Excerpt of "C.D.: The Man Behind the Message"
The following is an excerpt from the new book, C.D.: The Man Behind the Message. The story picks up in 1966, when C.D. Brooks, a field secretary of the Columbia Union, becomes the first ministerial secretary. The primary responsibility that President Neal C. Wilson tasked the young minister with was evangelism. Here is the story of a historic campaign.
C.D. Brooks set his sights on Newark, New Jersey. With almost a half million residents in 1966, it was the largest city in the Garden State, located just eight miles from the financial capital of the world, downtown Manhattan, and a vital port city itself. Some of the world’s wealthiest companies and most prestigious educational institutions called the metropolis home. It was in Newark that an unprecedented event in Adventism would take place.
The historic Newark Symphony Hall on 1020 Broad Street was the venue for the evangelistic meetings, becoming a hive of spiritual activity on a boulevard of secular hustle and bustle. During that 1966 summer evangelistic series Symphony Hall garnered another bit of history, for it was the site of the first official joint evangelistic series in the Seventh-day Adventist Church by both a Black and a White evangelist. The Columbia Union Conference executive committee passed a motion for Alvin Stewart, White pastor of the Newark church, to serve as assistant evangelist to C. D. Brooks. Other White ministers joined their counterparts from the Allegheny East Conference in the planning, operation, and running of the meetings.
C.D. found Stewart to be most cooperative and supportive. The two were a model demonstration of the power of evangelism to totally sweep away racial barriers and turn diversity into an asset of the gospel. Unbeknownst to Brooks, it was yet another strategy of Neal Wilson’s to accomplish this very end by demonstrating to the denomination that Black and White leaders could successfully work closely together. A lengthy object lesson, the meetings lasted two months, from July 17 to September 11.
The preparations and advertising were spectacular. Even though only about 20 members from the White churches attended, the Blacks in Allegheny East came out in large numbers to support the meetings. The series’ flyer featured the speaker and his associate, along with the lines “Intelligent services! Clear satisfying lectures! Unencumbered by big money appeals. Bring your Bible!” Under “Special Features” was “Stereo Meditations, Motion Pictures, Free Scripture-filled Literature,” and “Prayer for the Sick.” Some of the topics of the first week were “The Second Coming of Christ,” “Born Twice or Die Twice,” “Amazing Grace—How to ‘Get Religion’ Instantly,” and “The Devil’s Vacation! He Didn’t Plan It—It’s Planned for Him!”
The devil was furious about the evangelistic series, of course, not only because it would pry souls from his grasp, but because of the racism-defeating approach it employed. So he set about his fiendish work, his unplanned vacation no doubt in his mind.
The conferences sponsored advertisements for the meetings on the sides of city buses. They were printed on panels of heavy cardboard, six feet high and 10 feet long. The church went all out in financing these ads, paying top dollar for the coveted exteriors of the buses. One day C.D. decided to take the bus to the hall instead of his own car. As he waited at the stop, he was amused to see his face blown up three times its natural size on the side of the bus. But when the bus got nearer to the curb, his lightheartedness turned cold. Scrawled across his forehead in all capital letters was the word NIGGER.
Satan struck in other ways, too, but his chicaneries were always frustrated. When Charles and Alvin Stewart arrived at the large civic auditorium, they discovered very quickly that the custodian of the hall took his job very seriously, to the extent that he was brusque and unhelpful. Once Brooks arrived early before the meetings began (as was his custom) and turned on the lights. The surly individual told him in no uncertain terms that it was not Charles’s responsibility and that it must never happen again. C.D. apologized and made sure that was the last time he did that. For the life of him he couldn’t figure out why the custodian was so mean to Adventists. He wondered if the White man had racial hang-ups.
Because the job required that he make sure that everyone strictly observed fire codes and the like, he had to sit through the meetings each night. Almost imperceptibly, as the series wore on and night after night C.D. laid out the gospel of Jesus in plain and powerful language, a change in attitude came over the custodian. The formerly uninterested and insolent expression slowly transformed to an open and interested one. His formerly hostile posture now relaxed and he leaned forward in anticipation. When he couldn’t attend because of other duties, he rigged the speaker to play in his office. The Lord was working on him.
As decision time neared, the custodian approached C.D. one night after a meeting.
“Pastor, I have had this job for a long time, and I have seen evangelistic groups come and go,” he said with a pensive expression. Naming some of the denominations he had worked with, the man shared a series of unfortunate experiences of abusive ministers, dishonest evangelistic practices, exploitation, and suspect money management. He also intimated how they had generally treated him like dirt because of his lowly status. All of it from professed Christians. One particular story shocked Brooks.
A “Christian” group purporting to possess the gift of healing had rented Symphony Hall several summers before. One day a man brought his young daughter from many miles away to be healed. Carrying the crippled girl into the building, he went from office to office along the corridors circling the auditorium, looking for one of the ministers. When he couldn’t find anyone, he knocked on the custodian’s office door, daughter in his arms, and asked for help.
The custodian led him to a conference room where the Christian leaders were. He politely knocked on the door, and a voice shouted for him to come in. Inside, a group of leaders were intently counting stacks of bills piled on a long table, money collected in the meetings. They paused from their tallying, glancing up with irritated expressions, since it was not yet program time. But the father and daughter had come a long way and were desperate for help.
A big stack of money in front of him, the nattily dressed evangelist told the man to come back during the 7:00 to 9:30 meeting and not to disturb them another minute. At this, like any good father, the man pleaded for his daughter, but the answer was the same. As the man joined his child girl in pitiful sobs, the evangelist and his cohorts went back to counting their money, oblivious to the tears. With an utterly disgusted expression, the custodian spat out the last few lines of the story.
“When word came that you were renting this place, I figured you’d be just like the rest of them,” he said, anger still filling his face. “Truth is, I kept waiting for you Adventists to act like all the rest of the Christians.” He pronounced the last word sarcastically and with no small amount of disdain.
“I heard you say when you were lifting the offering that there are huge expenses and that if you would like to help, feel free, but that if you can’t or don’t want to, you understand; just don’t stop coming.” The custodian’s face softened to one of surprise as he was reliving the moment. “I couldn’t believe it—I didn’t think this was possible. I couldn’t believe that you weren’t manipulative and begging for money.”
The custodian’s face then turned resolute. “Now, Pastor,” he said, “you have announced a baptism. I want you to baptize me.”
C.D. couldn’t believe his ears! The power of God was truly at work!
Where to have the baptism created a slight problem. If the ceremony was far from Symphony Hall, then the nightly crowd would probably drop by half. No public pool was large enough to accommodate so many people. Such a thing was prohibited in lakes and ponds in the park. And the natural shoreline was either too dirty or too deep.
And so Brooks came up with the idea of installing a backyard swimming pool on the stage of Symphony Hall. A thick plastic sheet underneath it would protect against spilled water or condensation damaging the wood floors. Brooks and Stewart would stay in the pool baptizing, while the candidates would file in two by two. Meanwhile, the crowd could remain in their normal seating.
“Leave it to me,” the custodian said confidently when C.D. told him of his plan.
On the day of the baptism, sure enough, a humongous swimming pool occupied the stage. Immediately behind it was a magnificent waterfall cascading into the pool, with artificial palm trees surrounding it. The man had truly made the stage into a garden of beauty. Later C.D. found out that the pool and the props were the custodian’s own, right from his own backyard. At that service C. D. Brooks baptized him into the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with 129 others.
Benjamin Baker, PhD, writes from Rockville, Maryland.