Sometime during the summer or fall of 1994, while driving my family to the church I pastored in Brazil, Indiana, I saw a sign in front of a Southern Baptist church that read: “Come hear Dr. Moore tell about his trip to Russia!” It caught my eye because I’d been hearing about the phenomenal things happening in that country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Russian people had a wonderful openness to the Gospel and a hunger for spiritual things. I’d read a couple of books about this, but here was a man who’d actually been there. I told my wife, “I wish I could go hear that guy!” But since I worked on Sundays and rarely got one off, I dismissed the idea as wishful thinking.
A week or two later I saw a big article in the Terre Haute paper, interviewing this same man about his trip to Russia. His name was Dr. Alvis Moore, and he was the pastor of the church whose sign I’d seen. I devoured the article, and then a thought came into my mind: find this guy’s phone number and call him! So I looked in the phone book, found the church’s number, and called.
When he answered, I asked him if he was the preacher who’d been interviewed in the paper about his trip to Russia. He said, yes, he was. And I told him, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I’d really like to hear about your Russia trip. I’ll buy you lunch anywhere you want, if you’ll let me ask you questions about your experiences in Russia.” He said he’d be delighted. So we arranged to meet at the old Grandma Joy’s Restaurant on East Wabash in Terre Haute.
I was there at a table waiting for him when he walked in. He was about 5 ½ feet tall, dressed in a suit, with curly salt-and-pepper hair and a ready smile. I stood to get his attention, and he walked over and warmly shook my hand. We sat down and ordered our food, and as the waitress walked away, Dr. Moore astonished me by saying: “I love ya! I can tell about people, and I can tell about you. And I love ya!” Well, I was speechless for a moment. But then he started to tell me about his Russia for the Gospel there. We talked for nearly two hours, and by the time we left, I had gained a wonderful new friend.
Not long after that, since our church didn’t have Sunday evening services, my family and I visited the evening service of Emmanuel Baptist Church, the church Dr. Moore pastored in Seelyville. And that’s the first time we met his wife, Ellen. She was about the same height as him, and she had curly hair, too. (Her hair was dark, not salt-and-pepper. She would want me to make that clear!) And she was as warm and effusive and welcoming as he was. When we left that night, our family had gained two wonderful friends.
Dr. Moore took me with him to the state meeting of Southern Baptists in Indiana, held in Vincennes. I had expressed some interest in the Southern Baptist Convention, and he encouraged my interest. He told me, “You come along with me and we’ll just play it low-key. We won’t make a big deal about you thinking you might want to join, so you can just observe and see what you think.” That’s what he told me. But when we walked into the church that was hosting the meeting, nearly everybody that we met said, “Hello, Alvis!” And to nearly every one of them, Dr. Moore said: “Let me introduce you to David Tyra. He’s a young preacher who wants to come into the Southern Baptist Convention! Isn’t that wonderful?” And I thought, “Well, so much for low-key!” He just couldn’t seem to contain himself, he was that excited for me.
Eventually I did take steps to become a Southern Baptist pastor. After much discussion, and the encouragement of Alvis and Ellen, and several others, my wife and I decided to undertake starting a new church for the Southern Baptists in Terre Haute. Though we worked at it for over two years, the new church never really took off. However, through that effort that the door opened for us to come to Linton. But that’s another story.
One fellow thought it I needed to be re-ordained before I began the church plant. I wasn’t convinced that it was necessary, but I thought, “If that’s one of the hoops I have to jump through to do this thing, then I’ll do it.” A Saturday afternoon was set for them to question me, with the public ordination service set for the next afternoon. Both of these events took place at Dr. Moore’s church.
That Saturday it snowed a little, and most of the pastors who would have questioned me didn’t come, including the one guy who insisted on my re-ordination. As we gathered around a table in the room next to Dr. Moore’s study, there were only four of us: Alvis Moore, and two other Southern Baptist pastors, Larry Spear and Donn Broeker. They spent some time making sure I understood how the Southern Baptist Convention worked: that it was like an inverted pyramid, with the national organization at the bottom, the state organization in the middle, and the local churches at the top. They wanted to make sure I understood that the national and state organizations were there to help and serve the local churches, not the other way around.
Finally I said, “Aren’t you going to ask me any questions about my doctrine?” Donn Broeker said, “We don’t have any questions about your doctrine! We don’t know why so-and-so insisted you had to be re-ordained.” So it was just the four of us, sitting there, drinking coffee and talking. And Dr. Moore beamed the whole time. He just seemed so pleased for me.
The next day was one of the most moving experiences of my life. In every ordination service there comes a point where a group of pastors lay their hands on the candidate and pray for him. This symbolizes approval and blessing, and the setting aside of this servant to do a particular work. When I was ordained the first time, about eight or nine pastors all laid their hands on my head at the same time, and one of them prayed for me. That’s what I was expecting this time.
Instead, I was asked to kneel at the front of the church, on the left side. All the pastors and deacons from the area Southern Baptist churches lined up on the other side. And I wondered, “What’s going on?” It didn’t take long to find out.
As the pianist played quietly, one by one each of those pastors and deacons came over and knelt in front of me, putting one hand on the back of my head the other on my shoulder. Then they leaned in close to whisper a prayer for me in my ear. After about the second or third one I just dissolved in tears. I’m tearing up now, just remembering it. After it was over, I felt exhausted from weeping. But I was so happy and so affirmed. And, my legs were asleep.
Both of those wonderful experiences happened in Dr. Moore’s church, and I don’t think anyone was happier for me and my family than Alvis and Ellen Moore.
During those years, we received much encouragement from those two wonderful people, and enjoyed some wonderful times at their house and around their table. Alvis and Ellen had endured much hardship and heartbreak in their lives, but you’d never know by the way they acted. They bubbled with an irrepressible joy, and they were unfailing in their love and affirmation to us.
After my family and I moved to Linton, Dr. Moore resigned the Seelyville church and spent a few years in evangelistic work. Ellen would sing, and Alvis would preach. And they encouraged many other pastors and churches the way they had encouraged us. He even filled the pulpit for me here a few times. I know some of our folks still remember him.
Dr. Moore went Home to be with His Lord on January 26, 2007. A couple of years after that, Ellen was preparing to move from their Seelyville home. She called me and said, “Dave, Al always wanted you to have his books after he was gone.” So I drove up there and got them. I also bought Dr. Moore’s leather desk chair from his study. Sitting in my study, in his chair, surrounded by many of the books he gave me, has often brought a melancholy smile to my face.
All this was brought back to me by an unexpected phone call I received a couple of weeks ago. It was from Ellen Moore! She lives now in Staunton, and receives our monthly church newsletter. She called to thank us for something that really encouraged her. (And it wasn’t something I wrote, by the way.) We talked for a while, and caught up on what was going on in each other’s families and lives. And we remembered Alvis.
Alvis and Ellen Moore are two of the finest, most loving and encouraging people I have ever met, and I am grateful to God for them both.
May God grant that we would be as loving and encouraging to others, too. “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Soli Deo Gloria!