over-heels in debt, paying exceedingly high interest. We thought that was very poor stewardship of God’s money.
We looked at old church buildings, old school buildings, old office buildings—all over Little Rock. We couldn’t find anything.
I called Dr. Rogers. I said, Adrian, is that synagogue still for sale. He said yep, they offered it to Bellevue for $1,000,000. We’ve had a committee studying it. It would cost us another million to fix it like we need it. We believe if we’re going to put $2,000,000 in buildings, we ought to build on our own property instead of across Jefferson St. and down the block. But we haven’t told the Jewish people yet.
I said, man, don’t tell him anything. Let me come look at it. And I flew over here. I walked in that side door, stuck my head in that door, and folks, I knew I had come home. I cannot explain that to you. I’m not a mystic. God has never spoken to me in an audible voice. He speaks to me through His Word. But I want to tell you more surely than I know I’m standing on this platform, when I stuck my head in that door, I knew this building was ours.
I called our Trustees; that was a Thursday. We have eight Trustees from five states. They’re busy. It’s so difficult to get all of them on a telephone conference call. It usually takes two or three days to set it up, and then we can’t get them all. We got them all on a conference call that afternoon. And I said, you must come Saturday and see these buildings, and they could all come. Here we are at a regularly scheduled Trustees meeting, and they can’t all be here. But they could all come that Saturday—a miracle!
They came. They walked in that door, and they said, almost as one man, buy the buildings. You couldn’t build this building for $1,000,000. Well, we couldn’t build this building at all. This walnut paneling, the stained glass windows with the vine, these 992 cushioned opera seats. This marvelous building, 16 inches of reinforced concrete brick on the outside, plaster on the inside. How on Earth would we ever be able to build this building? They said buy it.
Well, we met with the Jewish people, met with the committee, and since they offered it to Bellevue Baptist Church for $1,000,000, we offered them $800,000. Amen?
And they said, we’re going to move out 12 miles in East Memphis, 30 acres of property. They built a $7 million plant, moved in debt free. I’ll tell on Phil, too. Phil went out for their open house at their new buildings, and he told some of the Jewish leaders, when y’all get tired of this one, call us.
They said it would take them about two and a half years till June the 15th, ’77, to finish their buildings there. I said OK, we’ll give you $800,000. We’ll give you $100,000 in cash now which we had, $200,000 in cash on the 15th, ’77, when we get the buildings. You finance a half a million for us for 10 years at 8 percent.
Well, they said we can’t do that. Our folks won’t even consider an offer of less than $1,000,000. They’ve been offered a million for it. And they said there’s no use even going to them an offer of less than a million. So the Trustees had authorized us to offer them $1,000,000.
We offered them $1,000,000—$100,000 down, $200,000 when we got the property June the 15th, ’77, let them finance the rest of it. They said, boy, we like what you’re doing. We want something good in those buildings. We believe our people would consider an offer of $1,000,000 less the realtor’s commission. That’s $940,000. So $100,000 down, $200,000 when we got the property. Let them finance $640,000 for us at 8 percent for 10 years.
They said, well, we can’t do that. We have to talk one man. No one man runs our congregation. But we have a man who’s pledged to $1,000,000 on our new buildings. I said, boy, I’d talk to him, too. If you want me to talk to you, offer us $1,000,000, and John Floyd and I both will come talk to you.
Well, they said we’ll have to talk with him. They went to see him. He said no, fellas, don’t do that. Let me think about it. Come back and see me. They went back to see him. He said make the Baptists a counteroffer, and tell them if they’ll give us $300,000 in cash now and a half million dollars in cash when they get the buildings, June the 15th, ’77, I’ll give $140,000. So the Temple gets her $940,000, and the Baptists get it for the $800,000 they wanted it for. They said, how about that? I said amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord, and glory and everything. But we’ve got one little problem. We don’t have $300,000. That morning we had $155,555.30 total. I said would you let us give you $150,000 down in an escrow fund? Give us some time to raise the other $150,000, and they did. They gave us six weeks.
For the Trustees, I signed an agreement, gave them $150,000 and a cashier’s check for an escrow fund. Committed this school to give them another $150,000 cashier’s check by 5:00 on December the 2nd. If we didn’t, they had our $150,000, they had the buildings, and we had nothing.
