Daily Reporter staff writer
GREENFIELD — When she was 3 years old, Avis Morford-Hawkins climbed onto a bus with her mother and rode to the very first North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis.
She remembers walking in and holding tight to her hand.
There are other memories that have lingered from those five days of meetings in October 1927: Her baby brother stayed home with her father and grandmother. The sermons delivered in the Cadle Tabernacle were “more hellfire and brimstone than what we hear today,” she said.
And one of the songs she remembers being sang at the convention was “Jesus Is All the World to Me.”
Now 91, Morford-Hawkins also remembers a moment soon after the convention, when she was back at home in Rush County, lying on the ground and looking up at the sky.
“I said, ‘God, I’m going to get people to come,’” she said.
That drive to invite others to faith has taken many forms and launched her into a variety of roles through the years, from minister’s wife to associate minister herself to leader of a ministry.
Morford-Hawkins grew from a 3-year-old singing “Jesus Loves Me” at church into a minister’s wife. Her first husband, the late Dick Piper, served at various Christian churches, among them Englewood and Garfield. Piper was the minister at Cumberland Christian Church from 1965-73, during the formative years of Mike Baker.
Baker is now pastor of Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, and president of the 2015 North American Christian Convention.
Morford-Hawkins was his first-grade Bible school teacher and has continued to write to him through the years. From the pulpit, Baker has spoken of how much her encouragement has meant in his life.
Baker traveled to Greenfield recently to visit his former teacher and film an interview that will be played during the June 23 to 26 convention in Cincinnati.
Morford-Hawkins’s convention debut at 3 was the first of many years of attending the gathering. For many years, “I never missed a North American Christian Convention,” she said, estimating her longest string of attending spanned from the 1960s to 1997.
She’s been there in various roles. She played piano and organ for one of the conventions and said she was never nervous.
Another moment in her convention involvement came after she married Ralph Morford in 1976. They bought an antique store in Rushville and reached out through Revival Flames Ministries Inc. (previously Revival Flames for Women), a ministry she had begun in 1972. She has a photo of them together that they used in a display about the ministry at the convention one year.
She had also become a youth minister and remembers being the only woman among the organizers of the first Indiana Christian Youth Convention in the 1970s. It was in that youth ministry context that she met David Woods, senior minister of Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield. Woods was working in youth ministry in Anderson when they met.
“Every time I have talked with her, she has exhibited an energy for the work of Christ and has kept a high interest in the ministry of the church,” Woods wrote in an email. “Avis’ love for people and Jesus has always been evident to me.”
That love for people has been evident over the years as 15 children, some of them wards of the court, have lived with her at one time or another. Through them, she says, she has many grandchildren. She has compiled a booklet of her experiences that she titled “Other People’s Children.” She also wrote a collection of poetry, “Essence of Life,” and has won awards for her writing.
Woods said the Bill Gaither song, “Because He Lives,” comes to mind when he thinks of Avis.
“One of the lyrics speaks about how we can face uncertain tomorrows because we know he lives,” Woods wrote. “I think Avis has really experienced the truth of that lyric, and the testimony of her life is that she knows Christ lives.”
There would be some more uncertain days ahead for her; Morford, her second husband, died in an auto accident in 1996. In 2001, she married Carl Hawkins; he helped organize occasional Fifth Sunday rallies for a group of Christian churches southeast of Greenfield, among them Shiloh Christian Church. Hawkins died in 2013.
Morford-Hawkins was invited to the 2014 convention in Indianapolis; arrangements were made to pick her up, and she briefly appeared on stage.
She now lives at Crown Pointe, an assisted living facility in Greenfield, where on a recent morning she was waiting in a back sitting room by the fireplace for Baker and a film crew. This time, she admitted she was a little nervous. But those who know her would not describe her as shy.
“Aunt Avis likes a crowd,” said New Palestine’s Tamra Akinci, one of Morford-Hawkins’ nieces. “She’s really very excited about that.”
The nieces keep in touch, sometimes via text messages from their aunt. Akinci’s sister, Pam Butcher of New Palestine, helps look after their aunt’s affairs.
“She’s very serious about her faith,” Butcher said. “She’s lived quite a life.”