Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry was born to immigrant parents in January 1913 in Long Island, New York. In the recent years following the celebration of the centennial of Henry’s birth, thankfully many are gaining a reintroduction to Henry’s works and thinking. After all, this is the man Billy Graham described as “intellectually the most eminent of conservative theologians.” And about their friendship would add, “I would say he’s been the professor and I’ve been the student.”
However, a lesser known part of the Henry legacy is the role of the persistent prayers of a widowed secretary in the converting work of God in Henry’s life.
Following the practices of American Episcopalianism, Henry ventured through confirmation at the age of twelve but later, in his words, abandoned “all that institutional religion could offer.” Upon graduation from high school, Henry took a position at The Islip Press, and there he would meet one of the most important people to impact his life.
Mrs. Mildred Christy “a white-haired, middle-aged lady” served as a secretary to the editor and would regularly tell Henry she was praying for him.
“I knew she was a widow. What I did not know was that her teenage son, whom I apparently resembled, had recently died in California in a motorcycle accident. Nor did I know that she prayed God to give her a son in the ministry, or at least, in the Lord. What’s more she alerted two friends in Ohio—with whom as a teenager she had often sung gospel songs in churches and rescue missions—to put me, of all people, on their prayer list. To be on the prayer list of that triumvirate, of local believers like Martha Gorton, too, was like being at the mercy of an air assault.”
Four years later, a persistent Mrs. Christy would offer Henry regular invitations to church and then finally to meet a special guest speaker. After a series of excuses and rebuffs, Henry finally agreed to meet the man and he both challenged Henry and answered the burdening questions of his heart.
On June 10, 1933, Carl Henry trusted Christ.
The testimony of the loving and long-suffering witness of Mrs. Christy should encourage us all to “not grow weary of doing good” (Gal 6:9) toward those around us that we might think will never come to Christ. Much like the parable of the persistent widow who gained justice from a judge due to her continual petitions, the faithfulness of Mrs. Christy in the life of Carl Henry should like move us “to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8). Our organized “air assaults” of unceasing prayer for those God brings along could very well be the means for seeing the conversion of the next Carl Henry.
For before Henry became the premier evangelical theologian of the twentieth century, founding editor of Christianity Today, stalwart defender of the doctrine of revelation and Christian cultural engagement, and even Billy Graham’s “professor,” he first was a nominal Episcopalian in need of the mercy of God. Thankfully that mercy came through the air assault of a persistent widow.
(This is an excerpt from the book Seven Summits in Church History.)