Randy Willis is an American novelist, biographer, and music publisher.
He is the author of Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, Beckoning Candle, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Randy Willis…novels about adventure, family, faith, and the character of a man that touched generations.
Coming soon: A series of Children’s Storybooks beginning with Ole Sally Swims the Mighty Mississippi.
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One of my favorite novelist, Lewis Wallace, was inspired to write his second novel, in 1880, by an agnostic. The novel was conceived after sitting on a train, listening to Colonel Robert Ingersoll for two hours.
Wallace wrote that Ingersoll poured out “a medley of argument, eloquence, wit, satire, audacity, irreverence, poetry, brilliant antitheses, and pungent excoriation of believers in God, Christ, and Heaven, the like of which I had never heard.”
Until then, Wallace had been indifferent to the claims of Jesus. He wrote, “Yet here was I now moved as never before, and by what? The most outright denials of all human knowledge of God, Christ, Heaven… Was the Colonel right? What had I on which to answer yes or no? He had made me ashamed of my ignorance: and then–here is the unexpected of the affair–as I walked on in the cool darkness, I was aroused for the first time in my life to the importance of religion… I thought of the manuscript in my desk. Its closing scene was the child Christ in the cave by Bethlehem: why not go on with the story down to the crucifixion? That would make a book, and compel me to study everything of pertinency; after which, possibly, I would be possessed of opinions of real value.”
Wallace subtitled the book, a tale of the Christ. He later wrote, “It only remains to say that I did as resolved, with results — first, the book Ben Hur, and second, a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”
Vaya con Dios,
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A “chance encounter” with an unknown preacher and a question from Hollywood’s most famous movie star would change his life. ~ Randy Willis
He was a huge star. And, the composer of many hit songs. The original manuscript of one of those songs is buried in the cornerstone of the Copyright Building of the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. He acted in motion pictures with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and his good friend John Wayne. And, he could sing. In 1934, he became the first recording artist signed by the American subsidiary of Decca Records. When television was in its infancy, in the early ’50’s, he was the West Coast’s biggest radio star with a show syndicated nationwide.
But he was not happy and didn’t cope well with the pressures of his high-profile career and sought relief in alcohol. His drinking and gambling problems began to severely affect his life and his family’s life. Many times his drinking landed him in jail. Born in Kellyville, Texas, The Texas State Historical Association records that he identified himself as the “original juvenile delinquent.”
His name was Stuart Hamblen. His life would change forever with a “chance encounter” with a young and unknown preacher and a question from America’s most famous movie star.
In 1949, Stuart’s wife Suzy, encouraged him to attend a prayer meeting with her. A young preacher by the name of Billy Graham was to speak to the group. Not a single newspaper had carried the story of young Billy being in town for a tent revival. But, among Billy’s supporters was the influential Presbyterian Bible teacher Henrietta Mears, who had invited him to her home in Beverly Hills to speak to a group of Hollywood notables. The group was called the Hollywood Christian Group. It’s goal was to reach the entertainment industry with the Gospel. Many were impacted by these meetings such as Ronald Reagan, Dale Evans, and Roy Rogers.
Suzy made sure they were there early, and she and Henrietta disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Stuart and Billy alone. The two men hit it off right away, and Stuart asked Billy if he would like to come on his radio show to promote his tent crusade. Billy show up at the radio station, and after the radio interview, Stuart urged his listeners to go down to the tent to hear more of Billy, and ended by stating, “Make sure you all come, cause I’ll be there too!”
He had no intention of going, but Suzy wasn’t about to let him forget his promise. That evening, as Stuart started to settle in for the night, Suzy appeared, all ready to go out the door. She looked at him and said, “You ready to go? You told everyone that you were going to be there. You don’t want to disappoint your fans!” Reluctantly, Stuart went. She lead him down to the front row—dead center—right in front of the pulpit. Night after night, she would drag Stuart down there, front row center, until finally he couldn’t take it no more. He had had enough and decided to escape. He packed up his hound dogs, and headed out for a hunting trip. It didn’t seem to matter though, as the three-week campaign neared its end, since there was no sign that Stuart was under any conviction—of any kind—except to get out of there.
Sensing that momentum for the meetings was building, the local crusade organisers wanted to extend them, but Billy was hesitant. He put out a “fleece,” and asked God for a sign. The next morning at 4:30, he was awakened in his room, at the Langham Hotel, by a phone call. It was Stuart Hamblen, and he was in tears. Billy shared the Gospel with him. The result was that he surrendered his life to Christ. That night, Stuart was at the crusade again and publicly gave his heart to Christ.
Stuart told the story of his conversion on his radio show. William Randolph Hearst heard it and sent a telegram to all his newspaper editors: “Puff Graham.” Soon all of Los Angeles was buzzing about Billy Graham’s meetings.
The Los Angeles Crusade of 1949 was the first great evangelistic campaign of Billy Graham. The campaign was extended to eight weeks. During the campaign Billy spoke to 350,000 people . By the end, 3,000 of them accepted Christ as their Savior. After this crusade Billy became a national figure in the United States.
