All In

If there was a game with ball involved Dennis Clark loved it, and when it came to athletic competition he never gave less than his total effort.  He was always--all in! He played basketball, football, and baseball in high school, but settled on his first love, baseball, when he later played at the Community College level.
Bill Clark center, Dennis Clark Left
At a young age his father, who was employed by the Recreation Department in the town of Elberton, Georgia as Assistant Director even introduced him to sports broadcasting, which Dennis still does today.  Bill Clark was involved in creating leagues, scheduling games, hiring umpires and developing the game venues where the games were to be played.   Dennis was in on it all as a part of the Clark family which led him to start umpiring at the age of 13 years.  His skill grew in this area until he eventually became the youngest umpire to ever work a game at the Senior League World Series.
Life was good in those days, even if the family income was modest.  Mom and Dad always had time to come and watch their son at his sports games.  This meant that Dennis was never without plenty of good side line coaching and also a lot of coaching from the stands.
His family was a Christian family who attended and was involved in the Baptist church in town, but his daddy was never one to openly discuss spiritual things in the home.  He was a good father, a faithful husband, and a well-respected member of their community.
During his sophomore year, Dennis experienced the rare event of a day off from practice or a game. Since he played from sport to sport as the seasons changed, there was usually a continuous overlap in his athletic activity schedule.  He decided to take advantage of this break and head home after school.  When he arrived, he found that his father had been sick and his mother had taken him to the emergency room earlier that day.  The doctors struggled to diagnose the problem and eventually determined that he should be sent home to rest.
He returned home and went to bed, as ordered, but continued to complain of a headache.  One of the doctors came by the house later in the day to check on him, and during that examination he became alarmed and directed that Mr. Clark be taken back to the emergency room.  Since Dennis had returned to the house by this time, he was enlisted to help his dad walk to the car for his return to the hospital.  They made it to the living room when dad collapsed and literally died in the arms of his 15 year old son.  When it was evident that he was gone, Dennis cradled his father and said, “Daddy, I want to make good for you.”  The heart of this tough, physically hardened young athlete was broken, and many tears flowed.
If this was the end of the story it would be one of a million of sad stories that occur every day, but God was not through writing the story about Dennis Clark.  Remember that the storms of life come and go, but God’s grace is forever.  Dennis was not yet aware of the fact that God described Himself as a Father to the fatherless. (Psalms 68:5)  He also did not realize that the everlasting arms of God were cradling him and planning his future at the very moment he was holding his father.
Dennis called his older sister, who was married, and gave her the terrible news.  The family gathered in great sadness, while friends came to help and the community rallied around this hurting family.  Then like always in these situations, the details of life simply moved forward.  Mom took a job with the Recreation Department where Mr. Clark had worked and earned a modest living for her family.  
Dennis continued playing all the sports he could through his high school years, and his umpiring skills helped pay for family expenses on more than one occasion.  Upon graduation he decided to focus on playing baseball at the community college level where he happen to run into a former high school opponent.  That meeting was the opening of the next chapter of the story God was writing for Dennis Clark.
Although he was familiar with church things and teachings, he had never been moved to respond to the call of the Gospel.  The acquaintance he had met challenged him with this question.  “If you died today, do you know if you would go to Heaven or Hell?  Dennis really didn’t have an answer.  His friend also invited him to attend a “Youth for Christ” meeting the next week to hear a noted sports figure speak.  This event sparked his interest so he made plans to attend.
The gospel of Jesus Christ was strongly presented that night and Dennis was deeply touched.  He realized that he had made “sports” the god of his life.  Although his constant involvement with sports had kept him from extensive participation in worldly things, he knew without a doubt that he was a sinner.  Later that night Dennis Clark gave his heart to Jesus and was born again. His life was forever and profoundly changed by that spiritual encounter with God.  Once again He was all in! The desire of his heart was to not only make good for the earthly father he had lost, but now more importantly for the Father of all eternity.
At this point we have a story with a great ending and yet God was not done.  There were many great chapters to come, because God had His eye on Dennis and touched his heart with the call to ministry.  His answer was clearly stated.  He heard the call and he agreed with it.  He was all in!
Within a few months he was headed to Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga to study for the ministry.  What he did not know was that God had placed a young lady there, by the name of Mona, for him to discover.  She was a godly young woman who worked in the registrar’s office and was on duty the day this handsome, athletic, blue eyed young man walked up to the window.  

She worked there to help pay the costs of her schooling.  Having prayed for several years that God would send her a spiritually motivated young man for her to marry, those blue eyes certainly had her attention.  She said as much to the other girls that worked in that particular office.  Too bad he had a girlfriend back home.  Fortunately, in a short time that relationship was over.
Substantial snowfall is quite rare in southern Tennessee, it seems that God works in mysterious ways.  The storm created the opportunity for a snowball fight which they both attended.  A short time later Dennis made his move asking Mona to go bowling with him and later Putt-Putt (which she won), and a few more dates.  This former athlete turned minister was hooked.  She was the one!  When faced with the prospect of a life together with her, his heart was all in!
This wonderful young lady agreed to become his wife and the word was that she hadn’t been hard to convince since her heart was all in too.  When Dennis talked to her father about securing his blessing, he got a full approval of her family.  Her father, who was a pastor himself, reminded Dennis that the wedding was many months off and that he did have a gun.  The message was not lost on Dennis.

Dennis and Mona have served the Lord together for 45 years, working in churches, Christian schools, and right here at Southside.  They have been partners in faith, life, and ministry and his life could not be properly considered without her at his side.  He has worn many hats well in his time in the ministry.  He has pastored, taught, counseled, coached, and raised a fine family of two wonderful sons, three grandchildren, and one on the way.  Like his father, Dennis also suffered a heart attack of his own, but the results were different.  He survived and continues to serve the Lord on a fulltime basis.  
If you think God is just about done writing His story of the life of Dennis Clark, you should consider this. I had tried several times to get together with him to talk, but schedules had not allowed.  It just happened that on the morning we were finally set for the interviewed about his story, our meeting was delayed again.  This delay was caused because Dennis was serving the Savior by leading a couple to Christ in his office.  
We all need to understand that God won’t be finished writing the stories of our lives or the lives of Dennis and Mona—ever.  God is the writer of a truly never ending, eternal, saga that is written across time and space.  It is a story authored by grace.  All that is required of us is that we be “ALL IN.”  As you read this—are you all in with Jesus?  You can be?
Isn’t Gods’ grace a wonderful thing!?

Roger Allen Cook

I love to write stories about God’s grace. If you have a story I should consider, please contact me at: Roger.Cook@Southsidefamily.com.