Anybody remember the fall of ‘74? Inflation and recession. No money. Folks going broke who were worth millions because it was tied up in property, and so it was not liquid. They couldn’t get enough money to pay the interest on their debts and lost what they had. And there we were with six weeks to raise $150,000.
Momma was still living then, and I went by to see her, and she said, son, if I had to raise $150,000 in six weeks, I’d have a heart attack. I said, Momma, if I had to raise $150,000 in six weeks, I’d have a heart attack, but that’s God’s school, and He’s assured us that that’s our property. And I believe the Lord’s going to give it to us.
Well, on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, we had $35,000. Monday after Thanksgiving, we had to have $150,000, and even I can subtract that.
I was in a church in North Carolina the first weekend in November in a meeting, just a weekend meeting, God really blessed us. I mean glory came down. That church had helped us from the very beginning. They had given us $100 a month, and they raised it at that time to $200 a month. And while I was there, I found out that was a very sinful church. Now, they didn’t know I found this out, but I found out that the church didn’t owe any money, had everything they needed, and they had $73,000 in the bank drawing interest. That’s a sin, isn’t it? Ought to give it to pioneer churches to build buildings, our Lottie Moon Offering, or Annie Armstrong Offering—or Mid-America Seminary.
But I came home and started praying that God would help us relieve them of a part of that sin. I asked the Lord to give us $10,000 of that money. When Voncille and I walked in from prayer meeting at Olivet that Wednesday night, the phone was ringing because it’s an hour later in North Carolina than it is real time, and they had already gotten home from prayer meeting. That pastor was calling to say, Gray, the church voted unanimously and enthusiastically tonight to send $10,000 to the Seminary, and he said one of our deacons got so excited, he added $100 to it. We’ve just mailed you a check for $10,100.
When I got down from bouncing around on the ceiling rejoicing, I said to Voncille, oh, me of little faith. I believe if I’d asked God for $20,000, He had given it to us.
The next morning, one of our Trustees who’s here tonight, called me, and he said, Gray, the directors of our company voted yesterday to send $10,000 to the Seminary.
I flew down to New Orleans and drove out to Golden Meadow, Louisiana, on Friday to be in a meeting in a little First Baptist Church in Golden Meadow, there in the heart of the French country. And on Saturday my daughter Charlotte tracked me down at the Dousay’s home, and she said, Daddy, Mrs. Walls sent us $50,000. I didn’t know anybody had that kind of money.
Boy, I tell you that was great. I called Mrs. Walls. She had been a friend to me and Voncille for many years, had never given us a penny and never indicated any interest in giving us anything. Didn’t even write a note in that letter. Just sent a check which is a great letter.
But I called her, and I said I want to thank you for that $50,000, and she said, Gray, I got the newsletter telling about the opportunity and the need, and the Lord just impressed me to send $50,000. I said, lady, I want to tell you, I’m thrilled to death somebody was on the mailing list that had $50,000, and I’m glad you live so close to the Lord when He said send 50, you didn’t argue with Him and say, Lord, surely you meant 5?
Well, I came in on Sunday night, and Monday morning in the mail we got $20,000 approximately from $1.00 to $1,000 from all over the country. Didn’t ask anybody for it. Some of you received that newsletter just saying here’s the opportunity, and here’s the need, will you pray with us?
That was $125,000.
I got a phone call that day from a man in Texas, and he said, Gray, how’s your money? I said, Bill, we need $25,000. He said I’ll go to the bank and borrow $5,000 and send it to you today. I borrowed money for a lot less worthy causes than that, and he did.
We began to borrow from each other. Now, one of my brothers borrowed $3,600 and loaned it to the Seminary. My father-in-law, I’ll embarrass him, but he was 74 at that time and retired and not a lot of money, loaned us $7,000, and we got together $15,000. We still needed $10,000 more.
I called a business friend there in Little Rock, and I said, Jimmy, we’ve been friends a long time. He said yes. I said I’ve never asked you for a favor. He said no. I said sit down because I’m fixing to. Now “fixing to” is good North Louisiana talk. He understood it. He said I’m sitting down. I said, well, you know what we’re doing, and we need $10,000, and I want you to lend it to us. He said Gray, I’d like to, but I can’t do it. I just don’t have it, but I’ll take you to the bank and get it.
Well, the banks in Little Rock were not lending money in Arkansas because they were limited by the state constitution to 10 percent. They could get 15–16 percent outside the state. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t either. He took me to the top of a bank. I won’t tell you which one because I think the banker did something he wasn’t supposed to do, but thank God he did.
