The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar by Jay Strack
Chapter 2 by Jay Strack
In 1984, I (Jay Strack wrote this chapter) was on the platform of the Coliseum in Midland, Texas. Just moments before I was to get up and speak, a man hurried up and handed me a message. It read, “Jay, call your mother’s doctor in the hospital in Orlando.’ My mother was in the hospital battling cancer, so I had been expecting this message for some time.
I folded the note and made the shortest presentation in history. Immediately afterward, I made arrangements to fly to Orlando by private plane—there was no time to wait for a scheduled airline.
I arrived at the hospital early the next morning, weary from missing a night’s sleep. I spent time with Mom, and I conferred with the doctors and my half-brother, Rocky. While I was in the hospital, I kept hearing a page over the intercom: “Mr. Strack, report to the front desk. Mr. Strack, report to the front desk” I knew they couldn’t be paging me, because hardly anyone knew I was there. They had to be calling a different Mr. Strack. But after I had heard the page a number of times, I decided I ought to at least check and make sure it wasn’t for me. I went to the front desk and said, ”My name is Jay Strack. Have you been paging me?” The receptionist said, “No, we want the Mr. Strack’
Just then, a man approached the desk. He said, “Did I hear you say that your name is Jay Strack?”
“That’s right:’ I said. “My name is Gary Strack’ he said. “I’m the CEO of this hospital— and I’m your brother’
Well, that was a startling introduction! I knew only one brother— my half-brother Rocky, who had the same mother as me, but a different father and a different last name. At the moment, I was dog-tired and stressed out, and I was in no mood for jokes—and I told him so. “It’s no joke:’ Gary Strack said. “You and I are brothers—well, half- brothers. We have the same dad, but different mothers. My dad was married to my mom before he married your mom. By the way, how is Billie doing?” Billie was my mother’s name.
“Well, at the moment:’ I told him, “my mother is here in your hospital, dying of cancer’
He looked stunned. “0h’ he said, “I’m so sorry to hear that’
A short time later, I lost my mother—but amazingly, I had gained a brother I never knew I had.
Gary and I went on to become fast friends. It turned out that we had a lot of things in common, including very similar type-A personalities. We had also struggled with many of the same issues, including having battled alcohol problems. Gary was highly respected in Orlando and had become CEO of one of the largest health care systems in Florida. Today, Gary and I are more than merely brothers—we are brothers in the Christian faith, and he serves on my board of directors.
Looking back, I remembered getting a message from someone who claimed to be my brother, but I had ignored it, thinking it was a hoax. I asked Gary about that message, and he said that, yes, several years earlier, he had seen me on a TV talk show and had called my home and left a message for me. When he didn’t hear back he just let it go until he happened to bump into me at the hospital.
I kid Gary about our dad. “Dad loved you best:’ I say. “He walked out on each of us when we were six years old—but he stayed six days longer with you than he stayed with me!”
Why am I telling you this story? As I was reading what Pat said in the previous chapter, I was reminded of the fact that we all face six-hundred-to-one odds in some area of our lives. In my case, the long odds I had to overcome had to do with how crazy and mixed-up my family was. It was six hundred to one that I would ever amount to anything, that I would ever achieve anything in life but my own destruction.
You might be wondering how a man can grow to adulthood completely unaware of the existence of an older brother. Well, to understand how something like that was possible, you’d have to know my family background. Let me introduce you.
I was born in Orlando, Florida. My father, a successful businessman, was listed in Who’s Who, but he was so seldom home that we all said, “Who’s he?” He was chairman of the board everywhere but in our home. Others saw my father as a success, but at home we saw another person when the drinking took over his life. He would shout, threaten and beat my mother, and the police would come to our house to break it up.
When I was six years old, my father walked out on my mother, my half-brother, Rocky, and me so that he could be with another woman. Night after night, I prayed that God would send my daddy home, but it didn’t happen. The message I got from my dad’s abandonment was: “Jay, you’re a loser. You’re nobody. You’re not important to me, and I don’t want you in my life.”
