In two days’ time the world lost two great men: Luciano Pavarotti, who was my favourite tenor and whose death was mainline news all over the world and Dr D James Kennedy, probably best-known for Evangelism Explosion (EE III). He died on 5 September. The report of his death was not on the mainline news (at least not where I live) – it was not even reported in the newspapers.
On two occasions I had had the privilege to meet Dr Kennedy. In 1996 I was invited to the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale for a celebration service, after EE III had been established in every single country in the world. The last country where EE III was started, was North Korea. Swaziland was one of the last countries where EE III was established. I had the honour to host the first EE III training clinic in Swaziland in 1994. When Dr Kennedy planned to have a celebration service, I received a telephone call with an invitation to join the occasion on behalf of Swaziland. What a great privilege!
Then in 1999 I was able to visit Fort Lauderdale again when my wife and I attended the newly-launched Evangelism Explosion for Children (Kids’ EE). During that week Dr Kennedy turned 69 and all of us attending the training were invited to tea with him. When I went to congratulate him, I mentioned that I had been there in 1996 and had also met him then. His immediate response was: Oh yes, I remember, you wore blue trousers on that occasion! He was joking, of course, but just for a moment I thought he was serious.
There’s a lot that he stood for and that he did which I would not be comfortable with myself, but that he inspired me to speak to others about their faith, cannot be denied. Through my training in EE III I have had countless occasions where I could share my faith with others. I have no idea how many of these people responded positively by accepting Jesus as Saviour. I’ve never been interested to count. It doesn’t matter. When I train people in evangelism I also emphasise that God did not send us to convert people. He sent us to tell others about God and about salvation. I’m the last one to say that EE III is a magic formula through which every person will be converted to Christianity. But even when people have rejected the gospel, I’ve had some of them say to me that, for the first time, they really understand what it is that Christians believe.
Pavarotti’s death touched me in another way. I never had the chance to meet him personally. I never even had the chance to attend a concert where he sang (tickets were just too expensive when he visited South Africa), but I have numerous recordings of him. I grew up in a home where music was extremely important. My father was also an opera tenor and I remember as a pre-schooler how we spent many hours as a family in concert halls in Durban (South Africa) where I grew up, whilst my dad was rehearsing for an opera. So, I couldn’t help feeling a bit nostalgic when watching the news on TV last night and hearing about Pavarotti’s death. (My dad died seven years ago and he also had great admiration for Pavarotti).
Well, I wasn’t really intending to write all of this. It just more or less came out as I started writing. And then I just thought to myself: Millions of fans were uplifted by the wonderful voice of Pavarotti. Millions of people started serving God after they had heard the gospel explained to them. Both are important to me. I believe that both are important to God. But as my son said yesterday: Perhaps, when we are in heaven, we will all be able to sing like Pavarotti.