Evangelist Ted Stone, 72, dies in midst of 4th ‘Walk across America’ to proclaim God's redemptive power from drugs
HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Ted Stone, a champion of God’s grace, died of undetermined causes July 16 at the end of the fourth week of his fourth “Walk across America” to spread awareness of the hope that substance abusers can find in Christ. He was 72.
Stone, an evangelist from Durham, N.C., spent 29 years proclaiming freedom in Christ through the grace of God after serving four years in prison in the 1970s as the result of drug addictions.
The founder of Ted Stone Ministries, he often repeated the mantra, “I used to be a drug addict, but I am no longer a drug addict. I am recovered forever by the grace of God, and that same hope can belong to you or anyone you love.”
Though a battle with colon cancer in 2002 took a toll on his body, Stone so fervently believed in the cause of ministering to substance abusers that he pressed on to start a fourth walk across the nation, starting in Chicago June 19 with an expected end in Pensacola, Fla.
“Most programs use something to substitute for the abuser’s addiction,” Stone said before the trip. “Some even refer to a higher power. But my message is that by putting your dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, you can break your dependence on chemical substances.”
Stone refused to sit by and hope someone else would share the Gospel with those trapped in the clutches of substance abuse.
“We are in the business of changing the hearts of men and women,” he told Baptist Press in April. “We represent Jesus here on the face of this earth, and broken people depend on us.”
During his trek, Stone spoke at various churches along the route. He and his ministry partner, collegian Sean Reece, were driving to speak at the evening service at College Heights Baptist Church in Gallatin, Tenn., just north of Nashville, July 16 when Stone became unconscious and later was pronounced dead.
“Few people ever in their lives have a friend as loyal and selfless as Ted Stone,” Philip Barber, one of Stone’s “sons in the ministry,” said in a statement to Baptist Press. “I am grateful that, for nine years, God allowed me the privilege and the honor to call Ted Stone my friend.
“I find great comfort in knowing that as Christian brothers, we share a bond that death can’t kill,” Barber added. “Because of Ted’s faithfulness to share Christ with me, I know I will see him again soon. Ted died doing what he loved most -- hand-delivering the Gospel message to all who would listen. He considered his four walks across America missionary journeys. And they truly were.”
Among Stone’s final speaking engagements was an address to a group of directors of mission preceding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June. There he implored Southern Baptists to stop regarding broken and hurting people as “second-class citizens in the family of God.”
And at the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville July 14, Stone spoke during the chapel service from Luke 5:30-32, declaring as Jesus did that it’s not the healthy who need healing but the sick.
“I’ve asked myself many times since I met Sean in July two years ago, ‘What would have happened to this young man if that church that he turned to when he became broken had been a church with a comfort zone, a church that didn’t want anybody who looked like Sean or who had acted like Sean?’ What would have happened?” Stone said of Reece, a college sophomore who accepted Jesus and left behind a drug addiction.
“... We represent Jesus. That’s a pretty heavy burden for anybody to bear, but because we are Christians and Jesus has left the responsibility to us, we represent Him in everything we do or don’t do,” Stone added. “Does your church have a comfort zone? Are the doors of your church open to everyone? That means people who are black, yellow, white, that means people who have been to prison, that means people who have drug-related problems, that means people who have divorces in their backgrounds, that means people who are poor and people who are rich.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Stone “will be greatly missed by Southern Baptists, and particularly by those whose lives he touched. His life and ministry reflected his great faith in God’s love for broken people. His walk across America raised awareness about his ministry, but his devotion to the Lord and his compassion for all men were evidenced in his daily walk in life. He worked tirelessly to help others escape the seductive forces that threatened to destroy them. He was a man with a pure heart who understood that persistence was his friend in the pursuit of those things God put upon his heart.
“I hold a special place in my heart for Ted because of the way he encouraged my ministry,” Chapman added. “Ted had enough faith in me to arrange a meeting with over 700 pastors so that I could share my heart about the direction of the SBC the year I was eventually elected as president. I look on that providential episode as one of the great milestones in my ministry to the convention and as a key event in sustaining the conservative resurgence. Southern Baptists truly have lost a strong soldier of the cross and a faithful friend.”
Stone’s previous three walks across America included a 3,650-mile trek in 1996 from the Capitol steps in Washington southward to Jacksonville, Fla., and westward to Los Angeles; a 3,550-mile trek in 1998 from the mayor’s office in San Francisco eastward to Virginia Beach, Va.; and a 1,700-mile, south to north trek in 2000 that began in Nueva Laredo, Mexico, and ended in Detroit at the Ambassador Bridge leading into Canada.
His discipleship of Barber, Reece and others like them was a hallmark of Stone’s ministry and something he said brought great joy to his life. He believed in the young men when few others would and mentored them through their recovery from drug addiction. Now Barber is a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Reece is preparing for the ministry at Southeastern College at Wake Forest in North Carolina.
Since April 2001, Stone and Barber co-wrote a regular column for Baptist Press, continually keeping Southern Baptists’ attention on reaching out to the millions of Americans suffering from substance addictions.
“Have our churches become places for saints to rejoice and feel good about themselves? Or will we busy ourselves with the Master’s business?” the two wrote in their last column together May 31. “We hold the solutions for those who cry out for help. We must tell others what Jesus has done for us, and what He can do for them. He is still in the miracle-working business.”
In addition to his Baptist Press columns, Stone often was featured in Southern Baptist publications and was the author or co-author of four books. He wrote an autobiography called “Somebody Special,” detailing his journey from drugs to prison to a passion for helping people, and “The Drug Tragedy,” a general survey of the drug problem in America, followed by proposed solutions.
With Barber, Stone wrote “Hope for the One Who Hurts” and “Hope for the One Who Cares,” one to provide direction for those battling drug addictions and the other to give help to abusers’ loved ones.
In 2005, Stone launched HIS Way, a treatment and recovery program designed for implementation in the local church to prevent recovering drug abusers from relapsing into old lifestyles after they express an interest in following Jesus.
Stone was a longtime member of the board of visitors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and was a trustee at Southwestern Seminary, where he was instrumental in establishing the school of evangelism and missions.
“Ted Stone was a trophy of God's grace who shared a powerful message concerning the danger of alcohol and drugs,” Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, said. “He traveled across the nation to get that message out, and there is no telling how many lives were spared the pain and sorrow associated with these twin killers through his efforts.”
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, called Stone a “marvelously attentive trustee.”
“He loved the students and helped them. He encouraged the faculty and never missed a trustee meeting,” Patterson said. “After his rather remarkable conversion, Ted Stone gave every ounce of his abundant energy to the cause of Christ. He was an amazing figure.”
James T. Draper Jr., retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said he used to talk frequently with Stone, especially when Stone made trips through Nashville and would stop to visit. Though Stone was a man who had made mistakes, he devoted the rest of his life to ministry, Draper said, and he had a tremendous passion for the SBC.
“He really stood tall to encourage all of our states and our churches to support the cooperative efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention, and we’ll miss him greatly,” Draper said.
Stone is survived by his wife, Anne Fuller Stone, three daughters, Ellen Sichina of Shelby, N.C.; Carole Doll and Lisa Hilliard, both of Apex, N.C.; and five grandchildren.
The funeral will be Friday, July 21, at 11 a.m. at Grace Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., with visitation on Thursday.