After my dad left, my mother worked two or three jobs, trying to hold together what was left of our family. Finally, Mom sat my brother and me down for a tearful announcement: “I can’t take care of you both’ A few days later, she sent my older brother away to be raised by his grandparents in a more stable environment. I was alone.
My mom dated a lot of guys and went through several marriages. Every man she was attracted to was someone she had met in a bar— in other words, a guy with an alcohol problem. She had already been abandoned by an alcoholic husband, yet she kept going back to guys who were just like him or worse.
With each new man who came into my mom’s life, my hopes rose. But inevitably, each “step-dad” who came into our lives would turn out to be a guy who drank—and who hurt us. On more than one occasion, I had to get out my Louisville Slugger baseball bat and tell some guy to quit hitting my mother—or to quit hitting me. The morning after a new “step-dad’s” drunken tirades, I’d go to school and all my friends would know about the big fight at our house. I tried to laugh it off around my friends, but inside I was dying.
I got used to the men moving in and out of our house until the summer that one of the men brought his older son. That was the summer I learned about sexual abuse. I wrote dozens of letters to my real dad, begging him to come and rescue me. He never came. He never even answered my letters. Years later, when I was an adult, I had a long talk with my dad. I asked him why he never answered my letters. He said he never received any of them. Then I knew: Mom had never mailed them. At the time, when my letters went unanswered, I suspected she had stopped them—but I refused to believe it.
After six or so men moved in and out, one moved in who promised to stay. He actually married my mom. “Jay,” he said, “you can call me Dad, and I will treat you like my own son.” I was so excited to have a dad again that I went to school the next day and told all my friends about him. I really bragged him up. I even told my friends that he played third base for the Yankees! I was excited. But before long, Bob was staying out late drinking, just like all the rest.
One night, Bob was out late and my mom and I got in the car to go get him. Mom said,” If he doesn’t leave that bar, I’m divorcing him!” We got to the bar and she went inside. I waited in the car and soon she came back out—alone and crying. I knew what that meant.
But I was ten years old and I wanted a dad. I thought I could talk him into coming home and everything would be okay. So I went in and found Bob sitting and drinking with his buddies. With tears I pleaded, “You promised to be my dad. Please come home. Mom’s going to divorce you if you don’t.”
Bob said, “Jay, I tell you what—if you’ll get on your knees and beg me, I’ll come home and be your dad.” So I got down on my knees and begged. And what did Bob do? He started laughing at me. And all the other men in that bar laughed along with him.
My heart became hard after that. The tears would no longer flow. It was as if someone had turned a light off inside me. Back in the car, Mom had her own pain to deal with, and I decided I would never ask anyone for anything again.
To cope with the pain, I became the class clown in school. I was often in trouble. A few years ago my wife found an old report card with this comment by the teacher: “If Jay would spend as much time studying as he does coming up with ways to aggravate people, he would be an A student.” I wanted people to notice me. Even getting punished was better than being ignored.
I blamed God for all the pain in my life, for the fact that my dad left us, for my alcoholic step-dads, for the fights and violence in our home, for the adultery that kept ripping our home apart, for the abuse that had scarred me.
By the time I became a teenager, I stopped blaming God. Why? Because I had stopped believing in God.
I had seen alcohol destroy my family, and I told myself I would never let alcohol do to me what it had done to my father and to Bob. At school and in the neighborhood, I was surrounded by booze and drugs, and at first I kept my promise to myself. But at the age of twelve, with no family to go home to, I was tired of being alone. When a gang of older boys took me in, I accepted their lifestyle and had my first beer. Soon they offered me marijuana and other drugs. I didn’t want to do drugs. Beer, I understood. Drugs, I didn’t.
But my friends said, “You should at least find out what you’re missing ” So I tried one pill. Soon I was taking pills by the handful; pills of all colors, shapes and sizes. I was also smoking dope and drinking. One day I rolled up my sleeve and stuck in the first needle, and it just seemed like no big deal. Just another high.
