I think most people would remember the first time they met Dr. Sam Cathey. For me, it was in a church service that Sam and Lu had slipped into to hear our intern preacher, Anson Justice.
In 1979, I had been a Christian for about two years. Our church was small and our pastor had just retired. We had different preachers fill the pulpit and to keep us going. The day Brother Sam came, I was in the choir and I saw this distinguished couple walk in and set on the last row of the section to my left. They were dressed impeccably with Brother Sam wearing cowboy boots. I think they were ostrich leather cowboy boots.
Brother Anson preached and, at the close of the service, called on Brother Sam to pray. I had not heard anyone pray like Brother Sam prayed that day in a very long time. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember it was a spark to my dry heart that was longing for something more in my walk with the Lord. It gave me hope for a spiritual life that I had seen others have, but was not experiencing at that time.
Apparently, that visit was something more, it was also a scouting mission to check out our church. Before long, Brother Sam’s twenty-three year old son-in-law’s name was submitted to become our pastor. He was called and a friendship began.
I was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace and I began to grow in the Lord and our church began to grow. We called a nineteen year old former member of the pastor’s youth group to be our student pastor. He lived with us for a while and became a life-long friend.
Terrie and I were invited to Brother Sam’s annual Greater Life Evangelical Association (GLEA) gathering, which was held Labor Day weekend in Fort Smith, AR. We were invited to stay in Don Moore’s home (a close friend of Sam’s) and we had access, as it were, to “back stage” activities. We got to meet some great Godly brothers and sisters in Christ. People who were where I wanted to be someday in my walk with the Lord.
I must try to describe Brother Sam’s personality and his preaching style to give you understanding to other things that will be said. He was charismatic. People were impressed by his “shoot from the hip”, “tell it like it is” bold proclamations. He was an Alpha male, a “man’s man”, popular in school, an athlete, a sportsman and a fighter. People wanted to have his favor.
Somewhere along the line, people started calling the Cathey’s “Papa Sam” and “Mama Lu”. As much as I love them, I have never been impressed to use those terms of endearment, preferring “Brother” and “Sister”. Most people who used those names did use them as terms of endearment to show honor and affection. I think I was restrained by some of his fans, who in my opinion, seemed to lose sight of who he was. They seemed to think of him as a spiritual celebrity, using the names as a groupie would use a name of a famous person. He was a man of God doing what God called him to do. Those listening to his sermons would love him and some did not love what he said, but as he often said, he didn’t always like what he said either. But I know he loved people and wanted them to live for the Lord.
Eventually, Brother Sam became my pastor. He helped me to open my mind to what God could do in ministering to the needs of His people by being obedient and faithful and just doing our best. I recall a time when someone serving in South America, needed new computer equipment. Brother Sam asked the congregation what the Holy Spirit was laying on our hearts. I immediately thought we should buy him a new computer, but my thinking was small. In my previous church, we thought we were restrained by a lack of money. We were probably more restrained by a lack of vision. Someone else said he thought we needed to buy him a new computer. I was blown away, that was great and it confirmed for me to listen to the Holy Spirit.
Another time, a need was presented to our church that Chinese pastors needed personal reference books. If I remember correctly, the man presenting the opportunity would be going to different churches trying to get one hundred sponsors to give sixty dollars to buy the books. After the offering was taken, our church alone covered all that was needed. The presenter was blown away.
I mention these examples because Brother Sam believed God would supply all of our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). He developed us to believe that, as well and we became a giving church. He had this motto, “If you have it, give it. If you don’t have it, don’t sweat it.” He was a giver and told wonderful stories of God providing for him and his family.
I was privileged to be ordained an elder of our church and to serve with him and other Godly men to minister to the needs of our people. I saw his heart for people to “Just Do Right”. That’s what he asked us to do. Do what the Bible instructs us to do.
The time came when his time to be our pastor ended. After a time, he was able to come back and join our church again. The congregation never stopped loving Brother Sam or Lu (there is not be a person on this plant that does not love Lu). He was never quiet in a service. He always encouraged our new pastor (who was the student pastor who lived with Terrie and me and who married Sam’s youngest daughter), he encouraged his Sunday school teacher, and he encouraged all who came in contact with him.
After I had cancer surgery and was able to come back to church, he would ask me how I was doing and tell me he was praying for me every day. His health had started to deteriorate and he was praying for me. How very kind of him.
He was a special man. He was comfortable being country or dignified. He was comfortable in a flannel shirt or a tuxedo. He would preach to a handful of people in Montana or to thousands in South Korea. He was well respected in the Southern Baptist Convention and preached in the biggest churches in America and he would preach in churches that were not able to cover his gas money.
The last time I was able to visit with Brother Sam was this last Thanksgiving. I was invited to join the family for their family meal. Terrie had died just a few days prior to this gathering. As I visited with him, he was again concerned about me and giving me an update on his status. When I left, his granddaughter gave me a card and said, “Papa wanted you to have this.” It was a sympathy card with a gift card included.
Spiritually, we all rejoice in knowing that he had given his heart to the Lord as a teenager. Emotionally, even though there was some time to prepare for his passing, we hurt because we loved him, we love his family, and we loved his leadership and friendship.
Just a word about the photo I chose. His grandson used this photo on a tribute he wrote about Brother Sam. I liked it because it showed him smiling. He was known as being tough, and he was, but he was so much more than that.
Please pray for his precious family as they grieve with hope.
Sam Cathey was born August 30, 1934 and he died March 8, 2016. Oh what a life in between those dates.