He introduced me to this banker and told him what I wanted. This man laid those eyes on me, and they were so cold. Bankers just have cold eyes. I don’t know whether that’s a gift or not. He said, Mr. Allison, is that a corporation? I said yes, sir. He said you ever borrow any money? I said no, sir, we’ve been operating two and a half years in the black. We don’t owe anybody. Our bills are current, salaries are paid, but we must have $10,000 today. And he said, well, take these papers, get them filled out, get your Trustees to approve it, get the Secretary of your Trustees to sign, put the seal of your corporation on there, bring it back. I’ll get my committee together and see what we do.
I said, oh, dear sir, it’s noon on Monday, and I must be in Memphis by 5:00, and I can’t get the Trustees together, and I don’t have time for you to get your committee together. I just must have $10,000 right now. He went and got a cashier’s check for $10,000 and brought it to me, handed it to me with the papers, said get the papers filled out as soon as you can. That’s a miracle, folks! Banks don’t do that.
Well, that was Monday at noon. We had the whole $25,000 in hand by Wednesday afternoon. Paid everybody back Thursday morning, including that bank, and never filled out a line on those papers.
In the meantime, the Jewish people had said they would take a regular check from us because we didn’t think we could get a cashier’s check for checks that haven’t cleared the bank. And they’d agreed to take just a regular check from the Seminary, and I’d called our bank, and I said I’m going to write a check for $150,000, and it may get back before some of these checks clear. Would you please honor this check?
I’d asked to speak to the Vice President in charge, and they gave me this dear lady. She said, oh, Mr. Allison, I know what you folks are doing. You’re going to buy that Jewish synagogue and Hebrew school over there and train Baptist preachers, and I’m excited about it. You bring those checks down here. We’ll give you a cashier’s check for it. Now folks, that’s a miracle. That’s like giving us a loan of $105,000 for three or four days at no interest. And banks don’t do that.
Well, I took that cashier’s check and those other checks over to the bank and went in there and asked them to give me that cashier’s check, and they wouldn’t do it, and they bumped me up the line, you know how they do, and I finally got to the top mogul there, and he just laughed at me, made me mad and hurt my feelings, and he said, Mr. Allison, banks don’t do that. I said this one will. He said, no, sir, banks don’t do that. I said this one will. He said you just don’t understand. Banks don’t do that. That’s like giving you a big loan at no interest for several days, and banks don’t do it. I said but, sir, this one will. And he said no, it won’t. I said, well, call the vice president. He said it won’t do any good. I said please, call the vice president. He said it won’t do any good. I said, well, call her anyway. Oh, he said, I knew there had been a mistake. We only have one woman vice president, and she’s not in charge of this. She’s in charge of loans. I said please call her anyway. He called her, and she said I told him they could have it; let him have it.
See, when I called and asked for the person in charge, they gave me the wrong person, who’s the right person. Is that a miracle? Amen!
In the meantime, we’ve missed all the planes, and we’re going to have to drive to Memphis, and Voncille is out there circling the bank, wondering why I didn’t come out, and she had a wreck. Now, it was not her fault, I hasten to say, but she had a wreck, and so we drove a wrecked car from Little Rock to Memphis and at 15 minutes to 5:00 gave that $150,000 cashier’s check to the Jewish lawyer. 15 minutes early! Isn’t it just like God to give it to you early.
On the way over here, she said, honey, do you think you’d be wrong to ask the Lord to give us that other half a million just one day early.
I said no, I don’t believe it would. Let’s ask Him, and we did. And folks, lacking eight days, He gave it to us 10 months early.
We moved over here, Bellevue opened her doors to us, let us use her buildings at no cost. And in June of ‘76, the lawyer for the Jewish congregation called me, and he said, Gray, I’ve been dealing with builders for years. I don’t understand this. Our builder is going to get us in early. Would you folks like to get in that building in October and begin your second term? I said we’d love it. He said, now you must have the half million dollars or you’ll miss the $140,000. We don’t want put you in a tight spot. I said you get us in, and God will give us the money. That was June. We had $200,000 of the $500,000. He’s talking about October.
He called me one week later, said, Gray, I really don’t understand this. Our builder is going to get through even earlier than that. How would you like to get in in August when you start the school year? I said we’d like that even better. He said, man, now, you must have the half million in cash or you can’t get the $140,000. I said you get us in, God will give us the money. That’s June. He’s talking about August.