When I was high, I felt fine. When I wasn’t high, I felt like a nothing, a nobody, a kid nobody wanted. I was busted four times and spent parts of several summers in juvenile detention centers. It didn’t matter what the consequences were because when I was high, I forgot about the pain of the past, even if only for a little while.
My senior year in high school, a young man in our school came back twin a Christian youth retreat and he wanted everyone to know about his Jesus. The young man’s name was Charlie Thompson. He’d grown tip in the church, but at that retreat, he met Christ personally and his life was completely changed. He started carrying his Bible to school, and he was happy all the time. I thought he was just crazy. No one could he genuinely happy all the time—not in this life.
I had Charlie Thompson in four classes my senior year, so I couldn’t get away from the guy! He kept telling me, “Jay, you need Jesus!” He gave me Christian tracts—little pamphlets. I read those tracts, and it was all new to me. I was seventeen years old and had never heard that God loved me or that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.
One day, Charlie made a mistake. He gave me a tract while I was with my buddies. I didn’t mind it when he gave me tracts when it was just the two of us; I’d say, “Thanks’ and I’d read it. But this time he’d embarrassed me in front of my friends—and that was unacceptable. I didn’t want anyone to associate me with this crazy Charlie guy, so I publicly tore up the tract and said, “Man, get away from me with all this stuff!”
Charlie was hurt. He said, “If these guys were really your friends, they wouldn’t want you to waste your life with drugs. They don’t care what happens to you, but I do and Jesus does.” I couldn’t grasp that. Could God really care about me? Why would he? My life was a mess— even my own father didn’t care about me.
Later, when no one was looking, I gathered up all the pieces of the tract I had torn up, taped it back together and read it. I didn’t want anyone to know it, but I was hungry to know more.
One night, Charlie asked me to go to a Bible study with him. I said, “Not tonight. I’ve got tickets to a rock concert. I’m going to see The Who’. He said, “Go ahead—but I’m praying that you have a miserable time. I’m praying that every time you see the sign of the cross somewhere, you’re going to remember that Jesus nailed your sins to a cross”
I laughed it off—but during the drive to that concert, I realized for the first time in my life how much telephone poles look like crosses! I must have seen two thousand crosses on the way to that concert!
The band came out onstage, and there was Roger Daltry, the lead singer of The Who—and around his neck was the biggest gold cross I had ever seen! When the spotlight shone on that cross, it just about blinded me! I said to my buddies, “I’m gonna kill that Charlie Thompson! I’ll bet he called Roger Daltry’s dressing room and told him to wear that cross!”
During the concert, Daltry repeatedly used God’s name in vain. I had grown up on the streets and my language was as foul as the next punk’s—but for the past few weeks, I had been hearing about Jesus Christ and the price he paid on the cross. So every time I heard the name of Jesus used as a cussword, it stabbed like a knife.
I saw one of my buddies give drugs to a twelve-year-old boy, and I became furious! I threw my buddy to the ground and said, “What’s the matter with you! You want this kid to end up like us?” He said, “What do you mean? What’s wrong with us?”
I said, “Man, I’m so sick of always being drunk and high and fighting with each other over nothing. I’m just sick of this empty life!”
He said, “Man, you sound like Charlie Thompson!”
And suddenly it hit me—I wanted what Charlie had been talking about. But Charlie wasn’t there to tell me how to get what he had, so I just prayed to God. It was the first time I had prayed since I was six years old and I begged God to send my daddy home.
With the guitar of Pete Townsend and the voice of Roger Daltry blasting my brain, I told Jesus, ”lf you get me home safely, I promise I’ll go to Bible study!” I knew everyone in the car, including the driver, was high on various drugs and I knew they’d be drinking all the way home. After a big concert, there were always a number of drunken crashes along “Alligator Alley’ the road between Miami and Fort Myers.
Well, I made it home safely that night, and I kept my promise to God. The next night I went to a Bible study. There, I heard the greatest story ever told—that if God is for you, who could be against you? I also learned that night that it’s not how you start in life, but how you finish.
The flashback of kneeling in that bar and being laughed at kept coming back to me. “How do I know God won’t laugh?” I wondered. “How do I know that he won’t leave me?” But he didn’t laugh—and he has never left me.
