Roy Exum: ‘Call John Croyle’

Friday, April 16, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Earlier this week I received the most heart-wrenching video that I can ever remember. As I watched, a 10-year-old boy from Nicaragua -- all alone, cold, and scared – unburden himself to a Border Patrol Officer, I said the same words out of a lifetime reflex that Alabama Highway Patrol officers have said for the best part of the last 50 years: “Call John Croyle…”

Click here for the video.

It's been 40 years since John and I began a rich, rich friendship and it has been nigh on 50 since Croyle, an All-American football player under Bear Bryant at Alabama turned down the pros to begin the world-famed Big Oak Ranch near Gadsden in Glencoe, Ala.

During the years he has rescued thousands of cold, scared, and alone children. “Hold onto your hat,” he bubbled this week. “I went to a birthday party the other night for one of my first kids … it was his 64th!!”

To cut past the fluff, I’ve written dozens of stories on John’s rescues. The guy is “real-er than real.” One story I wrote for Reader’s Digest once long ago remains as my biggest lifetime thrill. I insisted the magazine version must include John’s mailing address. The magazine said ‘no,’ that they didn’t allow that, and I told the editors to can my story. Forget using it, I bluffed. “You have no idea what that address would mean. Just to get a note of encouragement,” I pleaded.

I knew what I was trying to do. The magazine did, too. Three days later, the editors relented. I signed the contract. It was the cover story, and it came off the presses in 90 languages. Within a month the post office delivered the mail by a truckload. This is to say they would park the truck, then come back the next day with a full one, take the empty back to fill it again. Within 10 months over $1 million arrived in $5 and $10 bills from kids’ piggy banks. The bank the Big Oak Ranch used back then got a master’s degree in foreign currency and I still weep to this day that, once upon a time, I was God’s vessel. Seriously, it remains my life’s biggest moment, my biggest thrill.

I called John Croyle, yesterday. “I am sending you a video of an illegal immigrant from Nicaragua. Watch it and we’ll talk. And John,” he signaled he was still on the line, “This child is 10 years old. Look in this child’s eyes and see if you might recognize him …”

Trust me, Coyle’s seen the look thousands of times. He’s picked up a 9-year-old up in the Anniston jail. “Had more lice than he weighed in ounces,” wrapped that shivering boy in a blanket and carried him to his truck. John pulled his blanketed mummy close on the front seat, and as he started the engine Croyle asked, “Ready to go home…” Yeah, the tear-streaked boy would say, “Well, I am talking about a new home … I’ll never lie to you, I’ll never hurt you, or give up on you, but this is a new home. You’re coming to live with me.”

* * *

That was over 2,000 ‘saves’ ago.

So now what do we have? A church in Chattanooga that doesn’t pass the smell test, a dormitory with Lord only knows how many illegal immigrants under the age of what?, a haughty preacher who “rebukes” inquiring Christians to “get over yourself” in a front-page newspaper article, and a shroud of mystery that leaves County Major Jim Coppinger embarrassed over his lack of knowledge.

“I am surprised no one has contacted county government about it,” Mayor Coppinger said. “If for no other reason, it is a common courtesy but there is also an accountability that I feel is owed to the taxpayers. After all, Hamilton County is owned by its people. To interject an effort like this inside our county deserves an explanation and, to my knowledge, the Federal government has never done anything that they would want to hide from the taxpayers, who are United States citizens as well as Hamilton County residents. This our home, this is where we live,” Mayor Coppinger reasoned.

Coppinger is hardly among a minority as an overwhelming majority of citizens feel they have been hoodwinked-by-omission by Kevin Wallace, who identifies himself as the lead pastor of a little-known congregation, known as the Redemption of the Nations Church. It is located at the former Tennessee Temple facilities at 1908 Bailey Ave. Wallace, a graduate of Lee University in Cleveland, Tn., has apparently already welcomed some immigrant children from the Mexican border. He has doted on a lack of information and, with his secrecy, has incurred a quickly growing concern by the Chattanooga area townspeople.

Unfortunately, anytime the welfare of children is at risk there are well-meaning advocates who are miffed by secrecy and startled by a lack of transparency. It appears to some that Wallace could be in a “get rich” scheme at an overwhelmed government expense, that such an enterprise will be greeted by a great number of illegal alien parents, and that a purported 30-day turnover could leave hundreds of illegal children stranded in Chattanooga for months.

Then again, the story has not yet been told. Oh, it’ll come to light alright. I told John there is too much I don’t know and right now it’s pretty clear Pastor Wallace, “rebuking his critics,” is so far over his head he’ll never see a Federal Judge coming who will demand a ‘time out,’ to assure the people this is on the up-and-up. When Wallace yelps, “Get beyond your politics and get in touch with Jesus and the heart of God,” it’s clear he is unaware some “notables” have spoken that way.

In a YouTube live video, that assures the media cannot ask questions, the preacher offers, “If I hear one more person tell me we’re a nation of laws, I would agree with you that we are a nation of laws, but as citizens of the kingdom there is a law greater than any law that has been handed to us by this nation. It is the law of love.”

At another point Wallace says, “I am going to say something some of you need to hear, and I pray that you hear it in the spirit I say it in, and I say it in love. Jesus did not come to die for Americans …Jesus died for the sin of the whole world. The whole world. He is not a Southern Appalachia Holy Ghost. He is international. He’s in every time zone. He reaches every race, ethnicity, culture, creed, language, tribe, and tongue. Period.”

Well, that’s exactly right, but … Mr. Wallace brings his show to Southern Appalachia. And the Jesus he is quick to extol says in the Book of Mark, 12:17 – “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.”

That’s God speak for ‘play by the rules.’ For whatever reason, you have chosen not to do that.

And Mr. Wallace, say what you will, but you have handled yourself very badly. Behold the rebuke, for this way it comes.

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