“Let’s talk about it”- those words quickly identify my friend, the late Ben Haden. We lost Ben Oct. 24, 2013. As we approach the eighth anniversary of the popular pastor’s death, I decided to reflect on our friendship that goes back to when the Haden family relocated to Chattanooga in 1968.
Mr. Haden had a career with the CIA, he was an attorney, and a newspaper CEO before answering God’s call to the ministry. He pastored two churches, Key Biscayne Presbyterian and First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. He was a friend of President Richard Nixon. The Nixon family attended his Florida church. Mr. Haden was a guest at the White House several times.
Mr. Haden enjoyed radio and television as a medium for evangelism. He succeeded Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse on the broadcast, “Bible Study Time.” Mr. Haden said during the two years of traveling to Philadelphia for the program, God was calling him to start his own radio ministry. After coming to Chattanooga, he organized “Changed Lives.
I was working at WDOD radio in Chattanooga when Ben Haden became pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Their Sunday morning service was the first radio program broadcast in the city dating back to 1925. The established weekly radio program instantly gave Mr. Haden a pulpit and his Gospel messages became very popular. It wasn’t long until he used those Sunday sermons to start his “Changed Lives” radio and TV program. By the early 70’s, Changed Lives had grown to international proportions. Changed Lives was picked up by the American Forces Radio and Television service and broadcast to service members worldwide.
Most of the listeners and viewers who wrote to “Changed Lives” received a personal letter back from Ben. He said, “If they take the time to write me, I feel I need to respond to as many as possible.”
I once told Ben, “I’ve heard more of your sermons than most of your members and never was there on Sunday morning in the auditorium.” With a long pause and smile, he responded, “You had a front row seat at the radio station for the broadcast.” He remained pastor of the historical Chattanooga church for 31 years.
Charlene Wood worked at a downtown restaurant when Mr. Haden became pastor of the Chattanooga church. She served his breakfast during those early days. Mrs. Wood said Mr. Haden didn’t talk much but enjoyed reading his newspaper. For many years, Ben also ate breakfast at Wally’s on McCallie Avenue. The server would write on the ticket “BEN” and the cook knew exactly what to prepare.
Mr. Haden enjoyed being on my talk show. He didn’t like to be called Reverend or Mr. He told our radio audience many times, “I’m Ben.”
Although Ben Haden wasn’t my pastor, we became close friends. There were lengthy telephone conversations. He’d join Roy Morris and me many afternoons for coffee at the Waffle House on Signal Mountain Road. “Move over boys, can I join you?” Ben would enjoy his traditional hamburger, meat on a bun, nothing else. He’d talk with us about everything for about an hour while enjoying his black coffee. “See you boys next time,” and Ben would leave. He always had a kind word for the employees. Roy and I felt good he’d call us boys.
Ben spent a lot of time visiting his members and friends in the hospital. I remember it was nearing Christmas and my father was hospitalized at Parkridge Medical Center. I saw Ben at the elevator and when he found out I was going to see my dad, Ben immediately followed me to the room and had prayer. He was there nearly an hour with dad who told him, “You’ve given me the best Christmas present with your visit.”
Ben’s stories were endless. We did a television interview in 2010 about his friends Billy Graham, George Beverly Shea, and Cliff Barrows. Ben handled the news media for several Billy Graham crusades. Ben resigned the church in 1998 to devote his time to “Changed Lives.”
When Ben stopped producing new programs, the ministry continued on several hundred radio stations including WDYN and WFLI in Chattanooga. After Ben’s passing, his daughter Dallas took over “Changed Lives” to preserve her father’s programs and legacy.
The ministry has compiled two devotional books, “One on One, a minute with Ben”. Hundreds of these books were sent out to Changed Lives listeners. These one minute devotionals cover topics from “Grace” to “Forgiveness.” Mr. Haden authored over a dozen books that are available through Changed Lives.org.
Mr. Haden said after his wife went forward in a Billy Graham crusade in Washington, D.C., God started dealing with him and 11 years later he told the Lord, “If you want me, you got me.” Ben once said the greatest thrill in his life was seeing a person accept Christ as his or her Savior. Because of recordings, that message of forgiveness still goes out over the radio every week across the United States. Dozens of Ben Haden’s sermons can be heard on Changed Lives.org.
During one of our last visits, Ben gave me an audio recording of his testimony given at a Billy Graham crusade in 1971. Thanks to Ben Cagle for posting on YouTube. Those of us who knew Ben can never forget that famous laugh. Ben Haden, Oct. 18, 1925-Oct. 24, 2013.