This side of perspective. Reuniting with Brother Yadon

Socrates famously wrote, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” This quote speaks to the idea that education is not just about imparting knowledge, but about inspiring students to think critically and creatively. Teachers who encourage their students to ask questions and explore their own interests help to ignite a passion for learning that can last a lifetime. Last week on a trip with my speech and debate students to Boise, Idaho, for our National tournament, I had the rare privilege of introducing them to one of my beloved teachers. His name is Loren Yadon, and he served as one of my Bible teachers at a Pentecostal Bible school that I attended after high school. I grew up in the rural Arkansas Delta and was at the time zealously convinced of every single dogmatic assertion that my small Pentecostal church proclaimed. So continuing to Bible College was the next logical step for me to take.

Traveling for what was for me half a world away to Stockton, California, gave me a bit of apprehension. But upon arriving about a month early due to my eagerness and my mother’s insistence that I travel accompanied by a returning upperclassman who was also from Arkansas, my fears diminished upon meeting another young zealot in a prayer meeting, his name was Tony Yadon, who would become my first friend and Stockton. Tony was taller than me (as was most everyone) athletic and good looking. We were both in an early morning prayer meeting, because this was how young preachers proved their Apostolic bona fides and we were both eager to do so. Tony and I ended up being roommates later that fall, and he was kind enough to invite me over to his house where I met his parents Loren and Elaine Yadon.

The Yadon’s home was very different than the one I grew up in Northeast Arkansas. This was my first experience to spend time around people who valued cultivating a life of the mind, and it was very evident that the Yadon family loved each other. There was plenty of love in my family, but due to the cultural influences of rural Arkansas and the expectations of manual labor that was prioritized over all other pursuits, the atmosphere in the Yadon household just felt otherworldly as I remember it. Everything that I experienced in those early months at Christian Life College seemed to be something transplanted directly from Heaven itself. The church was larger, the worship more intense, the Bible preaching and teaching more in depth than anything I had experienced back home. And I was someone who prided myself on never missing a church service and had committed a lot of the King James Version of the Bible to memory, but the novelty of this kind of Pentecostal ferocity was different. I was experiencing Pentecostal Nirvana of sorts.

But it was in Loren Yadon’s class that my theological foundations were shaken. Floating in the tributary of Pentecostalism that was our narrow stream, required a lot of paddling, yet Loren Yadon introduced me to the strong current of God’s grace. Grace wasn’t entirely a novel concept to me, we payed lip service to it in my small church, but for the most part salvation was dependent on our ability to jump through certain hoops of obscure biblical positions or sometimes to just literally jump to a particularly enthusiastic choir song. However Brother Yadon taught about God’s grace in a way that helped me actually feel the wind of the Spirit propelling the sails of my soul. Chalk it up to my natural emotionally sensitive disposition, but something within me resonated with Yadon’s teachings. There was something in the water in Stockton that had all of us students jockeying for spiritual power. We coveted Apostolic power, we wanted to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, and many of us claimed to do so. At the very least we wanted to command congregations with homiletical prowess, enlightening them to spiritual revelations with our cleaver insights, knowledge, and wisdom. In spite of all of this, Loren Yadon graciously and quietly, by contrast, invited us to rest in the security of God’s unrelenting grace.

Loren Yadon was an early example to me by also modeling what it meant to challenge institutions to change. Brother Yadon famously preached a message that questioned our small Pentecostal organization’s propensity to regularly ostracize or outright fight with those within the group who deviated or questioned the collective conventional wisdom. Loren Yadon lost his job at the Bible College for challenging the constituency of our fellowship to show grace to one another. Ironically, as a result, very little grace was extended to Loren Yadon. But like the grace that he proclaimed, Brother Yadon persevered.