It’s hard to believe that a simple prayer from the heart can transform your life, but it can. In a moment of surrender I said, “Jesus, here is my messed up life. Take it.” God heard me, and I was changed.
I would have never believed it myself had I not been there. The best definition of “coincidence” I ever heard is this: A coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. I still can’t get over the amazing “coincidence” of all the crosses I saw the night Charlie Thompson told me he’d be praying for me. What were the odds that Roger Daltry would come out onstage that night wearing the biggest cross I have ever seen?
Offhand, I figure around six hundred to one. Shamgar odds.
And what are the odds that a kid from my background would survive all the alcohol and drugs I pumped into my body? What are the odds that I would ever make it to adulthood, let alone live a successful, fulfilled life?
What were the odds that a kid from my background would ever graduate college cum laude, earn a doctorate and build a program like Student Leadership University, which trains young people to be influential leaders?
What are the odds that a kid from my background would become an author and speaker and have the privilege of sharing a message of hope, success and fulfillment with audiences across the country and around the world?
At best, those were six-hundred-to-one odds. Shamgar odds. You can relate to Shamgar odds as well as I can. We all face overwhelming odds in one way or another—not just when we are pursuing our grand dreams, but often when we are simply trying to survive a difficult situation. Perhaps your medical file is as thick as a phone book. Perhaps the most important relationship in your life is falling apart. Perhaps you are facing unbearable losses in your life. You feel emotionally overdrawn or even bankrupt.
You are facing Shamgar odds.
I want you to know that whatever the odds you are facing today, you don’t have to be defeated. You can overcome six-hundred-to-one odds. If Shamgar could do it, if Pat Williams and Jay Strack could do it, you can do it. You can overcome Shamgar odds.
The first step in finding success in life is to hammer out a working definition of success. Three definitions have greatly affected my life. When I was twenty-one, the great motivational teacher and author Zig Ziglar befriended me. I’ll never forget hearing Zig say (in a Southern drawl that’s even deeper than mine), “Jay, if you want your dreams to come true, then you must be willing to help others make their dreams come true.” I have watched him live that definition and have been profoundly impacted by it.
Years later, my good friend John Maxwell—the founder of the INJOY Group and author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership—gave me a definition that transformed my understanding of success. He said, “Success is when those who know you the best love you the most:’ Now that’s a startling definition, but true: Authentic success isn’t about making a good public impression. To be truly successful, you must be a person of genuine integrity, character and positive influence. By that standard, only the people who know you best—your family and close friends—are qualified to say whether you are a success or a fraud.
In recent years, I have formulated a third definition of success that guides the way I live my life: Success means saying ‘yes” to God’s best for your life. True success has nothing to do with your title, your fame, or your net worth. True success consists of being where God has put you using the talent and resources God has given you and carrying out the unique mission God has assigned to you. If you say “yes” to God’s best for your life, you will always be a success in God’s eyes, even if this world calls you a failure.
It was only after I learned to say “yes” to God’s best for my life that I experienced the privilege of traveling to over forty countries, sharing a message of hope, success and fulfillment with young people and with the leaders of such organizations as Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Chick-fill-A, the U.S. Air Force Academy and NASA. It was only after I learned to say “yes” to God’s best for my life that I even had a message to share with other people.
One of the highlights of my life was when Pat Williams invited me to be the featured speaker at the chapel for the 1998 NBA All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It was a sports fan’s dream come true. I was deeply moved as I heard the various players being interviewed. Many talked about what it took to succeed and of the personal struggles they had to overcome. Some had come from crime-infested slums and had narrowly escaped the grip of gangs and drugs. As I listened to those NBA players telling their stories of triumphing over six-hundred-to-one odds, I thought back to my own battle against the odds.
The theme I was inspired to speak on that weekend was “How to Turn Your Season Around.” During the days leading up to that weekend, as I prepared my talk, the story of Shamgar kept coming to mind. The three success secrets of Shamgar had turned my life around, and I knew they could have a powerful impact on the lives of those basketball stars.
