dventist Review associate editor Bill Knott recently sat down with Elder C. D. Brooks for a wide-ranging discussion of Brooks’ early experiences in ministry. A celebrated evangelist for more than half a century, Brooks was the first speaker/director of the Breath of Life television ministry, and at age 75 continues to be active in public evangelism, at camp meetings, and on church committees and boards. --Editors
Knott: The Gospels tell us many stories of Jesus calling persons to be His disciples and to do the work of ministry. Was there a moment when you heard the call of Jesus in your life in a distinct way?
Brooks: As clearly as I hear your question now. But there’s a story behind my story that you need to know first. I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, in a Christian home. When I was born, my mother became ill. Six months later she was in the hospital, and was told she could not live. While she was going through that, and the family was preparing for her demise, a bright light filled her room. A voice called her by her first name and told her, “I want you to keep My commandments.” She was a woman of faith and the daughter of a minister, and so she asked, “Lord, which one am I not keeping?”
The Lord showed her the fourth commandment and made its importance clear to her, but He didn’t tell her how to keep it. She promised Him that she would keep the commandment even if no one but she and her children did so. I grew up with that understanding of the Sabbath. We didn’t know a thing about sunset, so we kept Sabbath from midnight to midnight. On Friday evenings at 10:00 Mother would be baking and scrubbing, getting ready for Sabbath.
She did all of this without ever having heard of Seventh-day Adventists?
Never heard of Adventists. She had no tracts, no teacher, no Bible study, no anything. Mother was an unobtrusive, humble, gentle person, and yet a power in the Methodist church. The Methodist minister was quite irritated over all of this, and he kept trying to tell the family that “you’re going back into bondage, and you’re gonna be under the old law,” and so forth. But mother kept the faith. Finally she decided, “If I’m causing all this commotion, I’ll stop going to church, but you children go.”
One day the church organized a committee to save Mother. I can remember four or five who came to our home, by appointment. They were all friends. They came in and soon after the greetings, the head deacon said, “Now, Mrs. Brooks, we’ve come to help you. You have to understand that the law was nailed to the cross. We’re not obliged under any circumstances to obey it. It’s gone forever.” And he went on and on and on. Mother wouldn’t argue, but she would ask questions. She had read her Bible so faithfully during this period that she had questions to ask, especially about the perpetuity of God’s law. And it became apparent that the visitors had no answers to her questions.
Well, finally, the group decided that they would let it go, and when they got up to leave, the head deacon handed mother a wrapped package. He said, “Since you believe the way you do, I want you to have this.” Mother handed me a pair of scissors, and I opened it. It was The Great Controversy, by Ellen White, brought to our home by a Methodist deacon.
How did that book change your life?
After this experience Mother began to read that book, along with her Bible, and to find the things she was looking for. Then in 1940 a colporteur came by my eldest sister’s home. Unlike Mother, my sister spoke very directly, and she said to him, “I don’t want to embarrass you in my house, but I have to be honest and tell you, I’m not interested in what you’re saying.” Well, the colporteur was shocked. He was putting on his best canvass, and so he said, “Do you mind if I ask you why?” She said, “Because I’m seeing religion as a sham. We’re not obeying the Lord.” “What do you mean by that?” he asked. She said, “Well, for instance, we all go prancing off to church on Sunday. That’s not the Sabbath.” He said, “What day is the Sabbath?” She said, “The seventh day is the Sabbath.” He said, “What day is that?” “Saturday,” she said. Well, he asked her finally, “How would you like to go to a church where everybody believes that?”
That was on Thursday. On Friday the Adventist minister was at our home. On Sabbath my mother, six sisters, and I were in church. I was 10 years old. I sat on hard benches with no padding, and no wall-to-wall carpet. It was a very plain church. Over the pulpit hung a sheet with the Ten Commandments on it, and I read them, learned them. I looked around at those humble surroundings and at about 65 or 70 humble people, and yet something rang in my head that this is it. And in 65 years I’ve not changed my mind.
I didn’t think you had!
I did become a little worldly in high school—went to the movies, danced, and ran around with friends, and I got caught in that a little bit. Then on a summer evening Elder Earl Cleveland was concluding his long campaign in Greensboro. And on that summer evening I got stuck with a buddy that I couldn’t take with me to see a young friend. So I took him to Cleveland’s meetings. We didn’t miss another night. Two Sabbaths before Cleveland closed, I was sitting in his tent by myself on a beautiful sunny day, and an overmastering impression came from the Lord that said to me, This is what I want you to do, and I will help you to make truth clear. I thought it was just a stray thought, the kind of thing that comes into your head and then disappears.
Was that the only time you felt such a strong impression—a call—to service and ministry?
No, later that same day, when I got on the bus to go home, after the evening meeting was over, I had a similar experience. It was dark, and from where I got off I had a mile or so to walk home. As soon as I was alone in the darkness, the impression came again, and powerfully: I want you to do what that man was doing. Sunday morning as soon as I awakened, there it was again. This went on until Tuesday. Finally, I went to my dear mother and told her about it. I was naive: I had just turned 17. I didn’t know the power of a mother’s prayers. Mother said these words to me: “Son, when you were born, I gave you to the Lord. Now He’s calling you.” Wouldn’t you think she would have shouted, or shed tears, or something? She did none of that. She went on about her business, running a household and serving the Lord.
And from that moment I have never looked back. I knew without a doubt that it was the Lord who was calling me. There are people who hear the Lord speaking to them in an audible voice, but I don’t. God has chosen to talk to me throughout my life by impressing me strongly with ideas and direction when I most needed it. It’s been that way for 54 years of ministry now, and I think it always will be.