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On this date in 1993, my father, Edwin J. Baldwin, passed away. He was the greatest man I’ve ever known.
Dad was born on March 1, 1907: the same year that Marion Morrison (aka John Wayne) was born. The 6’ 4” “Duke” passed away in 1979; my 5’ 6” father passed away 14 years later.
Dad was born in the little village of Lake, Michigan. Yes, that’s a real town. When he was a baby, his family moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was raised. He was the oldest of 5 children, 3 boys and 2 girls. His father (my grandfather) was a deacon in the Christian Church, though not a Christian himself until years later.
Dad was a master welder by trade—one of the very best. That assessment came not from me but from the welders who worked beside him and the employers who hired him. When he retired from the New York Blower Company, the owner told my dad in a public ceremony: “Ed, if I had 50 welders like you, I could let the rest of the company go.”
Dad married young and had two little girls (my half-sisters).
However, there was another side to Ed Baldwin: For over 20 years, he was a confirmed alcoholic. His drinking eventually cost him his health, his marriage and family and almost took his life.
When Dad was 40 years old, he was so desperate to stop drinking that he began attending AA meetings in Little Rock. The 3rd step of the AA program sent him on a life-changing search. The 3rd step of the AA program says, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”
Dad had no idea what that statement meant or how to even make such a decision, so he began a personal journey to find the meaning of that 3rd step of AA by searching out the churches of Little Rock.
That search led him to the High Street Baptist Church, which was pastored by Harvey Hicks, who himself had been an alcoholic. It was Pastor Hicks that led my dad to Christ. From the day that Dad was saved at the age of 40 to the day he went to Heaven in 1993, he never tasted a single drop of alcoholic beverage—not one drop: over 45 years of total sobriety. Dad’s deliverance from alcohol addiction is one of the great miracle stories of the 20th Century.
I remember Dad giving the account of a conversation he had with Pastor Hicks not long after he was saved. He asked Brother Hicks, “Pastor, will I ever drink again?” Pastor Hicks’ answer was Heaven-sent. He replied, “Ed, I’m not telling you that you will never drink again, but I am telling you that you will never have to drink again.”
Yes, the chains were broken and the captive was set free, just as our Savior said would happen to those who trust him. (Luke 4:18)
Not long after Dad’s conversion—and through some remarkable “circumstances”—the Lord led my father to La Porte, Indiana, where I was born. Before leaving Arkansas, Dad married a dedicated Christian lady who, of course, became my mother. Dad was 45 when I was born. My mother was almost 40. My mother had no children before I was born. She had been in poor health, and doctors told her that she would never be able to have children.
After Dad and Mom married, Dad began praying for a son; and he asked God to make his son a preacher. And, well, here I am.
Not long after moving to Indiana, Dad became an ordained chaplain and began ministering to the inmates at the La Porte County jail. After retiring from welding, he became a chaplain at the Indiana State Prison (ISP) in Michigan City—a maximum security prison in which executions were carried out. Dad continued his jail and prison ministry for over 35 years. He won hundreds, if not thousands, of men to Christ.
After I became old enough, Dad would sometimes take me with him to the prison. That’s where I met “Tiny.”
An African-American, Tiny was the largest and most powerfully built man I have ever seen in my life. He was a giant. And he was a “lifer” and one of Dad’s first converts in prison. Tiny loved my dad for telling him about Christ; and Tiny made it his mission in life to protect my father inside those prison walls. Anybody who even thought about doing my father harm knew they would have to deal with Tiny, something that nobody wanted to do.
Tiny would pick my father up and give him a big bear hug every time Dad came into the prison. I remember him picking me up too. He made grown men feel like small children by his sheer size and strength. I remember the last time I saw him. He said to me, “Chuck, I will pray for you every day for the rest of my life.” In fact, there were several men inside the ISP that Dad had won to Christ back then who met together daily to pray for both my dad and me.
Tiny has been gone for many years. I don’t know exactly when he went to Heaven, of course. It was sometime after Dad passed. But I have felt the loss of that big man’s prayers—as I have felt the loss of the prayers of my mother and father and so many of the older men and women who I know daily took my name to the throne of grace.
