An American missionary and North Carolina native, who was known around the world as a legend in his own time, went to meet his Lord and Savior on Tuesday, April 17, 2007 at Christian Ministries Hospice near his home in Georgia.
Less than two weeks before he died, Rev. Harold J. Stevens, 85, of Griffin, had taken a turn for the worse, but his health gradually improved in the following days. Why? He told family and friends that he believed it was because he had unfinished business.
And what was that business? At one time or another, Harold had witnessed to everyone in his neighborhood, but one couple remained heavy on his heart. The man apparently didn’t respond, but God extended Harold’s life long enough for him to share Jesus Christ with the wife – his neighbor.
Witnessing at every available opportunity was something that Harold Stevens was driven to do. Even in the confines of a jet airliner cruising 39,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean en route to Africa, Harold shared the love of Jesus with his seatmates, and he frequently managed to engage the plane’s captain in a discussion that quickly moved from flying an aircraft to meeting the Lord in the sky.
Harold was born Sept. 20, 1921 in Wayne County, NC, son of the late Rex Stevens and the late Bertie Jinnette Stevens. Harold was still in his twenties when he and his new bride embarked on an African adventure that would underscore his life’s work.
A man of prayer, Harold was “consumed about others,” said Rev. Chuck Chambers, pastor of Woolsey Baptist Church, where the celebration of Harold’s life was held on Friday, April 20 at 3 p.m. “He had an eternal perspective,” the pastor said. Dozens of friends, before and after the funeral, along with his daughter, Becky, referred to him as a “spiritual giant.”
In the late 1930s, Harold’s ambition was to be a football coach, but God had other plans. He served in the South Pacific, and as World War II ended, Harold’s ship, the USS Vestal, was deployed to the coast of China where American sailors helped millions of Chinese refugees.
He observed the spiritual darkness that encompasses people and nations that don’t know Jesus, and that’s where Harold heard God’s calling to the mission field. After his discharge from the U.S. Navy, he returned home from the war and graduated from Columbia International University (formerly Columbia Bible College) in Columbia, SC, and was ordained as a Baptist minister.
He and Josephine were married eight days after his graduation in 1948. They sailed for South Africa in March 1949 and began a ministry to the Zulu people through the South Africa General Mission. Before they returned to the United States 27 years later, Harold had flown his single-engine, tail-hook airplane in all the African countries south of the Congo.
Several years ago, Harold wrote the book, “God’s Bush Pilot,” which describes his exploits on the mission field.
In 1998, the executive director of The Gideons International in South Africa told Fred Hughes, who is presently chairman of the Harvesters board of directors, that Gideons who make scripture distributions among the Zulu people continue to hear stories about a white man from America who, many years ago, came to South Africa and piloted an airplane, and told them about Jesus.
Upon his return to the U.S., Harold served with CNEC and Pioneers Missions, and then served more than two decades with Harvesters International. When he died, Harold was one of 12 members of the board of directors. When Harvesters was founded three decades ago, the organization’s mission statement reflected Harold’s vision to reach the unreached through the training and assisting of national missionaries.
About three years ago, Harold turned over the reigns of leadership as director of Harvesters to his hand-picked successor, Ed Hirshman. Hirshman described Harold as “totally surrendered, and separated by God for one purpose,” to proclaim the Gospel.
According to Hirshman, when he met Harold, “The Lord gave me a father figure, a disciple maker and a mentor.” Harold Stevens missed very few opportunities to witness for his Lord. One such story involved a wealthy Texas oilman whose life was transformed after meeting Harold in Zululand. Harold asked the Texan to read the Gospel of John in one sitting.
“That’s God’s love letter to mankind,” Harold told the man. When the oilman died, Harold preached his funeral in Texas, and then had the opportunity to win a dozen of the oilman’s friends – all millionaires – to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
“Here’s the point,” said Hughes, “it’s not just a story.” For Harold, “It was a way of life.”
Hughes described Harold as “called,” and driven by a “single purpose,” to tell others about Christ. Hughes said Harold was bold in his witnessing, and, most importantly, his life had produced “lasting fruit.”
While focusing on the national missionary initiative, Harold challenged everyone to exercise the Great Commission, “to go and make disciples,” said Hirshman, “not converts to our way of thinking or our denominations.”
Harold wanted people to “not just go to church,” but to “be the church,” Hirshman added.
Nearly two decades ago, Harvesters partnered with Julius Murgor, the second member of the Pokot tribe in Western Kenya to accept Christ. Murgor is now director of national ministries among the Pokot.
Today, more than half of this tribe of about one million nomadic herdsmen has been reached with the Gospel. “Harold’s focus on supporting and equipping the national missionary initiative speaks for itself today,” stated Hirshman. “With us is Pastor Julius Murgor, a product of what Harold has poured his life into. God has used Julius in a tremendous way and as a result, over 26,000 have been saved and baptized.”
Murgor, who has been visiting supporting churches in the U.S. since March, was able to be at the celebration service in Georgia where he offered a special prayer.
Added Hirshman, the impact of Harold and Josephine’s ministry isn’t limited to South Africa, or Kenya. It reaches around the world. Harold’s survivors include his wife of 56 years, Josephine M. Stevens of Griffin; daughter and son-in-law, Becky Stevens-Grobbelaar and Christo Grobbelaar, also of Griffin; son, Bob Stevens of Cullowhee, NC; nephews, Bobby Crawford, John Crawford, and Jay Howell, and nieces, Judy Porter and Treva Howell.
He was a former member of the Woolsey Baptist Church and was currently a member of Orchard Hill First Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. Bill Johnson.
A committal service was held on Monday, April 23 at 10 a.m. in the Falling Creek Baptist Church in Grantham, NC. Interment followed in the church cemetery. The family has requested that memorial donations be made to Harvesters International Missions.
By: Fred Hughes