The NBA All-Star Game takes place at the halfway point of the basketball season. Players are chosen based on the individual’s performance and popularity, regardless of how well or how poorly their teams are doing. Some players come from teams that are heading for the play-offs, others from teams that are struggling to reach .500.
Midway through the basketball season, many players become complacent. They begin settling for what was instead of striving for what could be. A mind-set of mediocrity easily sets in. At midseason, it’s not too late for a struggling team to turn on the heat and make a run for the play- offs—and it’s also not too late for a dominant team to become smug and sloppy and to lose that winning edge.
So I began the chapel by asking the players this question: “What can you do to turn this season around for your team? What can one person do? Are you settling into a rut of complacency? Or are you making the most of every opportunity? You may not think your team has what it takes to win a championship this year. You may not believe that one can do anything to turn an ordinary team into a championship team. Well, let me tell you about a man who was once in your position. His story is tucked away in a hidden corner of the Old Testament. It’s the story of a man named Shamgar….”
And I told those NBA players about a man who saved an entire nation, armed only with an ox-goad. I told them that there were three keys to Shamgar’s victory over the vastly superior forces of the Philistines. “Shamgar started where he was’ I said. “He used what he had. And he did what he could.”
I could see the eyes of those players light up when they heard those three principles. The concept clicked. To men whose entire careers were made up of striving, competing, struggling, winning, and yes, losing, the story of Shamgar made sense. I knew that those three principles could transform lives because they had already altered my life in a dramatic way.
Let me tell you how I first encountered the three success secrets of Shamgar.
Dr. H. Fred Williams
I graduated from high school, an eighteen-year old ex-junkie with hair down to my shoulders. I had spent most of my high school years in a drug-induced haze, sitting in the back row of my classrooms, rarely listening, never caring, just barely getting by. All of that changed after my life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ—thanks to the prayers and the persistent witness of Charlie Thompson.
I wanted to learn more about this God who had changed my life, so I enrolled in a Stetson University Extension class. I will never forget one of my first sessions in an Old Testament Survey class. I scarcely knew that the Bible was divided into an Old and New Testament, and I didn’t really have a clue what the class was about.
Our instructor was Dr. H. Fred Williams, who was a pastor and a father of four. He seemed every bit as much a part of the “Establishment” as I looked a part of the hippie counterculture. Yet he looked past my long hair and my ignorance of the Bible. He genuinely cared about me, listened to me and answered all of my questions. Soon, Dr. Fred not only became my teacher, but my mentor and friend.
Every Monday evening for many months, he came to the tiny apartment where I lived with my new bride, Diane. He taught us the basics of Christianity, everything from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to such principles as sharing our faith with others, giving to the church, showing compassion to the needy and trusting in God’s forgiving grace instead of our own good works. Dr. Fred taught Diane and me countless truths while investing many hours in our lives. But even more important to us than what he said was the way he lived: Dr. Fred was a man of faith, intellect, integrity and compassion. Through the way he lived, he gave us a glimpse of what Jesus was like.
One day in class, as he was teaching from the book of Judges, Dr. Fred told us, ”Today, I want to tell you the story about a little-known judge of Israel whose name was Shamgar. He was a farmer who went straight from the cornfield to the battlefield, where he killed six hundred Philistine warriors, armed only with a long, sharpened pole called an ox-goad.”
I was profoundly impacted by Dr. Fred’s conclusion: “Shamgar’s life teaches us three things we should know if we’re going to accomplish anything for God: first, Shamgar started where he was; second, he used what he had; and third, he did what he could. And I want you to know that God has a plan and a purpose for your life, just as he had for Shamgar. If you will start where you are, use what you have and do what you can for God, he will use you in a mighty way’
Wow!! I thought. God could actually use me? He would want to work through me? I could hardly believe it—and I couldn’t stop thinking about those three simple principles.
After the class was over, I sat down with Dr. Fred and asked him question after question: “You mean God has a purpose for my life? Me? Jay Strack? You mean God actually wants to do great things through my life? But why? There’s nothing special about me. I’m not talented, I’m not a good student, I haven’t lived a good life, I’ve been really messed up! How could God use someone like me?”
