A Conversation that changed the direction of my life!

In 1964, I received a phone call from a missionary who was home on furlough from Taiwan. We knew each other because he was supported by my church, so he called with a request. It was eleven o’clock at night, so he apologized but said he didn’t know who else to call. His dilemma was that he was scheduled to speak to a group of men the next morning and was very ill with the flu. I wasn’t keen to do it but agreed to speak in his place, and inquired about the size, makeup, and location of the group. He said it would be sixty men with half being un-believers. At the time, this was right in my sweet spot, so I perked up immediately. I was very active with Campus Crusade for Christ, led a large Young Life Club at Del Campo High School, and was being discipled by Marv Ladner, a longtime member of the Navigator staff. So evangelism/discipleship was a major focus of my life.

I showed up the next morning and gave a salvation message, with an emphasis on the cross. As I reflect back on that morning, some might have said, I backed up my gospel dump truck and dumped the whole load. I don’t know if I used the term “turn or burn,” but I probably painted a very vivid picture of what would happen to them if they died without receiving Jesus. Heaven or Hell was the choice and today was the day to decide, so I asked for a show of hands if they wanted to receive Jesus. I probably felt good about my presentation.

Afterward, I spoke with a few people, and when most had left, an older gentleman (He was 53, I was 27) approached and asked if he could walk me to my car? His name was Dick Barram, and we stood by my car and talked for more than an hour. He seemed to have a sincere love for Jesus, and I remember that I said to myself, “this is a very Godly man,” He did not say so directly, but I eventually understood that he was trying to let me know that I might have driven more people away from Jesus that morning than I drew to Jesus. Of course, he did not use those words because he was much too gracious, but that was the gist of what I was hearing. So I said; “Mr. Barram, I just want people to know Jesus, do you know a better way?” I will always remember his answer because it was life changing. He said, “I don’t know if I know a better way, but I do know another way.”

That intrigued me because I thought he was speaking about another evangelism tool like the Four Spiritual Laws. I used that booklet often and also knew the Young Life approach and was greatly influenced by the Navigators philosophy of ministry. I had also taught a Sunday School Class on “Lifestyle Evangelism,” using a book by Dr. Joe Aldrich. So thinking he was speaking about an evangelism method that I was unaware of, I asked him to describe what he meant by, “Another way.” He said it would take more that a paragraph or two, but he would be willing to spend some time with me if I was interested. He was so thoughtful, and Christ centered, I knew immediately that I would benefit from spending time with him. When I indicated my desire to do so, he said; “Why don’t you meet me in my office, Tuesday morning at seven am.”

I showed up at his office promptly at seven, and as I walked in, he greeted me and said, I’m glad you came. Then without explanation, he turned and walked over to a wall that had a floor to ceiling map of California on it. It looked like it had been pieced together from AAA maps. He looked to the top of the map and said, “Lord, you know Dave up there in Eureka is having serious problems with his boys. He really loves you and needs your help right now. Would you please help him with that family situation, especially with Tom?” Then over the next hour, he proceeded to pray for people and city officials in city after city, all the way to San Diego. When he was finished, he said, okay I’ll see you next Tuesday.

My initial internal response was disappointment; “this is another way?” However, I was so impressed by his love of Jesus and people across the state that I came back the next Tuesday. The early disappointment stemmed from the fact that he didn’t seem to have an action plan and I was a man of action. However, as the weeks and months passed, I learned that he was involved in a multitude of activities, but they originated from his prayer life. It wasn’t that Dick did not talk to people about Jesus because he certainly did; it was just that his approach was more led by the Spirit and understated than mine. Week by week we prayed for the state and people we knew, and I was learning a new way of thinking. My walk with Jesus was becoming more personal and meaningful as we continued to meet every Tuesday morning.

A couple of years before I met him, Dick had been a pastor in Chico, CA who responded to God’s call to leave the pastorate and initiate a ministry to the State Capitol and business leaders in Sacramento. I was only one of the fortunate beneficiaries of his ministry. What I thought was a chance meeting turned out to be a God-ordained appointment. The conversations and activities we shared changed the direction of my life and ministry. I worked for myself in commercial real estate and could plan my schedule, so we often spent entire days together. Frequently I drove him to Modesto or Stockton or other cities around Sacramento. When we were traveling, he would often unexpectedly start praying for someone in the city we were passing. I remember one time we were going to Bakersfield and as we passed through Turlock, he just started praying out loud, “Jesus, Mayor Kristofferson is embattled in City Hall because of his faith, would you please encourage and strengthen him today?” That lasted about thirty seconds; then we continued our conversation as we drove down Highway 99. I learned to expect that and appreciate his moment-by-moment heart connection with Jesus.