But folks, the 23rd day of August, our Trustees, faculty, and staff met on the third floor of the educational building at Bellevue. On our knees, we thanked God for a half a millions dollars in cash in hand to pay for these buildings.
Now, they had a builder’s strike, and they didn’t get through that early, but the 24th day of September, 1976, I had the joy of standing right here—if you come to my office, I’ll show you the picture—handing those cashier’s checks for $640,000 to the rabbi and the lawyer for the congregation and receiving from them the deed to this property. Then we let them use our buildings for three weeks while they finished their office building out there.
We moved in here the middle of October, and the first day in here, Susie sang a 10-minute medley about Jesus right here. I preached on Jesus—I have to admit I was a little selfish—and preached the first sermon in this completed synagogue. Dr Charlie Culpepper, God bless him, preached the next three days on missions, and 35 young people surrendered to missionary service the very first week we were in this completed synagogue—the blessings of God.
I must tell you three things. When we first came over, my secretary buzzed me one day, she said, Dr. Gray, there’s an old lady on the phone. She won’t tell me who she is or what she wants. She wants to talk to you. I said put her on: How can I help you? She said you can’t help me at all, I just want to tell you something. I said tell away. And she said for years, I walked by that synagogue. I’ve had such a burden for the people who worshipped in there. One day I knelt out in the yard and prayed that the name of Jesus would be honored in that place. She said can you imagine how I felt when I read in the paper you folks had bought those buildings and going to train Baptist preachers there?
The first week we were in this building in my office, one of our Southern Baptist missionaries to Brazil came by, and he said, Gray, four years ago I was on furlough and stayed here in Memphis. I took some classes at Memphis Theological Seminary. One of my professors was the rabbi of this synagogue, of course, in Judaism. He brought us over, showed us through, told us about their worship, and turned us loose. He said I knelt by every row of seats and prayed for the people who sat on those seats and came and knelt down in front of this pulpit stand and prayed that the name of Jesus would be honored in this place. He said can you imagine how I felt? And I bet you could have heard me shout all the way from Brazil when I read you had bought it and were going to train Baptist preachers here.
Clyde Martin, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Morristown, Tennessee, called me several years ago, and he said, Gray, should have told you this years ago. He said when I was Dr. Lee’s assistant pastor, one day we walked out of his office up at Bellevue, and he pointed down there toward that property, and he said, son, there’s going to be a Baptist seminary down there one day training preachers on that property.
Amen! Where are my “Amen-ers”? Oh, listen folks, isn’t it just like God to do it that way?
Well, we’ve been in these buildings now 10 years this fall, and God has blessed us. But we needed a library building. When we came over, I noticed right next door, the Shriners had built a three-story brick building for their temple. And I said to myself God has already built us a library building. Now, this is the truth. I walked over to the northeast corner of that building and knelt down by that building asked God to give it to us for a library.
Three years ago, we moved in it. Now, over 90,000 volumes in that library building. I hope you’ll go through it while you’re here. You would declare we hired an architect to build that for a library building. It is perfect.
They had an old dance hall party building over here that, I hope they won’t get mad at me, that’s the ugliest red brick I’ve ever seen in my life. And we thought we’d have to scrape it off, but it was a good building. Has 12,000 square feet of floor space. God sent us John Floyd several years ago. He can do anything. We just turned him loose on that building, and he gutted it and insulated it and partitioned it and made a beautiful administrative office building out of it for $10.48 a square foot. Any builders here say, “Amen”? Well, that’s good.
And then they had a metal building where they stored their vehicles, and now we have a printing plant and our maintenance shop and storage there, and all the rest of it was paid parking, and it was right here with our other property, just put together, which gave us 5.2 acres here in Midtown Memphis with these seven buildings. And we bought that in the heart of the recession—$1,524,000 with no money. And somebody said you’re going to lose this property—we had to put this property up to buy it. And you’re not going to have that. You won’t have anything. I said I don’t believe that. God’s in it. He said, man, we’re in a recession. And I’ll always be grateful for Roland Maddox. We’re walking down the sidewalk, Roland said, man, God doesn’t have recessions. He owns it all, all the time. How can he recede?
