As Lubbock's First United Methodist Church celebrates its 25th year of TV ministry on this station, it also mourns the passing of the man who launched that first broadcast. You may know that Dr. Sam Nader died January 13th at his retirement home in Austin. On Saturday Tomorrow, his family and friends are celebrating his life in a special service here in Lubbock.
Here's some background on a man I truly admired. Dr. Sam Nader led a congregation of 4500 at First United Methodist Church in Lubbock for 17 years, quite an accomplishment for a man who began his life on the other side of the world. Born in Beirut. Lebanon, he was just a baby when his mother and older brother brought him to Louisiana. His father and five other siblings were saving money to join them later, but the immigration rules tightened and the family was forever separated by an ocean.
Growing up in America, though, it was quickly apparent that Sam was gifted. He learned both English and Arabic fluently and received his license to preach at age 15. At 19, he graduated from SMU and was one of the youngest ever to graduate from Perkins School of Theology at age 22. Fluent in English and Arabic, he traveled extensively, and was most impressed with meeting "Two Women of God", Mother Teresa and Indira Ghandi. But, he always said his greatest journey was his return to Beirut to finally 'meet' his father after 30 years apart.
In his autobiography, "River of Years", Nader says one of the greatest satisfactions in his life was preaching over the radio for 44 years and on television for 12. It took a bold leap of faith in Lubbock to invest $70,000 worth of equipment for a live broadcast every Sunday morning back in 1978. Why was he so interested? Bill DeTournillon, General Manager of KCBD-TV says, "We're such a spread out area out here that he felt by doing that, there were a lot of people in outlying areas that he'd be able to reach with that TV ministry. You could go into the hospitals any Sunday morning at 8:30, any hospital, and walk down the halls and there was Dr. Nader. He was virtually on every TV set in the hospital."
Craig Alley, one of the original production team members at the church, says it was rough in those early days because nobody at the church had any TV experience. "When we started, your news truck drove up to the church every Sunday morning come rain, sleet or snow and they sat outside in that news truck and we tried to point cameras inside, with them directing from that truck."
Today, there is no truck. The church has its own signal high atop the cathedral, and it has a large, updated control room in the basement. The 8:30 service is still live on NewsChannel 11, but Dr. Nader would be pleased to know his TV ministry has grown to include East Texas, which just this month began offering the service tape delayed to nearly a half million viewers there every week.
Sharing this story is personal to me. I got married at First United Methodist Church in Lubbock. Both our kids were baptized there. But, it wasn't Dr. Nader who stood by us for each service, it was Uncle Sam. His dear wife, who died a year ago this month, was my Aunt Esma. I've read Uncle Sam's book, twice. Some of the stories I had heard before. Many of the names are faces I know.
During his 50 years of ministry, Sam Nader received more than 6,000 people into the Methodist church, preaching in Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico and finally West Texas. At age 82, his body was failing, but his mind? Still sharp. His smile? Sincere. His faith? Strong to the end.
A memorial service is planned for Dr. Sam Nader on February 9th at 1 p.m. at First United Methodist Church. God bless him.