. D. Brooks (1930 – 2016) was among the most successful evangelists in Seventh-day Adventist history. He ministered for seven decades and accumulated countless stories, but one of his most beloved tales occurred during the late 1950s.
He was a pastor for the Ephesus church in Columbus, Ohio, and was hosting his first evangelistic series just months after moving into the city. Every night an alcoholic named William Webster, known by all as Little Willie or Li’l Willie, wandered into the tent, disheveled and smelling of stale alcohol. Brooks had a general impatience with drunks, believing them to be insincere and irresponsible. But Li’l Willie was persistent, the diminutive black man even staggering forward at the close of each meeting to shake Brooks’ hand.
After eight weeks of preaching, “decision time” finally arrived. Willie was still coming, with probably the best attendance record even among the church members. One day Sister Bond, a diligent Bible instructor, asked to have a word with Brooks.
“Pastor, Willie Webster wants to be baptized.”
“Li’l Willie?” Brooks replied incredulously. “He’s drunk most of the time. He doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, what I’m preaching.”
“He says he’s understood and wants to be baptized.”
“No. I will not burden the church records with Willie’s name. He’s not ready and not sincere.”
“At least go visit him, Pastor,” she pleaded. So, Brooks drove to inner-city Columbus to see Li’l Willie.
Li’l Willie lived in a house in which the front door was always open. All kinds of people wandered in and out in a never-ending stream. Brooks and Sister Bond attempted to knock, but when no answer was forthcoming, they just walked in. A motley assortment of people milled about in the foyer and living room. When Brooks asked for Li’l Willie, someone disappeared to fetch him. Moments later, he descended the stairs, and Brooks motioned him over to the far corner of the living room where they could have a little privacy.
“Willie,” Brooks began rather sternly, “I understand from Sister Bond that you wish to be baptized.”
“Do you understand the things I’ve been preaching all these weeks?”
Brooks began to drill him on the doctrines he had presented, and as he suspected, Willie’s answers were woefully inadequate. But when Brooks corrected him, the man nodded his head humbly in agreement.
“Do you believe this truth?” Brooks finally asked.
At that, Brooks bore down hard. “Willie, I know you drink. In our church, we do not drink. Do you understand that?”
“Now, if I catch you drinking, I will counsel you and pray with you. But if you continue, I will drop you from the church’s membership. Do you understand?”
On that baptismal Sabbath, the Ephesus sanctuary was packed. Brooks was at his happiest, this being prime time for an evangelist. God had blessed his efforts immensely, he mused, and now . . . But his musings were interrupted when he spotted Li’l Willie in a white baptismal robe with the 124 other candidates. Brooks beckoned to him, and the little man stepped into the pool.
“This candidate really needs your prayers,” Brooks announced to the congregation. When he baptized Willie, he thought, Here goes a waste of time.
Brooks held a series of meetings after the baptisms, and Willie was always found sitting dutifully on the front row. Despite himself Brooks had to admit that he was a pleasant fellow with a ready smile. Yet he was sure Willie would drop out soon.
But Li’l Willie didn’t. A week after his baptism, he wore a tie—the knot was loose, Brooks noted, but it was a tie nevertheless. As the days went by, he observed that the tie tightened, moving into place. Then one night, Li’l Willie entered the tent in a suit—a used suit—but a suit nevertheless. Brooks began to feel a little ashamed of himself.
Calvin Peterson, one of Brooks’ parishioners, was head of plant services for Channel 6 TV. One Sunday, Brooks went to visit him at his job to see how he was faring. As soon as he saw his pastor, Peterson said excitedly, “Pastor, guess who’s working for me?”
Nonplussed, Brooks asked, “Where is he?”
Peterson hurriedly led him up a flight of stairs. At the top the two found Li’l Willie vigorously sweeping the hall, oblivious to everything but finishing the task.
Brooks dashed to him and grasped him excitedly.
“Willie, I’m sorry for not believing in you! I just . . .” Brooks broke into tears. “Forgive me, brother!”
“Pastor Brooks,” Willie began, tears streaming down his face, too. “I can’t begin to tell you what Jesus has done for me. I don’t drink anymore. I’ve got the first job I’ve had in 20 years. I’m going to save up, get me a car, and bring others to church!”
Twenty years later when Brooks’ daughter, Diedre, graduated with her master’s degree from Ohio State University, Brooks and his wife, Walterene, attended the festivities. They attended Ephesus church on Sabbath, and guess who the first elder was? Li’l Willie! He was fully suited, liquor free, dignified, diligent, faithful, and matured in the faith. God had turned his life completely around!
Brooks shared his Li’l Willie story across the globe, inspiring thousands by God’s power to transform a life. William Webster now sleeps in Jesus, but those who have been blessed by Brooks’ testimony expect to see Li’l Willie “in the morning.”