This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of SBCLife, published less than two months following Dr. Olford’s death in August. The entire article and additional testimonies can be seen on line by searching for “A Tribute to Stephen F. Olford,” or by going to SBCLife archives. Dr. Olford was my friend and mentor for 35 years. I still miss him greatly. I pray that this tribute will be a blessing to you. I pray for those of you who never knew Stephen Olford that you might take steps to acquaint yourself with his books, sermons and other resources. Go to http://www.stephenolford.com for more information.
A TRIBUTE TO STEPHEN F.OLFORD by Roger D. Willmore
His was no ordinary life. In fact the extraordinary happenings that seemed to characterize his life and ministry began when he was still in his mother’s womb. Stephen Olford was born to missionary parents, Fredrick and Bessie Olford, on March 29, 1918. Fredrick Olford’s basic knowledge of medicine and the experience he had gained on the mission field caused him to anticipate that the birth of their first baby might be accompanied by complications. Rather than taking a chance, he and Bessie made up their minds to make the thousand-mile trek from Angola to the British colony of Northern Rhodesia. Fred walked every step of the way while Bessie was carried in a hammock by A-Chokwe men.
The first seventeen years of his life were spent in the heart of Africa where he witnessed the marvelous power of God working through the lives of his godly parents. His experiences in Africa flavored his preaching. I can remember when I first heard Stephen Olford’s voice on the old reel to reel tape player in 1969; I as a senior in high school. His accounts of miracles from God among the A-Chokwe people captured my youthful imagination. I learned later how those experiences forged his character.
Stephen Olford left the home he had known and loved in Angola to live in England where he would pursue a career in engineering. In college his thesis project was carburetion. He developed a special carburetion system and took up motorcycle racing to demonstrate the efficiency of his invention. On his way home from a race on a cold rainy night he crashed his motorcycle and lay injured on the road in the rain for several hours. Pneumonia quickly set in. Doctors announced, “Two weeks to live.”
Laying on his death bed, Stephen Olford received a letter from his father in Africa. Fredrick Olford knew nothing of his son’s condition. It took three months for a letter to travel from Africa to England. But in God’s sovereignty the letter contained words that would forever change the life of Stephen Olford. His father wrote, Only one Life, ‘Twill soon be past, Only what is done for Christ will last. Stephen Olford read those words and fell under deep conviction. He slipped out of bed, dropped to his knees, and cried out to God. He prayed, Lord, You have won and I own You as my King of Kings and Lord of lords…and Lord if You will heal my body, I will serve You anywhere, anytime, and at any cost. God answered his prayer and from that day until August 29, 2004, when he went to be with the Lord, Stephen Olford’s life was ablaze for God.
In 1959 Stephen Olford came to the United States to pastor the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. He embarked upon this new chapter in his life with wife Heather and sons Jonathan and David at his side. It was from the famed Calvary pulpit that Dr. Olford’s anointed expository preaching began to impact people around the world. His days at Calvary made the world his parish.
It is appropriate that we as Southern Baptists pay tribute to Stephen Olford. His passionate and powerful expository preaching, along with his evangelistic zeal, made him a favorite on Southern Baptist Convention platforms across the country. He spoke at the SBC Pastor’s Conference numerous times and he was a frequent speaker at state conventions and conferences. I had the privilege of serving as conference president in Alabama, and Stephen Olford was keynote speaker for two of the sessions. Our conference theme was PREACH THE WORD.
It is the testimony of countless pastors and evangelists and missionaries in our Southern Baptist Convention that they really came into the blessings of the Lord under Dr. Olford’s ministry.
I am writing this article on behalf of my fellow Southern Baptists to honor the life and ministry of God’s faithful servant, Dr. Stephen F. Olford, and to express gratitude to God for giving such a wonderful gift to His Church. I also want to express our appreciation to his wife Heather and their two sons, Jonathan and David for sharing Dr. Olford with us.
In 1988 the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical preaching was founded in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember with clarity Dr. Olford casting the vision for a ministry of promoting biblical exposition and practical training for pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders. From the beginning Dr. Olford’s motto was, Ministry to Ministers is Ministry to Multitudes.
There are three beautiful banners prominently displayed in the Olford Center chapel which contain three foundation truths that guide the Olford ministry. The three banners contain the words: Jesus is Lord; Be Ye Holy; and Preach the Word. The life of Stephen Olford epitomized the truth of each of these banner statements. The powerful anointed preaching that characterized his preaching ministry emerged from a holy life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The passion of his life was to preach the Word. He often said,
Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to God for the life of Stephen Olord. He has ministerd effectively on our convention platforms, in our churches, and in our seminaries. His friendship, his counsel, his godly life, and his anointed preaching have made an indelible impression on all of us. It is true that the world was his parish and he ministered to the masses, but who can forget that beaming smile, that radiant personality, and that loving hug. He never lost sight of the value of the individual. I will always remember the many times I have been with him after a conference when everyone else would be gone and Dr. Olford could be found sitting with a hurting pastor in need of counsel. He would embrace the crowd and then he would embrace the individual.
Lord, thank you for the faithful, selfless, and sacrificial service of your servant, Stephen F. Olford. Amen
He being dead yet speaketh…and the admonition is clear. Preach the Word!
Only One Life, by Dr.John Phillips, the biography of Stephen Olford.
Heather Olford went Home to be with the Lord on December 21, 2013