Professor Hendricks standing outside with his wife, Jeanne

“Prof” Howard Hendricks—affectionately “Howie,” to his wife—left an incredible legacy of godly leadership when he went to be with the Lord in February, 2013. As his teaching and leading ministry grew, Prof. Hendricks was quick to give God credit, commend his wife, and referred to their husband-wife team as “one flesh, one ministry.”

Together they raised four children, ministered, traveled, and co-authored several books. Jeanne Hendricks served alongside her husband for nearly sixty-six years. An author herself, she is a faithful woman of prayer and hospitality. She hosts a DTS SWING group in her home, leads a women’s Bible study for her church, and lovingly carries on the legacy of her husband. In this interview, she touches on God’s grace before, while serving beside, and after losing her beloved Howie. 

How did you meet Howard Hendricks?

Only our Heavenly Matchmaker could have thought up the improbable scenario. When a Dallas Seminary student named Jim Rayburn came to Philadelphia to announce a new youth ministry called Young Life, Howard Hendricks was the emcee at the big banquet. He was the immensely popular song-leader, announcer, and humorous platform person for all our Christian Endeavor meetings, (a national youth organization). I was an extremely shy high school kid who blushed bright red when embarrassed. We lived in opposite ends of the city, and I had no idea who he was, nor did I care, since he appeared to be twenty-something. However, when I got dragged to the platform for the Truth or Consequences “humor number” (a total disaster!), he turned to his buddy and asked about me. 

He was about to find out, wasn’t he? How did your relationship first begin in earnest? 

Fast-forward about five months. I went to our West Branch Labor Day retreat in New Jersey, only to discover this Hendricks person had gotten himself invited as our guest song leader. He announced we needed to bring our flashlights on Sunday evening because we would be going down to the lake for a moonlight sing. After the benediction, he calmly walked up to me and told me he had forgotten his flashlight. Could he share mine? As we walked back up the trail, he told me he was leaving that same week for Wheaton College. He was eighteen. Would I allow him to write to me? Thus began a five-year friendship-courtship-wedding.

Can you share an example of how the Lord led you closer to marrying your future husband? 

There are many indications of God’s hand on our lives. He was at Wheaton. I enrolled in a college in New York State where I wrote for the school newspaper and received an assignment to the president’s office for a once-a-week interview. One day, Dr. Payne said to me, “You’re like a fish out of water here, aren’t you?” I honestly felt this way since I was the only Presbyterian from a big city on that rural Wesleyan Methodist campus. He told me I belonged at Wheaton, and I should pray about transferring. I did, and at Wheaton, Howie had been elected senior class president.  

Do you recall a definite “aha” moment when you first realized his leadership potential? 

At Wheaton, I saw many of his unmistakable leadership skills in action. A natural on the platform, Billy Graham had nabbed him as a song leader in his nearby church. He wrote and starred in numerous student productions on campus. “Everybody” knew him and it scared me. He saw this in me and asked me to pray about spending my life with him.

In your estimation, what character traits are most vital in a godly leader?

I can do no better than quote Henrietta Mears (with Howard Hendricks’s comments in parentheses): 

    L – love (centered on Christ)
    E – enthusiasm (with a humorous touch)
    A – altruism (others first)
    D – determination (clear vision)
    E – endurance (never giving up)
    R – reward (the Lord’s “Well Done”)

If you were to share a passage of Scripture you value highly for leaders, what would it be and why?

My husband wrote his master’s thesis on the book of James. He never veered from the warning in chapter three on the dangers of the tongue: “Let not many of you become teachers…knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.” (NASB)

How did you pray for him? 

The Lord must be awash in my endless petitions since they ranged from terrified SOS calls to tearful thanksgivings. Especially at first, I remember saying, “Lord, I know you gave him to me, but I don’t understand him. Help!!!” I never doubted his ministry would be successful. I did worry—and pray—about keeping up with him.

Can you share a specific example of how you prayed as his ministry grew?