A few years later, I would have another influential encounter with my beloved teacher. I was in the Yadon home again, after they had relocated to Idaho. I was there for Tony’s wedding, and Brother Yadon and I had a few minutes to visit. By this time I was attempting to carve out a ministry for myself as a traveling evangelist with very little success. I was very good at parroting the party line, but the seeds Yadon had planted in my heart and mind were beginning to sprout. And on this particular day, Yadon poured a substantial dose of “miracle grow” on my fledging theological buds. I listened intently as Brother Yadon recalled a history of our Pentecostal movement that no one had ever shared with me before. I won’t bore you with the particulars, but suffice it to say, that Loren Yadon was the first to reveal to me that our group’s emphasis on the lone passage in Acts 2:38, as the “Plan of Salvation” hadn’t always been the consensus view among our brand of Pentecostalism, and its dogmatic assertion was a relatively recent development. I didn’t say a lot. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say, yet Brother Yadon, once again extended grace to my naivete. That moment launched me on a trajectory that included eventually leaving the small Pentecostal organization that I grew up in, although I would struggle for years with the implications of what I was told verses the realities of history. To this day, I’m still attempting to navigate the complexities of my strict religious heritage and the enlightenments gleaned from immersing myself in recorded histories and competing biblical perspectives. The journey continues, but I’m thankful for the men and women like Loren and Elaine Yadon, who serve as touchstones to this continuing trek.

It was a surreal moment to walk into the downtown Boise hotspot and see my old Bible professor standing there accompanied by his sweet wife and Tony’s son, their grandson Nick. Stranger still was introducing my motely crew of college students to Brother Yadon. Life continues to have surprising twists and turns. If you had told Bible School Scot, that now, in my fifties, I would be serving as a Professor at a progressive Christian university in North Dakota, I would have probably attempted to deliver you from your obvious demonic possession. But from this side of perspective the continuity is beautiful. Introducing my students to a beloved sage who played a significant role in directing my journey, made me wonder about where the roads will lead these few now entrusted to my instruction. Most days I feel less than qualified for the job, but that moment of inspiration in Idaho provided inspiration for the whatever comes next.

Back in Bible college, we always wanted to preach. Preaching to the student body was considered the pinnacle of God’s endorsement on our aspiring ministries. I remember one occasion when Tony was chosen to preach and we were all envious, perhaps in our worst thoughts considering that some sort of nepotism was at play. I distinctly remember the illustration Tony used in his sermon that day, he asked his dad for his suit jacket which was at least two sizes too big. Loren’s jacket draped over Tony’s shoulders illustrated an enduring truth that neither Tony, nor any of us listening at the moment could comprehend -the truth that we can only live in the present. As much as we want to revisit the past or how much space in our heads is filled with dreams of the future, all any of us have is this present moment. I’m grateful for the moments Loren Yadon shared with me, and hope we will have more moments to come, but for a couple of hours in Boise we were together once again. We reminisced about the past, and I introduced him to inhabitants of the future, but we all enjoyed the present.

A few years ago, Tony stood beside me through an especially challenging season. I thanked Loren and Elaine for gifting my world with this life long friend, who continues to demonstrate loyal and inspiring friendship. I told Loren and Elaine, “Tony is a much better friend to me than I have ever been to him.” And then I told Nick how much he reminded me of his father at that age, and volunteered “If I can ever do anything to help you, don’t hesitate to ask.” It’s something old men say to young men. Nick smiled, to which I replied, “Although you’re in a much better position to help me than I am you.” We both laughed. We posed for some pictures. Nick graciously took some pictures of me and my college students and the moment passed as we waved good bye. I do hope it was only as I’m sure we all intended; “see you later.”

I remain convinced that the only advantage age has over youth is experience, and perhaps some wisdom that we obtain along the way. The young are never in a position to appreciate the wisdom those older than they can provide, and if they were they wouldn’t be much fun at all. I’m thankful that I have opportunities to laugh with my students and they have the opportunity to laugh at me. Mostly, I’m thankful that I still have the opportunities to say “Thank you” to people like Loren and Elaine Yadon and to facilitate meetings that may have never otherwise happened had it not been for the accident, or as I prefer to think of it, the providence of my existence. In that moment, me, the Yadon’s, their grandson, and my students all stood on a metaphorical bridge in Boise called education. Education brought us together, memories enveloped in love and gratitude keeps us together. Each of us in our own way was simultaneously contributing and receiving from one another across the expanse of time and space, from one generation to the next.

Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activism, believed that education was the key to building a better future. He once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Mandela understood that teachers have the power to shape the minds of future leaders and activists, and that education is a powerful tool for social change.

Loren Yadon did this for me. Perhaps if I’m half the educator he is, I’ll do some good for my students as well.

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