God Reached Down His Hand

After school let out on that particular Friday, Toby Weaver and his younger brother Lee, gathered up their old beat-up baseball gloves and their old bat and ball and set out on an adventure. This trip would take them through woods, under two barbed wire fences, across a meadow and onto a baseball field in a place called Vista Acres. Then these two raggedy poor boys began acting like they were big time players who were winning the big game. Everything was going fine when a black VW Beatle drove up onto the field. They were expecting to get thrown off the field when a big fellow got out of the car and said, “Nobody can hit my fastball.” They decided to take the challenge from this friendly guy and soon found out they were dealing with a very athletic man and were indeed unable to hit his pitches. He then said, “Let me hit one”, and proceeded to hit the ball out of that field. This was when we found out his real agenda for that encounter. He said, “If you boys will come to church with my wife and me on Sunday, I will give you a brand new baseball.” They said, “We’re in.” That man was the preacher at the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia., a church that was just starting to move toward a new and dynamic ministry. That man’s name was Jerry Falwell.
Toby Weaver returns home
The family life these boys lived was truly a total mess. Their father had fought in World War II, and was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. When he was freed and returned home, he was never the same. He was 100% disabled from severe seizures, depression, and general weakness. He had answered his nation’s call and fought heroically in a war that had terrible consequences for thousands of military personnel and their families, and specifically this family. He did what he could to help support his family by washing dishes at a local restaurant but even so their life was very meager. He was a chain smoker and his wife had great difficulty with alcohol abuse. She and Dad just couldn’t make a life together.

Mom took up with the wrong crowd and on the day before Thanksgiving, in 1957, she just walked out on her husband and her two rag-a-muffin boys. Needless to say, there was a lot of anger that night in their house in Lynchburg, VA. Toby took it out on anybody and everybody. In those days, there was no government food program and at times if Toby was to have anything to eat he would have to steal it. The boy’s clothes were always in rough shape and they often looked dirty because much of the time they were. Living in a filthy house with no heat would have made any of us more than a little edgy. Toby was rough and ready to fight when mocked by other kids. He got sent home from school on numerous occasions for fighting, lying and stealing.
The Sunday after their baseball field introduction to Pastor Falwell, he came to the house in a tan Buick, and a new story began. It was a story that would last long after the life of this young pastor. Jerry got to know their Dad and the boys became regulars on the bus to the Thomas Road Baptist Church. The free donuts and milk were a big part of their faithful attendance. These growing boys could never pass up free food. After the Sunday goodies were gone, the brothers would sneak out and roam around the church looking for a place to play, during the service. They were in the basement one time, while Pastor Jerry was giving the sermon in the church auditorium, when Toby saw something unusual. There was a group of men, sitting in a circle, and praying for hearts to be touched in the service that was going on just over their heads. Toby watched and listened for a few minutes and would always remember that special sight. The boys did get saved and baptized several times as kids because then someone would take them out to eat afterwards. There was more work to be done in the hearts of Toby and Lee and their broken family.
A young Jerry Falwell
It was during this time that Dr. Falwell opened a ministry home for alcoholic men and a home for boys like Toby and Lee, in a place called Treasure Island. He offered these two boys the opportunity to go to school and stay at the boy’s home. This was a place of discipline and rules that was being offered to two very undisciplined boys. It was clean and safe and offered three meals a day, so Toby decided to take the offer and move to the school.  Lee stayed home to take care of his ailing father, and because he thought the rules sounded like they would be too much for him. Due to the teaching and spiritual training he was receiving at the home and school, Toby came to know Jesus as his personal Savior in his senior year of high school. Needless to say, his life was profoundly and forever changed. Later, Lee also found a new life in Jesus and went on to serve in several ministries during his life, including the Moody Bible Institute.

Jerry Falwell stayed close to the family and one time helped pay medical bills when Lee was seriously injured playing baseball. He even hired their father, Clarence, at one of these ministries but unfortunately the job didn’t work out. It was just too much for this handicapped veteran to handle. Jerry continued to help the family and even bought Lee a suit to wear at his father’s funeral.

After high school graduation Toby had planned to join the Marines, but in 1965 someone took him to visit Tennessee Temple College in Chattanooga. The nailed scarred hand that had years ago reached down into his life was at work again. He knew in his heart that it was the place for him and soon a B.A. was accomplished. What he didn’t know was that on a blind date in the summer of 1969 he would be set up with a beautiful and godly young lady named Rita Ford. Her father and mother had served in ministry their whole lives. Rita is one of the Ford sisters that includes our own Mona (Ford) Clark, here at Southside. The heart of this young man from Virginia was captured forever, as was the heart of the preacher’s daughter. Toby and Rita married eleven months later in 1970 and began a life of ministry that has been filled with the grace of God and His purpose for over 50 years and still counting.
Since Toby entered the ministry, he has been blessed to see his father and brother trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and he saw his mother return from a wayward life to renewed fellowship with the Lord. He has seen many others come to Christ in his work as head pastor, staff pastor, teacher, professor and college administrator. As of this writing, he and the love of his life, Rita, still minister at West Coast Baptist College. He knows his life has been touched by God’s and he has lived the words of Psalm 40:1-3. I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. 2 He brought me up also out an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. 3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.

Toby knows from firsthand experience, the truth and the message of that old gospel song “When He Reached Down His Hand for Me” that was used so well by Dr. A. T. Humphries in his evangelistic work many years ago. The first line goes like this. “I was lost and undone without God or His Son, when He reached down His hand for me.” Now like his old friend Jerry did in his ministry, Toby desires to finish his life helping others experience the freedom he found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He also loves teaching and mentoring young people who are just starting out in ministry. In fact there is a lot more to his story than is found here, in these few pages, but Toby will have to write it.

After all these years, Toby Weaver’s heart still cries out--does anyone need a hand today? I know where help can be found! I know the One who reached down for me.

Isn’t God’s 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