`But then Dr. Fred reminded me about his own early life. When he was a baby, no more than two or three months old, he was found in a cardboard box on the doorstep of the Porter-Leath Orphanage in Memphis, Tennessee. He was adopted by a poor but loving couple from Mississippi and raised in a tiny rural ‘shotgun house”—a long, narrow house, one room wide and three rooms deep, so-named because you can fire a shotgun through the front door and the shot will pass out the back door without ever hitting a wall. Dr. Fred served in the navy in World War II and was severely wounded in Okinawa in 1944. He spent years in VA hospitals, undergoing numerous skin grafts and operations to save his leg.
So Dr. Fred had earned the right to talk some about how to overcome long odds. He had started life with two strikes against him and had gone through crippling adversity, yet God was using him in a mighty way. He insisted that I was exactly the kind of person God uses—an ordinary personwith a messed-up past and no confidence in the future. He told me Moses started out that way, and so did the disciples of Jesus.
And, of course, so did Shamgar. He was just a farmer with a big stick in his hand, and God used him to save a nation. “You never know what God can do through you,” he told me, “until you trust him to let him have his way in your life.”
So I decided to do exactly that. I was going to trust God and see what he wanted to do through me. I went back to the apartment and told Diane what Dr. Fred had told me, and she was completely captivated by the idea of God working through our lives. So we began to pray together that God would use us and lead us.
Over the next few days, I started thinking about the Shamgar principles: Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I’d think, “Start where you are.” Where was I? I might be in the checkout stand at the grocery store or on the steps of the library. Then I’d think, “Use what you have.” What did I have? I had a story—my own story about how I had first encountered Jesus Christ. Then I’d think, “Do what you can.” What could I do? Well, I could tell my story.
So that’s what I did. Wherever I happened to be, I began telling my story to anyone and everyone who might be in earshot. Some people walked away. Others ran away. Some stayed and listened. A few considered what I had to say, and they had an encounter with Jesus Christ, too.
Time passed, and Dr. Fred said to me, “I’d like you to go to a little church on the edge of the Everglades and tell your story to the people there.” So I drove down to that little white church, ready to tell my story. I walked in with hair down to my shoulders, with Diane beside me in her hippie dress. There were seventeen people in the pews, and I got up in front of them and told them the story of howl had encountered Jesus Christ. The people were shocked by our appearance—but they were even more shocked by the fact that God had blessed my message. After the church service, one of the deacons asked me to come back. I called Dr. Fred and he helped me come up with another message from my Old Testament study class. After my second visit to that church, those seventeen people had a meeting. When the meeting was over, they asked me to be the pastor of their church!
I felt totally unqualified. I had never been to seminary and barely had a year of college under my belt—yet these people wanted me to be their pastor! What should I do?
Then I remembered that I had prayed and asked God to use me and work through my life. I had already made a decision that I was going to start where I was, use what I had and do what I could. These people were asking me to start in that little church, use what little speaking ability and Bible knowledge I had (which was almost nil!) and do what I could. How could I say no?
So week after week, I got up in the pulpit of that tiny church and preached my sermons in my own stumbling way. I repeatedly went to Fred for advice and encouragement, and he patiently mentored and me. A year later, our little church had baptized 110 people. I couldn’t believe what God had done! And I knew that it was all God’s work, because I didn’t have the skills, knowledge or educational background to do such a thing in my own strength.
As it turned out, that was just the beginning of an adventure that has continued for thirty years. The kid who once got kicked of the classroom has had the privilege of walking into boardrooms leading corporations, sharing the stage with national politicians delivering messages of inspiration and motivation to NFL teams such as the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The kid who was once turned down by thirteen colleges has now addressed the faculty and students of 145 universities. The kid nobody would pay any attention to has now spoken before thousands of audiences totaling more than fifteen million people.
How was that possible? Because one man, Dr. H. Fred Williams, looked at a long-haired former drug abuser and said, “Jay, God wants to use you. He wants to work through you to demonstrate his power to other people. And all you have to do is start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.”