I often prayed for his safety, especially when he traveled to remote areas. One night, however, I took the children to meet him at Love Field, and he wasn’t there. I had no information, except he had a feeder flight into Chicago. I put the children to bed, assuring them even though we did not know where their dad was, God knew, and He would take care of him. Then I began to panic. I knew his little plane had crashed somewhere in a field in Indiana. I had my hand on the phone to call Dr. Walvoord with news he had lost a faculty member when it occurred to me I better pray first. I grabbed my Bible as I knelt beside the bed, hysterically crying to the Lord, “Please tell me something.” There on the page were the words of Psalm 3:4–5 “I was crying to the Lord with my voice, and he answered me from his holy mountain.  I lay down and slept…” (NASB)

“OK, Lord,” I wailed, “I’ll go to bed, but I can’t sleep.” About four in the morning the phone rang and woke me. “Honey, can you come get me? I’m at Love Field.” Well, I grabbed the kids with pillows, blankets and all, and threw them into the back of our station wagon. There had been engine trouble; they had to land and find a mechanic, and Howie had to take the red-eye home to Big D.  

How did the two of you navigate conflict?   

In full disclosure, especially early in our marriage, we sparred verbally on not a few occasions. When money is scarce, and children are born to a father who had no models, misunderstandings pop up almost daily. So I began to research and carefully study the subject of biblical submission. Because we always had healthy communication, we had some robust exchanges, but he was always a gentleman, and I began to absorb bits and pieces of the truth that love covers a multitude of sins.

It’s clear from your ministry with your husband God used the source of those conflicts to craft a beautiful testimony of what He could do in and through marriage. This would later become a ministry platform for both of you, correct? Would you share a little about writing with your husband?

The writing was always my first “can do,” so we began together with our first book, Say It with Love. It was his idea, but he asked me to help him with it. Heaven Help the Home followed out of our family devotions, but my favorite is Footprints, a kind of literary relay with “he-said/she-said” about our everyday life. He went on to write a dozen or so other books. Best known is his Living By the Book, and I authored several for women.  

Your husband used the phrase “one-flesh, one ministry” in describing his marriage to you. Losing him must have been a great loss, indeed. Can you share a little bit about your experience as a widow?

No words can adequately depict my sense of deprivation after almost sixty-six years of marriage to Howard Hendricks. It is beyond my ability to describe his strong, devoted and faithful love—not overly romantic, but virile, one-hundred percent dependable and trustworthy. I must admit I never felt like I “owned” him. I considered him God’s gift. Since I had surrendered my life to Jesus Christ before meeting Howie, I knew when God asked me to give him back, I could not feel angry or unfairly treated.

I spent part of my life with one of God’s choicest servants, and it brought me a lifetime of joy, unbelievable excitement, and expansion into worlds I could never have known without him. I cannot speak for others, but I know I am highly privileged to have his name. Needless to say, I can hardly wait to rejoin him in heaven!

To other widows I say: when God takes your loved one home, He is giving you a message he values you so much, he cannot let you go yet. He has more for you to do, a whole new assignment which could not be possible until now. Yes, the grief is bitter, but God offers his peace and provision. We must take it by faith, as we took salvation by faith. God gives liberally.

What was most difficult for you after he died?  How did God help you overcome those new challenges?

Humanly? The overwhelming legal aspects of probate, even though I had expert help, and the still-ongoing disposition of his many books and teaching tools present a challenge. Spiritually, God granted me overwhelming peace and a sense of his presence. I had to do a U-turn, so to speak. My life now is different from ever before, and I have struggled to adjust.

How is the Lord continuing to work in your life now?

The Lord never changes. I have the same guidance as always, and his comfort is still the same familiar assurance I have had all my life.

If you could encapsulate the Lord’s leading in your life, how would you frame it?

Three main seasons have characterized my life:

First was early marriage with small children: James 1:5 (NASB) –“If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.” 

Second, for the busy, stressful years of ministry: Isaiah 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” 

Third, for latter years of physical challenges and separation: Philippians 1:6  (NASB) “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  

And if you could sum it up in a word?

The one overarching theme of my life is God’s grace—grace!

About the Contributors

BJ Rathbun

BJ Rathbun, a former DTS staff member, has served in the education and non-profit sector since 2004. She enjoys all things related to language and writing and longs to see the day when every nation, tribe, and tongue will be able to read and hear Scripture in their heart language.