Increasingly, he invited me to accompany him in his ministry at the State Capitol. It was a real eye opener to see how he communicated with Legislators on a personal level. We would walk the halls praying on sight for people we met. As we felt the prompt of the Holy Spirit, we would stop unannounced into a Senator or Assemblyman’s office. It seemed like he knew the names of all the receptionists and it was rare that we heard; “the Senator is too busy for a visit.” If they were in, we were usually invited into their office. A normal meeting would only be five or ten minutes, and often they would ask him to pray for something. Occasionally, it would be a thirty to forty-five-minute meeting with a Legislator or one of their staff, who was wrestling with a particular personal or political challenge. Those short unplanned meetings were relationship building which led to private appointments and small groups meeting for Bible study.

I also joined him for the well-attended Bible Study/Fellowship gathering at 7 am Wednesday mornings for legislators of both political parties. The group was committed to confidentiality, so personal and sensitive political matters were shared openly. The men developed a high degree of trust in each other that transcended the political differences. When the legislature was deadlocked over the budget or some other significant issue, it was included in our prayer time. In fact, a number of times the resolution was initiated by a discussion after our gathering adjourned. That group also was the sponsor of the annual, “Governors Prayer Breakfast.”

I started as one of the men that Dick met with and over time, he welcomed me as a partner in the ministry. I became chairman of the board of Western States Fellowship which was the name of his non-profit. My wife Mary Ann became its bookkeeper and continued that role for more than fifty years.

Dick was closely associated with the network of people who sponsor the Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. From time to time, Congressmen, Senators, and other friends from the east coast would pass through Sacramento for a few days. They reinforced what I was learning from Dick, and I was blessed immensely by knowing them. There were many who came through on a regular basis, but the most frequent visitors were Doug Coe, Dr. Richard Halverson, and Chuck Colson. Dick Barram was the embodiment of the words of Paul in 1st Thes. 2:8 when he said; “we shared with you not only the gospel but our own lives as well.” Dick not only did that, but he also gave me his wonderful network of friends.

It was Dick’s commitment to a life of prayer and his philosophy of ministry that affected me the most. I had been involved with ministries that had a Logo, and lots of printed material about how to carry out the ministry. Our activities often involved large public events with well-known speakers. Dick, on the other hand, worked one on one and with small groups and typically stayed behind the scenes. He was off the radar, so to speak, but his life reflected the famous Alcoholic Anonymous quote; “Attraction not promotion.” People were attracted to him because of his love for Jesus and them. I would say that he instilled these things in me more by example than speaking about them.

After fourteen years of working closely with the prayer breakfast movement, Dick Barram, Doug Coe and Dick Halverson, asked me to become a full-time Associate with the Prayer Breakfast Fellowship. I believe that was in mid-1978, and they wanted me to focus on California and the Middle East. My heart knew immediately that it was what I should do, but I procrastinated for two years. During those years, my wife lovingly asked me every two or three months; are you still thinking about what Doug Coe and Dick Halverson asked you to do? Of course, I did, almost every day, but the fear of the unknown kept me from making that decision. However, in 1980 through a wonderful series of God arranged circumstances, I made the commitment to become an Associate with the ministry of Western States Fellowship. Then for a few more years, it was a tremendous privilege and honor to work alongside Dick. As the time drew closer to his retirement, we had several serious discussions about the approaching transition. In our last meeting, we had a time of prayer, and he gave me his blessing and handed the ministry over to me.

Dick Barram was one of a kind and is one of the unsung heroes in the family of Christ. Doug Coe often introduced Dick as a man who actually does what we talk about. Often the closer one gets to a person the less heroic they become, but that was not true of Dick. The closer you got to him the more you admired him because his faith in Jesus was so authentic. It was one of the greatest gifts of my life to know him as a mentor, brother, and friend. His dedication to pray for people didn’t end when he left California. After he had retired, I visited him in Walla Walla Washington, and he had a map of the world on his wall. He had exchanged a map of California for a map of the World, and prayed for one continent per day. When he went home to be with the Lord in 2003, I’m sure he heard, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

I think you can see why I loved him and why this paper has been about; “A man who changed the direction of my life.” I often think about those years we had together, and I miss him. When I think of Dick, I am reminded of the statement in John 3:30 where the Apostle, speaking of Jesus, spoke these words; “He must increase but, I must decrease.” Dick embodied that, and I am grateful for the years I had the privilege of working with and learning from him.