Well, we moved in. We got down to $800,000, and we couldn’t get that off. Interest was prime plus one. You remember where interest went? We were suffering, and a dear brother loaned us $800,000 for a while for no interest. I mean, he called and offered it to us. Say amen! And then God, through some of you, paid off that building. Couple of years ago at Christmas I was able to say to our folks, last day of Chapel before Christmas, “Debt free!”
I won’t ever do that anymore because when we put out the word we were debt free, I began to get letters from churches and people saying, well, now that you don’t owe any money, you don’t need our money. Oh, dear me. Of all the times when we did need it, it was then. So if some of you quit giving then, start again, and I’m not asking you for anything. I’m just telling you since you had already started to do it again!
Well, God is blessed, and we’re grateful. All of our work is completely accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and we’re delighted. I don’t know what our enrollment will be this year, but it’s good. And you saw those fine young people when they stood up.
The Lord laid on my heart many years ago the Northeast part of this country. I talked to the Trustees almost from the beginning about putting a branch of this Seminary in the Northeast. We had to wait until this property was paid for. We had to wait until we were accredited. We had to wait till our financial base was strong.
We applied to the Board of Regents in New York state to begin in that state because that’s the logical place to put the branch of the Seminary. Within a radius of 250 miles of Albany, New York, live a fourth of the people of this country and a part of Canada—between 60 and 65 million people within a five-hour drive of Albany—almost all of them lost. Very few Bible-believing, Bible-preaching pastors there. Very few evangelical churches in that whole area. Very few of those people have an opportunity even to hear the Gospel. And we talked about this for years, and we went up and looked, and we looked at property, and we prayed about it.
Last April, finally, the Board of Regents gave us permission to begin. We have things lined up. We had planned to start this fall . We have not gotten a place to start. We believe it’s just not God’s time yet. We do have 24,000 volumes for the library there. We’re in the process of processing those. We’ve employed a faculty member, Dr. Duane Garrett, who is now teaching on our campus, but he and his wife are committed to go to New York.
We’ll put another faculty member up there, and we plan to begin after the first of the year, offering a Master of Divinity program for the first year. We’ll add a second year. We’ll add a third year, and in three years a person in that area can get a fully accredited Master of Divinity degree right there in that area. Praise the Lord for that.
Now we have the operating money for the first couple of years in hand. We don’t have any money for the property up there. I hope you’ll join us in prayer about that. We’re praying that God will open up that place for us, His place in His time, and let us begin the branch of the Seminary there to train young people who surrendered to preach there, where they don’t have a culture shock, where they’re ministering to people they know, where they speak the language of the folks. I have to pick the grits out of my teeth when I go up there so they can understand me. But those folks who live up there know the language and know the people, and they are involved already in that culture, and we believe that’s the best way to do it.
We believe that a lot of young people from the South will go there to get their training and do mission work while they’re there. Dr. Floyd and I spent a week, drove about 2,000 miles talking to pastors and directors of missions in New York and Pennsylvania. Drove across both of those states, and we’ve found a great interest there.
I’ve been back in the Buffalo area and over into New England and found a great interest there, and we believe that this is the best way to do this, and we’re ready to go when God is ready for us to do it. I hope you’ll join us in prayer that in God’s time He’ll put us in His place and let us begin that branch there with an outreach to those people.
When Dr. Floyd and I were in Buffalo eating dinner with the director of missions there, he told us there were five churches in his association that did not have pastors, and he couldn’t find pastors for those churches. Two of them were about to die. One of them had five members, all women. One had 13 members, one man, 12 ladies. They owned their buildings, both these congregations—the only Southern Baptist churches in those two counties. And I said, man, we can’t afford to let those churches die. Let us send a Seminary student up here. They’re just 40 miles apart. He can preach at 9:00 at one, 11:00 at another, 5:00 at one, 7:00 at the other one, and visit the folks and warm them up and win a few folks to Christ. And he said I wish you’d do that.
It’s exciting what God can do. If we had that branch of the Seminary there now, we could send two Seminary students. That’s only 290 miles. They could even ride the train; Amtrak runs over there. They could get over there and take those little churches that are about to die and bring them back to life and win folks to Christ. Warm the hearts of those people and establish a strong work there. I’m excited about it. If you think I’m not excited, you come talk to me.
I tell you, God is in there, and I want you to join us in prayer that in God’s time He will give us His place and put us where He wants us to be doing that work there and reaching those people for Christ. It’s an exciting place to be—Mid-America Seminary.