Backing up: When I was a youngster, Harry Saulnier and Jack O’Dell asked Dad to come to the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago to produce his life story on its international radio program, Unshackled. Years later, Dad was invited to return to the mission for a second radio production. As far as I know, Dad is the only person that has had two separate productions of his life story made on the Unshackled radio program. They tried to get Dad to come back for a third production, but by that time, Dad was up in years and had decided to not return to the big city anymore.
Dad spoke the prisoner’s language. He had a way of communication that was magic. No, it was miraculous. Let me give you just one example.
When I was a boy, Dad was invited to speak to the entire inmate population (except those in solitary confinement, of course) at Pendleton Prison in Indianapolis. This is the prison that housed the infamous gangster, John Dillinger.
As Dad began to address that sea of thousands of prisoners, he was drowned out by the sound of the entire audience letting out a collective growl. It was deafening. The growls of thousands of men reverberating off of the concrete floors, stone walls and steel doors were as loud as or louder than a freight train. This happened each time Dad attempted to speak.
Dad bowed his head on stage and silently prayed.
When he finished praying, he raised his head and began speaking again. This time, the building was as quiet as a mortuary. You could have heard a mouse running across the floor. Dad spoke for over an hour. And when he finished, he asked the men who would trust Christ as their Savior to get out of their seats and come to the stage and shake his hand.
Folks, what happened next was one of the most amazing sights one could ever see. Hundreds of prisoners—some of the roughest, meanest and hardened criminals on earth—rose up out of their chairs and walked to the front to shake Dad’s hand—many with tears streaming down their faces—as a testimony of accepting Christ as their Savior. He knelt on the stage and with both hands shook hand after hand for what seemed like an eternity.
The stories I could tell about my father are almost endless. Dad was the one that God used the most to make me who and what I am today.
Before I was old enough to read, my father taught me to memorize the entire 66 books of the Bible—in order. Before I started kindergarten, Dad taught me to memorize dozens of scripture verses.
Seeing my father up close and personal for all of those years, I believe the following four characteristics define his life:
1. He was a man with the deepest humility.
2. He was a man with the richest honesty.
3. He was a man with the rawest courage.
4. He was a man with the purest compassion.
Dad was as tough as nails and as soft as a feather. I’ve never met a man his equal.
After his conversion to Christ, God miraculously healed his sick and broken body. I don’t ever remember him going to a doctor. For that matter, I don’t remember him ever being sick.
In October of 1992, I drove my mother and father from my home on the Gulf Coast to their home in Northern Indiana. Along that almost 900 mile drive, mostly on Interstate 65, I was puzzled by something Dad did: He saluted every American flag he saw—every single one. I had never seen him do anything of that sort before. I didn’t have the courage to ask him what he was doing.
Again, that was in October. He passed away four months later. Somehow, Dad must have had a premonition that he was taking his last trip across the country he loved so much. He must have sensed that he would soon be “home.”
Dad made me promise to preach his funeral for him. When that day came, I wished he hadn’t made me promise to do that, because it was the hardest thing I had done in my life. Plus, I ended up preaching two funerals for him. The first one was in Indiana, and the second one was in Florida where we lived at the time and where he and my mother are buried (Mom passing away in 1997).
Inscribed on mom and dad’s tombstone are the words “Homesick No More.” In his elderly years, Dad longed to be with friends and loved ones in Heaven (after his conversion, Dad won his father and youngest brother to Christ) and most of all to see the One who had saved his soul and changed his life.
I close this column reminding readers that we will send a free CD copy of my dad’s life story as dramatized on the Unshackled radio program to anyone who requests a copy.
If you or anyone you know has an addiction problem or if you are a family member of an addict, I urge you to order this free copy of my dad’s life story. This dramatized radio broadcast has been heard all over the world. Only God knows how many people with alcohol or drug addictions have been set free through listening to Dad’s miraculous deliverance.
Again, to order the free CD (audio only) of Dad’s life story, go here.
Yes, the greatest man I’ve ever known is my father, Edwin J. Baldwin.
© Chuck Baldwin
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