Getting Stronger

I could lift 700 pounds for Jesus, but I neglected my most important ministry.

My story BY JAMES HENDERSON with Ken Rodriquez

Some people call me the world’s strongest man. Maybe I am. But I never felt so weak as when God touched me through my wife’s tears. I could hear Him talking to me: James, you need to come home.

I spent 42 weeks in 1998 on the road, flexing my muscles and preaching the gospel. As my wife and 13-year-old daughter moved into our new home in South Florida, I climbed atop one platform after another and smashed bricks, bent steel and performed other feats of strength. As my family lifted boxes and furniture, I lifted a 600-pound iron bar and thousands of people cheered. My daughter would call and ask if I would be home to watch her in a play. "No," I would say, "I’ve got to win people to Christ."

It was a good year working for Jesus. I traveled the country with wonderful men known as the Power Team and appeared on national television. I visited churches and went to schools and testified of God’s goodness and love.

Everywhere I went, people asked for my autograph. Little boys asked how I got to be so big and strong.

I gave the glory to God.

And then I came to our new home and realized I had never moved in. I hadn’t hung one picture. And then I saw those tears. My wife Shelia had been trying to reach me in different ways. The way she held onto my hand at the airport gate. The way she said, "Baby, I miss you," on the phone. The tears brought the message home. I apologized. I had missed so many things: school functions, church, choir. Shelia forgave me. Thank God she did.

It is so easy for a minister to neglect his family. It was all too easy for me last year. Invitations to speak poured in from all over the country. People wanted to hear how I met Jesus and became a five-time world champion in the bench press.

Thirteen years ago, I blew out my knee playing football at Albany State. While awaiting surgery, I saw a Bible in my hospital room. I began reading passages about fear and anger and how all things are possible through Christ. I rededicated my life to the Lord.

After surgery, I knew my career as an offensive lineman was over. But I kept reading the Bible and became determined to succeed in another sport. I began lifting weights. The weight room became my second home. I knew I was going to become champion at something I loved.

Years earlier, I had been on the powerlifting team in high school. I decided to compete again. I entered a few tournaments and won. By 1994, I had made the U.S. Powerlifting Team.

One day, while speaking at a school assembly in Fort Mead, Florida, I realized I needed a visual aid to demonstrate my power. I grabbed some weights and began lifting. The students went crazy. And then it hit me: Maybe I could use this for the gospel.

And that’s how I became a traveling evangelist.

During one of my trips, my wife saw the Power Team on television. Guys were smashing blocks of ice with their elbows, shattering bricks. My wife thought, My husband can do that. So she wrote the Power Team and told them that I was a Christian and a world champion in the bench press. They wrote back. Before long, I was on the Team.

Sometimes, someone on the Power Team will introduce me as "the Strongest Man in the World." The audience will hear how I hold the International Powerlifting Federation world record with a 705-pound bench press. I’ve lifted more in the gym. My personal best is 744.

Sometimes my family is not impressed. My strength does little good for them when I’m not home.

Last December, about two weeks before Christmas, Shelia accompanied me to the IPF world championships in Germany. It was a great trip. I got to share Christ with lifters from around the world. I won my fifth world championship. And Shelia and I got to catch up.

I promised to cut back on my travel. Promised to spend more time at home in 1999. Promised to be a better husband and father to my daughter, Shawanna. Promised to heed the words of Scripture, "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church" (Eph. 5:25).

Shawanna is leading her friends to Christ at school. She had only one request for Christmas: to be able to give away gifts. One day she received a $100 check in the mail from a relative. She spent every dime on others. We are so proud.

She kept her word. I intend to keep mine.

Reprinted with permission by New Man, May/June 1999. Strang Communications Co.