[NOTE: The Seminary ended up purchasing 10 acres in the heart of the Capital District in the state of New York in February 1988, constructed a 15,400-square-foot building, and started classes in the fall 1989.]
God just continued to bless, and the enrollment continued to climb, and our students were winning folks to Christ right and left, going to the mission fields. But the [SBC] Mission Board wouldn’t accept our graduates. They had to go a year to one of the [SBC] seminaries. I said, well guys, if God’s called you to be a missionary and called you to be a Southern Baptist missionary, go up there and do some “mission work” for a year. So they did, and with the mission field.
Then the Mission Board began to see what they were doing. And when Dr. [Jerry] Rankin became head of our International Mission Board, he called me, and he said, Gray, I’d like to come speak at Mid-America Seminary. Can I come? I said anytime. He said when? I said anytime. He said, well, you may not be having classes. I said we’ll have them; you just come. And he came every year.
He had been in the Far East on the mission field, directing an area of our work, and he saw what these [Mid-America] guys were doing. Committed to God, committed to Jesus the Lord, committed to winning souls, and he said, man, they’d hit the streets before they ever learned the language, and they were witnessing. I said what does learning the language have to do with it? Well, hello. Now it’s great to be able to witness in the language, but if you can’t, you can still witness. And they did. And I’m just saying to you God is able. And God does miracles. He meant it when He said, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not” [Jeremiah 33:3]. You can’t ask God for too much. And you can’t do too much for him.
I’m glad you’re here visiting with us these days. I’m glad the students are here. I’m glad the alumni have come home, but I’m awfully glad God lets me live here about half the time. It’s exciting, being around here. Never a boring day. Never a dull moment. Something fresh and new happens every day. Miracles happen here every day.
Now, I want to say one word, and we’ll move on. Our operating budget is $2,400,000 a year [in 1986]. That’s $200,000 a month. Approximately $150,000 a month of that is underwritten  through tuition, the students pay $600 a year and that takes care of part of it,  through gifts of churches, about 360 churches help us regularly through their budgets, and  through the gifts of individuals, most of you who are here contribute and help us in our operation. But we have about $50,000 a month that’s not underwritten in our operating budget.
One week before the 1st of August our Business Vice President came in my office, and he said I hate to bother you with this, but I don’t have any salesman to send out to sell anything, and we have to have $78,000 by next Friday to make the payroll and pay the bills. One week. Because of some of you, we did that.
But Dr. John Floyd is our Vice President for Development, spends his life doing this. He has some exciting things going, but he and I are having to spend an awful lot of our time just going around talking to folks about regular operating money. I don’t believe that ought to be. Now we’re going to have to do something. We can’t operate at a deficit, that’s for sure. I don’t want us to cut back on anything we’re doing, that’s for sure. I believe that $50,000 is out there. God’s people have it. God wants them to give it. Some of them just don’t know it.
I want to challenge you. I challenged our alumni. I challenged our faculty. The other day I got to thinking, $50,000 a month is not much money, if you break it down. If 500 people would give or get $100 a month more than they’re giving to the Seminary, now that would underwrite that budget. I don’t believe that’s out of reason. Now, before I would say that to you, without Voncille’s permission even, but I always have it, we’ve already given our first $100 over and above. We give everything we can give to this Seminary. I’ve given my life for 15 years to the Seminary. I believe the greatest thing going is right here. I really do with all my heart. But I tell you, we just need 500 folks who will say, I’ll do that. You see, I believe all of us know at least 20 people who could give $5 a month to help this school if they just knew what’s going on here. How will they learn? We’ll tell them.
When M.K. Wilder went out to Boulder City, Nevada, many years ago, 31 years ago, he drove an oil truck at night. His wife worked in a dime store, and they worked on a building during the day just trying to scratch out a living. Twenty of us who were members of Temple Baptist Church—and at that time I was a Seminary student and going to school full-time and had a wife and baby—but 20 of us said we can give $5 a month apiece and send Wilder $100 a month. That’s how he made it. And you know, Voncille and I didn’t miss a meal, and Susie didn’t go naked or barefooted, and I went to school. One of the great blessings of our life is the time we helped M.K. in getting that church going there in Boulder City, Nevada.
I believe there are a lot of folks out there who could give $5 a month? And you could find 20 of them, if you cared enough. I’d like to challenge you to pray about it. Well, glory to God. If you do, or if you don’t, we’re going to do it.