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E.K. Bailey: Expositor of the Word

By Wayne E. Croft Sr. | Pastor, St. Paul's Baptist Church, West Chester, Penn.; associate professor of Homiletics and Liturgics in African-American Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Dr. Ervin Kinsley (E.K.) Bailey is known as one of the premiere African-American expository preachers of the 20th century. E.K. Bailey, as he was known, was born Dec. 19, 1945, in Marshall, Texas, the second son to Dr. Vivian Moses and Victoria Bailey. His father was a well-known Baptist preacher who organized the 7th Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., in 1958. He was an outstanding orator, a prolific and powerful preacher who dedicated his life to preaching the truth of Christ.

E.K. came from a family boasting a long line of preachers, including his father, brother, uncles and godfather. Bailey's parents, unfortunately, divorced when he was very young. He adored his father and considered him the rock of the family. When his parents divorced, E.K. decided to live with his father. His father's new wife, however, never really accepted E.K. but tolerated him as her husband's son.

On Nov. 18, 1963, E.K.'s father died at the age of 45. While the world was in shock and mourning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred four days later, E.K. was mourning the death of his father. It was the most tragic, depressing and wearisome time of his life. At the age of 17, he found himself asking how a young black man would get a new start without the guidance, wisdom and protection of his father. However, things grew worst.

After his father's funeral, his father's wife put him out of the house. For days, he wandered the streets of Oakland with no money and no place to go. One night while sitting on a park bench, E.K. heard the reassuring voice of God telling him, "When I take, I never take all." E.K. began to cry because he knew he had to work through his pain and concentrate on the things his father had instilled in him and the things God had left him to cherish. At that moment, he decided to live as his father lived, serving Christ.

He soon admitted to God that he had been running for years from the call God placed on his life to preach the gospel. Once he surrendered to God's call on his life, his tears of sadness turned into tears of joy. That night, he worshiped God right there in the park. God used the early tragic experiences of his life to dig a well of joy. During the latter years of his preaching ministry, he often verbalized the famous quote in his own way, "God uses a spade of sorrow to dig a well of joy."

Through the encouragement of a few good friends and his godfather, the Rev. Walter Kinsley (W.K.) Jackson, E.K. Bailey moved to Dallas to attend Bishop College. On Sept. 15, 1965, he met Sheila Smith in the dining hall at Bishop College. He and Sheila dated through four years of college. After the two graduated from Bishop in 1969, E.K. married his college sweetheart. They enjoyed 34 years of marital bliss, raising three God-fearing children, Cokiesha, Shenikwa and Emon.

E.K. always believed a call to preach is a call to prepare. When he and Sheila left the campus of Bishop College, they moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he became a student at Southwestern Baptist Seminary; he later earned his Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

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