On June 5, 2016, Elder Charles Decatur (C.D.) Brooks, one of Adventism’s most successful evangelists, passed away from pancreatic cancer. Below are the personal reflections of one who was impacted by Brooks’ passion for souls and powerful preaching.
A mighty oak has fallen. Charles Decatur Brooks, one of Adventism’s greatest preachers, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at 4:30am on June 5, 2016. C.D. Brooks was 85. As the leader of Breath of Life Ministries (an Adventist television ministry created specifically to appeal to African-Americans), Brooks was responsible for more than 15,000 baptisms. Thousands more were impacted by his powerful preaching style. I was one of them.
As a sophomore at Ouachita Hills Academy, I was required to deliver a 20-minute speech on any given topic. It was the first time I delivered a public speech. Inspired by a sermon that Brooks preached at an ordination service, I prepared my first message, stealing his title: Preach the Word. My manuscript was full of exclamation marks, and as I read it in my mind, I sounded just like him! But alas, my delivery definitely fell short.
From my days in academy, and throughout my adult years, C.D. Brooks was one of my greatest heroes. I have memorized nearly his entire classic sermon: I Want My Church Back! One of the major reasons I purchased my first iPhone was to create custom ringtones of that wonderful sermon, keeping some of my favorite lines literally ringing in my ears. When my friend Sebastien called, I would hear: I am glad I’m a black man—always have been. When Justin called, I would hear: What! Are! We! Doing! And when my wife Judy called, C.D. Brooks would come on saying: I am not a fanatic! I don’t even like fanatics!
I consider C.D. Brooks the greatest preacher in Adventism, not just for his homiletical style, but also for the practical value of his messages. His sermons have impacted my life more than any others I have heard. Last year, as my brother struggled for the final few breaths of his life in a hospital, I would steal away long enough to hear Brooks’ sermon from the Breath of Life series entitled: Come Now, Let Us Reason. It brought hope and encouragement to me during the most difficult time of my life. I’ve listened to that sermon at least a hundred times.
I first heard Elder Brooks preach a live sermon at the Andrews University Seminary Chapel in 1999. The house was packed as he delivered a powerful message from Scripture. Around that time, his health started failing and rumours surfaced that he wasn’t taking many speaking engagements due to his inability to fly on airplanes. Several years later, I heard him preach at an ASI Convention on the topic of: The Blessed Underwriter. I sat in awe as he preached with urgency, finishing his sermon with the passionate declaration, “What’s happening? Jesus is coming! Prepare! Prepare!”
It was then that I determined to do whatever it took to get Elder Brooks to come to speak at GYC. In fact, some of us wanted him to speak at GYC so badly that we selected a North Carolina venue because it would increase our chances of being able to land him at our event. When I called his secretary and she passed me on to him, he addressed me with Christian courtesy. I extended the invitation to him and he said, “Oh, my friend, my friend, let me see what I can do.” He had some juggling to do with his schedule, but, thankfully, he agreed to come to Chattanooga, since North Carolina was too small for us.
When he returned to GYC again, we created a Presidential Hospitality Department or PHD to provide special assistance to various church leaders and guests at our annual conference. Various levels of assistance were created, including a very special level for the President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and for C.D. Brooks.
Sebastien Braxton and I had the pleasure and privilege of escorting him to each of his appointments along with his wife. He conducted himself with class–always the gentleman to his wife, and the exemplary Christian to those he came in contact with. I was so impressed with the way he carried himself that I thought to myself, “This man represents all that GYC stands for and strives to be.” And so, we presented him with our highest honors: a plaque that thanked him for demonstrating Nehemiah’s leadership, Daniel’s integrity, Paul’s passion for evangelism, and Christ’s love for God and humanity.
He was surprised by this small honor on behalf of GYC. But when I asked the congregation to stand up if they had been impacted by Elder Brooks’ ministry, nearly all of the 6,000 young people in attendance stood to their feet. I invited Elder Brooks to come and see the impact he had made in the lives of GYC’s young people; as he stood near the pulpit, I saw tears beginning to fill his eyes. As powerful of a preacher as he was, C.D. Brooks viewed himself simply as a humble servant of the Lord.
The absence of Brooks’ prophetic, powerful voice will certainly be missed. But as we mourn, let us ask, “How do we honor his legacy?” How do we finish the work he so cheerfully and gracefully dedicated himself to? Where are the youth who are ready and willing to expand God’s kingdom? Where are the youth willing to fight like the mighty, and to stand for truth? Now is the time to answer the call.
I pray our church’s youth will wake up, stand up, and seek to fill the large empty shoes that have been placed before us. May God grant this generation the sacred mantle, and a double portion of the Spirit that was upon Elder Brooks. For indeed, a mighty oak has fallen, but how many seeds will spring forth in his stead? Will you be one of them?
“Moses my servant is dead, now therefore arise.” (Joshua 1:2)
Compass invites you to share your memories of Elder Brooks and how his ministry has impacted your life in the comments section below.