Dr. E. V. Hill
A few years later, I began my own career in Christian ministry. I had the privilege of being on the speaking platform with a man named E. V. Hill. That day, Dr. Hill spoke about Shamgar—this same obscure judge of ancient Israel whom I had first heard about from my professor, Dr. H. Fred Williams. While Dr. Fred had taught me those three principles in his wise, warm, quiet manner, Dr. E. V. Hill pounded them into my heart with thunder and lightning! He was one of the most powerful preachers I have ever heard. I can still hear his voice ringing in my memory: “Shamgar did what he could, with what he had, right where he was—and every chance he got!”
And who was Dr. E. V. Hill? Like Shamgar, he was a man who overcame six-hundred-to-one odds, a man who triumphed over obstacles and adversity. E. V Hill said “yes” to God’s best for his life—and he impacted countless lives for God.
Edward Victor Hill was born into poverty and raised in a little log cabin at the edge of Sweet Home in southeast Texas. He was one of five kids born to a single mom during the Great Depression. Hill was also mothered by a woman who was no relation to him, though he always called her “Momma.” When he was eleven years old, Momma led him in a prayer in which he gave his life to Jesus Christ.
When E. V. was in the ninth grade, Momma stood up in church and told the congregation, “My boy E. V. is going to finish high school” It was an unusual prophecy for those Depression-era days. Few African American boys finished school in those days; most dropped out and got low-paying jobs. But E. V. graduated, just as Momma said he would.
Momma also promised E. V. that he would go to college—and that was even more unheard-of! When he graduated from high school, Momma bought him some new clothes. She took him to the bus station and gave him five dollars. “I’ll be praying for you:’ she told him as she put him on the bus. The bus took him to Prairie View, northeast of Houston. He spent most of the five dollars on bus fare and arrived at the campus of Prairie View A&M with only $1.58 in his pocket.
He got in line to register for classes—then he saw a sign that informed him that all new students had to pay $83 in cash at the time of registration. What should he do? He was about to step out of line and walk away when he heard Momma’s voice in his mind, saying, “I’ll be praying for you.” He figured he didn’t have anything to lose by standing in line a few minutes longer. When he reached the front of the line and save his name, the registrar said, “You’re Ed Hill? Our office has been trying to contact you. The university wants to offer you a four-year scholarship—tuition, room and board, and a $35 a month expense allowance.” E. V. Hill knew that God had led him to that university. Again he remembered Mommas words: “I’ll be praying for you.”
E. V. Hill finished college, got married and began preaching, but the church couldn’t pay him enough to live on. Against the advice of his wife, Jane, E. V. pooled what little money they had and used it to buy a service station. Jane insisted that he didn’t have the experience or the time to run a service station, but E. V. said he knew what he was doing. Within months, the service station went broke. Hill lost his investment.
When he went home and told Jane about it, he expected her to say, “I told you so:’ Instead, she said, “Ed, I’ve been thinking this over, and I figured out that if you were a drinking man and a smoking man, you would have spent as much on liquor and tobacco as you did on that service station. At least you lost that money honestly, trying to do some good. So let’s just forget it ever happened.’
In 1963, E.V. Hill was called as pastor of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, right in the heart of the troubled Watts section of south-central Los Angeles. He served as the pastor of Mount Zion for the next forty-two years. He gained the respect of everyone in the community, including the street gangs, and he frequently mediated disputes between rival factions. He even spearheaded a street-level peace movement called “The Moratorium on Gang Murder.”
Under his leadership, Mount Zion became a hub of political activism and social compassion in the center of Los Angeles. On one occasion, Dr. Billy Graham showed up unannounced, just to hear E. V. Hill preach. On another occasion, President George H. W. Bush visited the church while the streets of south-central Los Angeles were still smoking from the 1992 riots.
