The night of Friday, April 14, could not have been more perfect for an outdoor event at the Dallas Arboretum and for once Mother Nature played very nicely for Agape Clinic‘s 40th Anniversary Dinner.
As guests like Kimber and Michael Hartmann, Christie Carter, Sandra Estess, Bob White, Candace and John Winslow, Ellen Dill, Stacey and Ken Malcolmson, Anniversary Dinner Honorary Chair Richard Stanford and Executive Director Paul Hoffman and Development Director Amy Dunivan gathered on the terrace with a magnificent view of A Tasteful Garden with downtown Dallas as a backdrop, the evening’s keynote speaker Ben Malcolmson was scoring new BFFs.
It was a far cry from Dr. Barbara Baxter‘s starting Agape Clinic in the basement of East Dallas’ Grace United Methodist church, while “she was training at the Internal Medicine Department at Parkland Hospital and the VA Medical Center UT Southwestern Program.” That was 1983, when Cabbage Dolls were the rage, the first cellphones were available to the public by Motorola and something called Microsoft Word was released.
To celebrate the past four decades of serving the underserved through healthcare, Anniversary Co-Chairs Suzy Gekiere and Pam Thompson organized the dinner to fund the clinic’s growing needs and programs.
Just as the terrace was nearing capacity, guests were directed into Rosine Hall for dinner and the evening’s programs.
Except for some minor technical glitches in the presentation, the evening made a definite impact on the guests, starting off with Paul recognizing Richard and having Dallas Community Engagement Manager Kristen McNeal present a proclamation from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to Barbara in recognition of her work.
In accepting the proclamation and receiving a standing ovation, Dr. Baxter displayed a picture that she had gotten recently in the Holy Land that she felt would would be right at home at the Clinic.
As emcee Candace Winslow welcomed Ben to the stage, the lights on the podium and screen momentarily went dark. Seconds later the video started, stopped and started again with Hollywood Producer Travis Mann and Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll providing some background on Ben.
Despite the room staying relatively dark, Ben carried on like a trooper, starting off with his plan to become a writer. As a sportswriter for the college paper at USC, he was given the assignment of covering women’s volleyball. Two weeks later he was offered the football beat. It turned out to be an opportune assignment, with the school winning almost every game for the next three years.
It was also at this point in Ben’s talk that the lights came up and a turn in the road took place in his story.
That’s because his last article for the paper was to try out for the football team. Ben admitted that the last time he played football was in fifth grade. Adding to the challenge: at this point in his life, he only weighed 160 pounds.
The morning following the tryout at 9:30, a woman called Ben and said, “Congratulations. You’re on the football team.”
Ben thought at first it was a joke. Pete was known for pranks. But then he saw his name was on the team’s list.
“My life took a 180-degree turn — a wide receiver on the team.”
He soon learned that playing the sport for real was “more complicated than playing a John Madden Football video game,” and he was “getting my back kicked.”
He also got his hand caught in one of the team’s pads, resulting in surgery. Afterwards he wanted to rehab ASAP with the hope of returning to the team less than five months later.
A “Get Ben In” grassroots campaign got underway. It worked for the final game of the season against Notre Dame. With the spread wide enough, Pete put him in for one play that resulted in a five-yard penalty.
It was around this time that he sensed that God had a purpose for him. He started a Bible study for the team, but nobody showed up. Despite being discouraged, he arranged to have Bibles as gifts for his teammates on Christmas Eve. But instead of achieving his goal, he found the Bibles shredded all over the floor. Nothing worked.
Just days later, on January 6, 2007, USC star kicker Mario Danelo passed away. As his casket passed by, there was one of the Bibles on top of it.
Fast-forward a few years later: Ben had moved to Seattle to work with Pete, who had become the head coach for the Seahawks. It was during that time that Ben ran into his former college teammate/punter Taylor Odegard for the first time since Mario’s funeral. He learned that Mario had in fact started reading the book in the locker room and asked Taylor about it. That question turned out to be a blessing in many ways. Before going to college, Taylor had known the Bible so well that he had taught it to middle schoolers. But once at USC his interests had changed to frat life and football. In talking with Mario, Taylor amazed himself as he recalled his studies.
Seeing the Bible on top of Mario’s casket was a life-changing experience for Taylor, “who grew up. I became a man in 24 hours basically. I kind of put the childish things away.”
For Ben, it was gratifying knowing that both Mario and Taylor had been impacted by his effort that he had thought had failed.
In concluding his talk, Ben addressed the group saying, “Your impact at Agape is God’s purpose.”