So many calls came for ministry that I left Charleston and took to the road in 1940. I was in a low state physically, for I had been suffering from nervous exhaustion for two years and a traveling ministry seemed the last thing a preacher in my condition should undertake. It meant getting adjusted and yet never getting adjusted week after week to different beds, food, climates, environment, and continually rising to the occasion. Yet the way had opened, and I could only go forward.
My first engagement was with the Mel Trotter Mission Bible Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I got as far as Chicago, came down with the flu, and wound up in a hospital. The devil sat on the foot of the bed and laughed at my discomfort. The doctor told me to go south. I wired the Florida Bible Institute and accepted an invitation I had declined earlier. There I recuperated and met a gracious little lady who became my wife, who has meant more to me than anyone else on earth. The Lord knew I needed to go south instead of north! Also in that school I met a lean, lanky student named Billy Graham, and we had our pictures taken on the campus. Twenty years later, we posed for another snapshot. What God wrought in twenty years!
I married Sara Allred in 1940 and we took to the road. I could write a book on how the Lord has made a way for us without any conniving on my part. I have seen doors open that I couldn’t have pried loose with a crowbar. I have no organization and have never prepared even a brochure for publicity, yet I could have kept another man busy with calls I could not accept. Satan tried to tell me that nobody would stand for my kind of preaching and that I would starve to death. I look like I’m starving, but I eat three meals a day. From Bible conferences all over the country and from church revivals, I gradually became occupied almost full time with my own denomination, the Southern Baptists. I had been a Southern Baptist since I was a boy, except for a brief time when I was a member of First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, while Dr. W. B. Riley was pastor. Dr. Riley baptized my wife, who had been of the Quaker persuasion. I was on a program with Dr. W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Church, Dallas, in a conference held in the old Baptist Tabernacle of Atlanta, Georgia. Later I was invited to the Texas Evangelism Conference in 1949, held at First Baptist, Dallas. Thus began a new field of ministry in evangelistic conferences, as well as church revivals, all over the convention.
A serious illness in 1960 almost took my life and after major surgery, a blood clot brought me to the door of death. A fine Christian nurse sat by my bed all that night, at her own request, praying and watching. Prayers went up all over the country. Billy Graham called my wife that night from Miami to say that he and his wife had prayer for me and believed the Lord would let me live awhile longer to prepare sermons for other men to preach. The Lord definitely healed me and after five months out of the pulpit, I started again by preaching in First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas.
Today (1967), after twenty-seven years on the road, fifty-two years in the ministry, and twenty books, (He went on to author 41 books) I can only marvel at the way God has gone before me in this journey from Jugtown, North Carolina.
All the way my Saviour leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my Guide?
Retirement is supposed to mean that I should sit in a rocking chair, wait for my social security check, and remember the good old days. But I have no thought of retiring. I would say with Caleb, “Give me this mountain. . . . (Joshuar 14:12). I am not asking for molehills. Old soldiers need not fade away. I have asked like Hezekiah for an extension of time; like Jabez, for an enlargement of coast; like Elisha, for an enduement of power. Caeb did not suffer, like the ten frightened spies, from a grasshopper complex. Too many cowards are cringing before the giants of Anak. May God give us Calebs looking for mountains to conquer!
– Vance Havner