Dr. Jimmy Allen and his wife, Linda; NBC Executive Director Hannah McMahan; and President Jimmy Carter and wife, Roslyn.

I remember running into Dr. Allen at a CBF gathering one time. We were staying on the same floor of the hotel and stood waiting together for the elevator to come. When the next elevator arrived, it was already packed full of people.

Never one to pass up the opportunity to address a captive audience, Dr. Allen raised his arms in front of the forward looking passengers and said, “I’m sure you are all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today.” The confused looks were soon hidden by the closing elevator doors, but not before he could get in “Now if you’ll all open your Broadman hymnals to page….”

We will all miss Dr. Allen’s warm wit and inviting nature. But I remember that day in front of the elevators because that wasn’t the only time I was with Dr. Allen when he addressed a room full of people who weren’t entirely sure why they were all there.

In the days before New Baptist Covenant was New Baptist Covenant, he spoke to a lot of leaders who were uncertain if it was possible to bring so many Baptists of diverse theological and racial backgrounds together. But with his vision, commitment to relationships and sometimes his stubborn determination to refuse to hear what was “possible” and “impossible,” he kept making progress. It was often slow work.

Once he shared with me how one of his sons was a landscaper in Texas. He was successful and sought after by many. People around the state knew him as a person who could make things grow in the sandy Texas soil. It wasn’t easy work, what his son did, he explained, but it was important work.

The key, he told me, was that his son kept bringing in new soil to mix with the old. He mulched, watered and fertilized them together until it was the proper environment in which the plants could flourish. He knew that the key to a beautiful lawn and garden wasn’t so much in what was planted, but in the soil that gave them nourishment and life.

That, he said, was what New Baptist Covenant was meant to do. It was an organization committed to taking care of and building up the soil so that other work could flourish and grow. Being in the business of building soil isn’t always flashy and exciting, but we can all rest assured that if the soil is prepared a beautiful garden can grow.

We’re going to miss Dr. Allen for all the things he planted. But I’m going to miss him most of all for the ways he prepared the soil for others to grow in ways we might never even know.

NBC would like to invite you to share your memories of Dr. Allen or send a note of sympathy to his family. We will collect them and pass them along.

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