Book spawned from tragedy yields harvest of souls
Christians are often asked the question, “Why do bad things happen?” While believers do not have all the answers, one thing we do know is God is able to bring good out of the terrible things that happen in this world. One real life illustration of this is the story of Kentucky Baptist Pastor Walter Walker.
One of 13 children born to John and Dixie Walker in Louisville, everything seemed to be going well in Walter’s life. When he was 13 years old, he was saved in a tent revival service. Walter was able to obtain a good education, graduating from Campbellsville College and the University of Kentucky. He then found a lovely wife in Miss Bernice Long, and they had three children together.
When the Lord called Walter to preach, doors seemed to open up for him all across the state. He pastored Mount Vernon (Waddy), Kiddville (Winchester), Ferguson (Somerset), Mount Freedom (Wilmore), Grace (Newport), Boone’s Creek (Athens) and Providence (Woodlake) Baptist churches. He also had a popular radio program on WLAP in Lexington.
In 1939, the 37-year-old man was evangelizing in the Buena Vista community of Garrard County, seeking to organize a Baptist church, when he became ill. He was taken to a Lexington hospital where he underwent surgery. Despite all the doctors’ efforts, on Aug. 23, 1939, Walter Walker died.
Everyone was devastated at the loss of such a young servant of the Lord. Yet in the midst of such tragedy, Walter’s older brother, Clarence Walker, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, had an idea. He would publish a book about what happens to Christians when they die. A few years earlier, the big band leader Carmen Lombardo had a hit song called “Annie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Clarence entitled his book Walter Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
First published in 1939, the 31-page book Walter Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was widely distributed. When World War 2 started, Clarence received permission to share the book with United States soldiers overseas.
The results were amazing. Sergeant Henry E. Gibson, originally from Wayne County, wrote: “Dear Brother Walker: I received the wonderful book you sent me telling what happens when a saved man dies. I liked it fine. I found the Lord after I received your book, and it taught me how to trust Him.”
Walter Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was also sent to prisons. Earl D. Birchem, who had been the FBI’s No. 1 Most Wanted Person, received a copy at Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. Two days before being executed, Birchem wrote Bro. Walker a letter thanking him for the book and declared, “I’m believing Jesus Christ the Son of God will acknowledge me before the Father for eternal life.”
Over 2 million copies of Walter Doesn’t Live Here Anymore were published. Heaven alone knows how many people were saved through reading the book. While the death of Walter Walker was indeed a tragedy, God used it for “good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.