Who would have thought that “eight
dollars, two toothbrushes, and a fair amount of trepidation” would lead
to twenty-five years in Thailand? Or that a Greyhound bus station would
serve as the starting place for a journey overseas?
A major factor in my decision to become a missionary can be traced to
an assignment devised by Dr. Tom Constable (ThM, 1966; ThD, 1969),
today the chair of Dallas Seminary’s Bible Exposition department, but
then of Field Education. The Student Handbook that year offered credit
for a field experience that was simply called, “Four Dollars and a
To expose students to the poor and homeless, the Seminary gave
credit for spending a weekend living by their wits, a toothbrush, and
four dollars in downtown Dallas. One of my dorm mates that year was
Peter Gentry (who today serves as a professor at the Southern Baptist
Seminary). Peter and I set out for the center of town on a Friday
afternoon in October with eight dollars, two toothbrushes, and a fair
amount of trepidation.
After hours of aimless wandering, we despaired of finding
accommodations for the night and decided to sleep behind a hedge next
to the Masonic Temple. Before the evening was over Peter and I would
become much closer friends.
Although dorm mates, Peter and I were very different. I was a Baptist
with Okie roots and a pastoral ministries major. Peter was Canadian
with Brethren roots and a keen student of biblical languages. However,
as the temperature dropped that crisp autumn evening, these differences
became irrelevant as we moved closer to conserve body heat. Lying on
his back behind the hedge, Peter pointed out the vastness of the sky
filled with stars.
“Larry, I’m having trouble sleeping. How about you and I review some Bible verses?”
My immediate thought went to Dr. Charles Ryrie’s (ThM, 1947; ThD, 1949)
theology class. If a student arrived late to class, he was required to
repeat a verse before the other students. I had seen a number of my
classmates cramming in a verse before entering, and many tried to
repeat John 3:16 (a practice Dr. Ryrie frowned on). I had come to
Christ barely three years earlier and had memorized a few verses, but
my repertoire was limited. Peter, on the other hand, had a vast
storehouse of verses, so he offered to go first.
“What if we simply quote a verse starting in Genesis and work our way through the Bible?” he asked.
Why couldn’t I have picked a New Testament buff instead of this Old Testament scholar? I thought. At least I could make it through the Gospels and a few epistles.
Peter rattled off a few verses in Genesis, which I managed to match,
but by the time we got to Leviticus, I was out of my league. I let
Peter proceed through the rest of the Old Testament.
After a few hours of fitful sleep we decided to find a warmer spot—the
Greyhound bus station. The hardback chairs at the station were not much
better than the ground, and for the rest of the night we sat in a kind
of stupor as we prayed for dawn to arrive.
Around 5.30 A.M. we noticed a man distributing
literature to people in the bus station. The man was an evangelist who
handed out tracts there every Saturday morning for years. When he heard
what we were doing (and that we were already low on cash), he offered
to buy us breakfast.
As we wandered the streets of Dallas, a few homeless people befriended
us and gave us advice. One told us where to find the soup kitchen.
Another told us where we could get a free sleeping bag. Still another
knew where to get a hot meal and bed
for the night.
I was surprised to find a kind of brotherhood among these people as
they networked and sought to help one another. I had been “homeless”
for only a day, but I was getting a taste of what it must be like to
live this way year after year.
Some hours later we walked to the fairgrounds to attend the State Fair
of Texas and to man an outreach booth. Before nightfall we
trudged back downtown and made plans for the evening. Peter vetoed the
“Masonic Hotel,” and the “beds” were much too hard at the Greyhound
Inn. Our last chance for a hot meal and warm bed that night was the
Union Gospel Mission (UGM).
Peter and I presented ourselves to the supervisor of UGM and asked if
we could stay there. We also told him that we were DTS students on a
“Yeah, right, I’ve heard that story before,” he said. “Sit down over there.”
For the next twenty minutes he grilled us as though we were felons
under scrutiny for a crime. If I had any lingering doubt about my
salvation before that interview, it was gone by the end. Peter and I
gained at least one thing from that weekend—
assurance of our salvation. The supervisor finally received the answers he needed and released us to spend the night.
We sat with a number of men on wooden benches as a preacher gave a
short salvation message. From there we proceeded to the grub line to
receive a piece of stale bread and beans. Following dinner, we were
instructed to place our clothes in a container and receive our
“pajamas.” Mine turned out to be an old T-shirt and a pair of size
thirty-eight-inch Bermuda shorts with a rope belt. The shower was
activated by pulling on a cord with one hand while soaping down with
the other. From there we proceeded to a large room where we chose
Once again our sleep was fitful as men snored and coughed through the night. Then at 6 A.M. we heard a loud alarm. To our amazement it took only ten minutes for all of us to find ourselves back on the street.
Since it was Sunday, Peter and I decided we would visit a downtown
church. For the first time we understood how out-of-place street people
must feel in most congregations. After two days downtown, we didn’t fit
in, and we certainly didn’t smell the part of regular churchgoers.
Peter suggested that we have our own informal “service” on the street
On Sunday afternoon we retraced our steps to the Seminary. We were
exhausted. Peter decided to rest by catching a nap in a corner of the
library. He slept so soundly that he found himself rudely awakened by a
policewoman, her belt bristling with bullets and pistol in holster and
waving a nightstick. He was informed that the library was no place for
vagrants and was quickly ushered out.
Our weekend downtown was a pivotal event in pointing me toward a career
in missions. And today, though I have spent more than two decades
serving the Lord in Thailand, I look back on Peter’s and my experience
with four dollars and a toothbrush as key.
That weekend helped me clearly see that a minister of the gospel needs
to have both the head of a scholar and a heart to protect those in
Dinkins (ThM, 1979) is a church planter with OMF in Thailand, where he
has served as academic dean and seminary dean at the Bangkok Bible