Fourteen years later, during his 1963 crusade, in Los Angeles, Billy called Stuart’s conversion “the turning point” in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s ministry. Billy added, before Stuart accepted Christ the crowds were rather small.
Before his conversion, Stuart’s radio sponsors regularly bailed him out of jail and smoothed things over because of his popularity on the radio. After his conversion, he started a new radio program titled The Cowboy Church of the Air which became nationally syndicated. A confrontation developed with his sponsors, however, when he refused to advertise alcohol. His much publicized departure from the program resulted in his being asked to run for President of the United States in 1952.
Now, about that song that Stuart wrote. The one that is buried in the cornerstone of one of the Copyright Buildings of the Library of Congress. It has been translated into over 50 languages around the world and was the first song to ‘cross-over’ becoming #1 in Gospel, Country, and Pop categories and starting the trend for ballad style gospel songs. It’s been recorded by many artist, arguably most famously by Elvis Presley.
Shortly after his conversion, Stuart ran into his friend John Wayne on a street in Los Angeles. “What’s this I hear about you, Stuart?” asked Wayne. “Well, Duke, it’s no secret what God has done for me and he could do it for you too,” Stuart replied . “Sounds like a song,” said Wayne. Stuart went home, sat down at his piano and wrote It Is No Secret What God Can Do, in ten minutes.
It’s No Secret (What God Can Do) by Stuart Hamblen
“The chimes of time ring out the news
Another day is through
Someone slipped and fell
Was that someone you?
You may have longed for added strength
Your courage to renew
Do not be disheartened
For I have news for you
[Refrain] It is no secret what God can do
What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you
With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you
It is no secret what God can do
There is no night for in His light
You never walk alone
Always feel at home
Wherever you may go
There is no power can conquer you
While God is on your side
Take Him at His promise
Don’t run away and hide”
Stuart went on to write 225 other songs including, This Ole House, Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In) and Remember Me, I’m The One Who Loves You.
Vaya con Dios,
It took me a year to gain his trust. I named him Big Jake after my Dad. He arrived at sunrise (at my barn) this morning for breakfast.
Much is spoken about the word love but with Big Jake it’s all about trust and respect. I agree with him.
Vaya con Dios, Randy Willis
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“Jimbo ignored them all, except to say, ‘She’s not crazy, just afraid.’
“Didn’t take long for him to get a saddle on her. He climbed on her real slow like and rode with a new found confidence. She seemed to trust him.
“Suddenly someone cracked a bullwhip and yelled, ‘Ride ‘em, cowboy.’
“She must have jumped ten feet. And, as everyone hooped and hollered she reared up falling over backward on top of Jimbo. The horse got up but not the boy. He just lay there in the dry dusty dirt. I was the first one that got to him and he sure didn’t look good. He tried to talk, so I bent down close to his mouth to hear his words.
“’Please get my Book, the one that boss Jake gave me.’
“First I thought I hadn’t heard him right, but he said it real clear again.
“’Please get me my Bible.’
“I sent one of the others to fetch it from his saddlebags. I tried to make him comfortable, but there wasn’t much I could do. Wondered how we’d explain all this to boss man Jake. When the Book arrived I show it to him. ‘Here, Jimbo, here’s your Bible.’”
“’Lay it on my chest and open it to John 3:16, please. Put my finger on those words.
“He spoke all raspy like.
“’Please, do it, please!’
“I found that verse and lifted his hand. He cried in pain cause his arm was broken. I placed his finger on the verse.”
“’Tell boss Jake I made that decision just like he told me I should.’
“With that he closed his eyes and was gone.” The barber had tears in his eyes as he ended the story.
✯ ✯ ✯
I paused a minute, then said, “Boys, I made three decisions after I heard the barber’s story. The first was to name the creek we now live on Barber Creek. The second was to have you boys bury me one day with my Bible opened on my chest with my finger placed on John 3:16. And the third was to give every cowboy that works with us a copy of the good Lord’s Word. Your copies are in the chuck wagon. Rooster will show you where.”
Jeremiah and Jacob seemed to be moved the most.
Jeremiah spoke first, “Mr. Willis, our sister Mary told us about that Carpenter. Is He for real?”
“Boys, He’s as real as the skin on my bones.”
“What does that verse say Mr. Willis?”
“It says that whosoever puts his trust in Jesus will have everlasting life.”
“What does whosoever mean? Who’s that?”
“I reckon, Jeremiah, that’s you and me and every cowboy and cowgirl. Even the mavericks, the culls, and the undesirables. God swings a mighty big loop. But, there’s many a cowboy that doesn’t want His brand.”
There was a peace in the camp as an unseasonable cool breeze blew in.
Then Jeremiah said, “I want His brand.”
Jacob added, “Me, too.”
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Sometimes you just have to hitch up the mules and ride. “Take a deep seat and a faraway look and keep your mind in the middle.” ~ Jake Willis
photo: Josh Willis, Adam Willis, Randy Willis and Aaron Willis
Vaya con Dios, Randy Willis