Learning to listen

People The Arts

November 4, 2019



Leighton Ford’s new memoir follows his life’s journey as an evangelist — and helps readers find their own voices.

by Ken Garfield

At 88, evangelist Leighton Ford has caught his second wind. Third wind actually, if you consider that he’s just published a memoir while also going into “business” with his son. In all he does — preaching, painting, writing, mentoring, listening — Ford aspires to be, as he puts it, “a bearer of good news.”

Ford and his wife, Jean, are fixtures in the SouthPark community. She’s the kid sister of Billy Graham and a popular Bible teacher in town. He branched off from his late brother-in-law’s ministry years ago to start his own, focusing on nurturing young Christian leaders. The Fords’ passion is such that news of Leighton Ford’s latest work inspires little surprise, but rather the question, “What has he done now?”

Ford’s 11th book, A Life Of Listening: Discerning God’s Voice And Discovering Our Own, is out in hardback from InterVarsity Press. A blend of memoir and devotional, it takes us on Ford’s life journey. From a difficult childhood in Canada, he discovered his calling. “That sense of God caring for a lonely young man was the seed of a desire to help my peers know Christ.” He found the love of his life, no thanks to his flair for romance: On their first date, he took Jean to a hockey game. Still, he writes, “How could I ever forget those eyes, that lovely blond hair, that soft Southern voice, and her humor and warmth?” Ford found meaning in working with his brother-in-law, then in going out on his own to mentor the next generation of Christian leaders. “To be an artist of the soul and a friend on the journey,” as he puts it.

A Life Of Listening is more than a biography, though. Woven through the memoir is a message for our noisy times, to stop and listen to God and to each other, for that is how we discover our own voice. Last year, I helped Ford publish Places of the Heart, a book of paintings, poems and essays reflecting on the places he’s been. When we would meet, before getting to work, with a quiet grace he’d ask me about my family, work and faith. A life of listening, indeed.

Leighton Ford

***

Coinciding with the release of Ford’s memoir, another beautiful thing has taken place: Leighton and his son, Kevin, have merged ministries. The new Leighton Ford Ministries will seek to double the number of mentoring groups he has launched to 60 worldwide. With Kevin Ford’s experience as a consultant to churches, those congregations facing the challenge of change can turn to LFM for guidance. Part of Kevin Ford’s work will focus on helping churches find their mission — their “Truth North,” he calls it. He will also help clergy develop healthy traits related to family, fitness, diet and exercise. 

A story guides this journey. Leighton lost a son and Kevin a big brother when Sandy Ford died in 1981 during surgery to correct a heart problem. He was 21. When they drove to UNC Chapel Hill to gather Sandy’s belongings, they found in his dorm room an unfinished poem, “To Dad, for his fiftieth birthday.” In A Life Of Listening, Leighton writes: “I do not believe that God brought about Sandy’s death to teach me something. I do believe he used it to prepare me and those I loved for what was yet to come.” 

Kevin Ford

In partnering with his father, Kevin, 54, talks of a mission discovered long ago: to make his brother proud. He also recalls the day he saw his father sobbing and realized that he must help take care of him. Kevin and his family have moved from the Washington, D.C., area back to Charlotte, where they’ve settled into New City Church (formerly Church at Charlotte). 

“Time together,” says Kevin Ford, “is a gift from God.”

Says Leighton Ford, “To know that Leighton Ford Ministries is going to go on is a great encouragement to me.” SP

A Life Of Listening and Places of the Heart are available at
Park Road Books, the GoodNews Shop at Christ Episcopal Church, 3 French Hens gift shop and at leightonfordministries.com. 

Ken Garfield is a freelance writer focusing on charitable causes. He also writes obituaries. Reach him at garfieldken3129@gmail.com.

Photographs courtesy of Leighton Ford Ministries

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