A fiery preacher and a committed evangelist, E.V. Hill spoke to audiences around the world. Untold thousands responded to his message of God’s love for sinners. He was such a committed student of the Bible that you could give him practically any reference—such as John 14:6 or Malachi 3:2 or 2 Timothy 3:16—and he could deliver a polished, eloquent sermon on the spot. Early in his career, E. V. Hill became deeply involved in the fight for racial justice through nonviolent resistance. He joined with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other African American pastors to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A liberal Democrat as a young man, a conservative Republican in his maturity, E. V. Hill transcended distinctions of left and right and focused on bringing people together. He has been a featured speaker at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
He was a close friend of Dr. Billy Graham for most of his life and served as associate professor of evangelism for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. In 1971, Dr. Graham took E.V. Hill and seven other black clergymen to the White House to meet privately with President Richard Nixon about race relations. In 1973, he gave the prayer at President Nixon’s second inauguration—quite an accomplishment for a man who was born in a log cabin in Sweet Home, Texas. In Los Angeles, E. V. Hill founded “The Lord’s Kitchen:’ a program that has fed more than two million homeless people without a dime of government money. He was also a member of President Reagan’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiative.
In the 1990s, E.V. Hill became a featured speaker at Promise Keepers men’s rallies around the nation. Here’s a typical passage from an E. V. Hill Promise Keepers’ message:
Jesus came back at Satan and said, “Devil, It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ It is written, ‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Jesus hit the devil over and over and over with Scripture! And you know what happened? The devil ran! And guess what you can do, beginning tonight? You don’t have to take it from the devil! You don’t have to take his mess! You don’t have to take his stuff! Hit him! Hit him! Hit him!
E. V. Hill’s turbocharged preaching would invariably pull fifty thousand men to their feet, shouting right along, “Hit him! Hit him! Hit him!” You wouldn’t want to be the devil in a stadium full of Promise Keepers while E. V. Hill was preaching!
During the last year of his ministry, Dr. Hill continued ministering despite a diabetic condition that had so weakened his legs that he had to sit down while he preached. On February 8, 2003, he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with an aggressive form of pneumonia. He died on February 24. When I think of Shamgar, I think of E. V. Hill—a man who came out of nowhere, from a little place called Sweet Home, Texas, just a few miles south of Sublime and a little north of Hope. But E. V. Hill started where he was. He was raised in poverty, and he set off for college with nothing but pocket change for spending money. He didn’t have much, but he used what he had. There weren’t many opportunities for a young black man in southeast Texas during the Great Depression. But E. V. Hill did what he could.
Starting where he was, using what he had, doing what he could, Dr. Hill became a friend of the poor and a counselor to presidents. He marched with Dr. King, and demanded that justice roll down like mighty waters. He fed the hungry and brought peace to warring neighborhoods. He brought the refreshing message of Jesus to thirsty souls.
So these are the two men who taught me the most about the three success secrets of Shamgar—Dr. H. Fred Williams and Dr. E. V. Hill. Those three simple principles changed the direction of my life. Over the years, I have shared these principles with young men and women at the Student Leadership University, with business executives and academicians, with political leaders and just plain folk. And these principles click. They change lives and revolutionize organizations.
That’s what this book is about: one person making a difference in the world through God’s power by following these three simple secrets:
1. Start where you are.
2. Use what you have.
3. Do what you can.
In the rest of this book, you are going to become very well acquainted with Shamgar and his three success secrets. My friend Pat Williams and I have written chapters on each of the three principles, plus we have interspersed a fictional narrative of Shamgar’s story.
Obviously, our version of Shamgar’s story is conjectural. We don’t know whether Shamgar had a family or not, nor do we know for sure how he accomplished this incredible feat of killing six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad. We’ve invented names, scenes and personalities, yet every aspect of our fictional narrative is plausible and consistent with what we know about Shamgar’s life and times. We hope that this fictional story will bring the reality of this ancient man to life in your imagination.
So join us in an adventure of discovery as we journey through these three life changing principles from the story of Shamgar The three success secrets of Shamgar have transformed Pat’s life and mine. We know that you can live a transformed life as well through these three simple, yet profound, principles.
Read on. We’ll show you how. The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar by Jay Strack