As you read Hebrews 11, you’ll notice the names of people whose lives are well-documented and whose actions are well-remembered. We read of faith that led to action in the lives of people like Noah, Moses, Abraham, Rahab, and Joseph. But then we’re introduced to a group of people who are unnamed. The author of Hebrews simply lists them as “others” and summarizes their lives by saying that “the world was not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:38).
We live in a celebrity culture, and that culture has infiltrated the church. I have in my Amazon cart a book written by Katelyn Beaty, titled, Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church. This has become such an issue in church culture or “Christianity culture,” that the dangers or warnings against it are in book form.
Though this phenomenon is real, there’s also a group of people today who are better described as one of the “others,” the unnamed and unknown people who God has used as his hands and feet in the world.
Travis Dillard was one of the “others.” He was well known in the small country church in which I grew up. Then again, EVERYONE was well known in that small country church. Get outside his home church in Bluff Springs, Arkansas, or the church he attended when I was a kid, Corinth Baptist Church in Brockman Hill, Arkansas, and Travis was simply one of those “others.”
To the Russell family, Travis was much more than an “other.” He was a friend. He was an encourager. He was a source for a good laugh. He was an example of Jesus, though I doubt Jesus dipped chewing tobacco the way Travis did back in the day.
Travis Dillard and Billy Russell were the best of friends. I’m not sure when Travis and my dad became best friends, but I don’t recall a time when Travis wasn’t around, nor can I recall a time that he wasn’t attending Corinth Baptist Church. The earliest memories of my childhood involve Travis Dillard, one of the “others.”
There was not a better servant for the Lord than Trav. Whenever the church recognized my mom or dad for birthdays or a church anniversary or pastor appreciation, Travis was the one who had the mic and MCed the event. Whenever there was a work night or a project to be completed, Travis was among the group of people who met at the church to donate their time, effort, and money to complete the project.
One of the few times I saw my dad really get scared and weep was the day Travis had a heart attack and they didn’t know if he was going to make it. As daddy ran out the door, with tears running down his cheeks, he pleaded with me and mamma to “Please pray for Travis.”
We prayed for him, and Travis pulled through. He provided many more years of friendship for my dad. Then Travis and my brother began to form a friendship that took them to many a creek, pond, or lake to fish. I’m sure a few stories and jokes were shared as Travis proved himself to not just be my dad’s best friend, but an extremely loyal family friend. He came by to visit dad after mom passed away, and they reminisced on the good days spent at Corinth Baptist Church. He was able to see dad another time or two before dad passed away.
One of the most vivid memories I have of how Travis provided support is a memory I shouldn’t even have, because I wasn’t supposed to be privy to the conversation.
My dad pastored Corinth Baptist Church for a few decades. Corinth is like just about every other church in that part of the state: a small country church whose membership is predominantly made up of a few families who have been in their neck of the woods forever. These “family-rooted” churches are great blessings, and they can also provide unique challenges. Think about it. Suppose the church has about 60 attendees, and most of those who attend are connected to 2 or 3 large families. Say 25 of those 60 are from the John Doe family. Guess what happens when you do or say something that 1 of those 25 John Does don’t like? You guessed it. Your attendance goes from 60 to 35 in the blink of an eye.
I can recall one time in which a family had a major issue with my dad in his role as pastor. I don’t know what was said or done, but this family, who had many family members attending the church, took exception to something daddy did, so they pulled out of the church. I don’t know what all was going on in my dad’s mind, but I do know that three weeks into this “revolt by not attending church,” my dad was discouraged to the point of resignation.
Then Travis Dillard showed up at the house after church one Sunday evening. I was told to occupy myself in my room. I made it to the hall, but then I quietly sat down and eavesdropped … I mean, listened … to the conversation. Travis encouraged my dad, prayed for my dad, helped my dad think through the situation. He talked my dad out of completing the resignation letter he had already started penning. A few weeks later, that family was back in church, and the turbulent waters became calm.
It wouldn’t be too many more years before I would surrender to preach at that same church and would be given the opportunity to spread my preaching wings and preach at Corinth once a month on Sunday evenings. That provided me with an opportunity a lot of young preachers didn’t have. Sitting in that congregation was Travis Dillard. As awful as some of those sermons were, he always found something positive to say.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened with my response to the call to ministry had dad resigned and we gone to a different church. Would witnessing that large family leave the church cause me to put up my guard when I was called to preach? Would it had put a bad taste in my mouth about the church? Thankfully, I’ll never know. The Lord used Travis Dillard to encourage my dad to stay, which, I believe, made my path to surrender to ministry a bit smoother.
Once I wrap up some things in Milton on Tuesday, I’ll begin the drive along the coasts of our state and that of Alabama, drive up through the heart of Mississippi, then across some flat land in Louisiana, and finally wind my way up the road in the sticks of south Arkansas after stopping for a few hours of sleep. On Wednesday I’ll drive right by Corinth Baptist Church and arrive at the home where I grew up, the home in which my brother and his wife now live. My brother and I will then scoot up the rode a bit to the small town of Bluff Springs, where we’ll attend the funeral service for Travis Dillard, who entered the presence of his Savior this past Saturday. He may have been one of those “others” that the world did not know, but he was somebody special to the Russell family.
I don’t know that the church or this world needs more celebrities, but I do know that we need more people who are simply “others.” We need people who are in our corner, through thick and thin. We need people who are going to pick us up when most everyone else has decided to drop us or walk on by. We need those kinds of people in our lives, and we need to BE that kind of person in the lives of others. Travis Dillard was one of those people, and I pray that I’ll be that kind of person.
6 thoughts on “In honor of one of the “others””
Jonathan, this was a wonderful tribute to Travis. He was the encouragement we all needed at one time or another.
Jonathan, what a pleasure to read your tribute to Travis Dillard! I didn’t really know Travis other than through comments Billy made in my presence as we visited over the past year. I feel I got to know Mr. Dillard through Billy’s comments, and I certainly got a feel for Billy’s love for Travis through his comments. I even developed a level of appreciation as I could feel the love these two men had for each other.
A very fitting tribute to a wonderful Christian man. All of us will miss Travis Dillard.
Beautifully written (and read with tears in my eyes).
Beautiful tribute to one who appears to have been a fine man. We’re blessed when we have one like him in our midst. Condolences to all who knew and loved Mr. Dillard.
What beautiful words to honor one of God’s faithful servants.