BACK GATE, Ark. – Just 10 minutes outside of Dumas, Arkansas is a little town called Back Gate. There, just off the main road through town, is a small church surrounded by cotton fields – Daniel Chapel Baptist Church. It’s a little white and brown brick building that from the outside, looks like any other country chapel church. But on the inside, you’ll find Craig Henley – a not-so-average pastor.
Henley grew up in Star City, the youngest of nine siblings. Growing up, Bradley Christian Summer Camp was just behind his house so he and his siblings would go. He was saved when he was 12-13-years old but said he was just going through the motions at the time.
“I was a tough customer during school,” he said. “I strayed away from the church after that.”
In 1983, Henley met and married his wife Rebecca. They had two children and have been together 37 years now.
An early challenge
In 1999, Henley lost his eyesight due to complications from diabetes. He had multiple laser eye surgeries and five major surgeries to try and regain some of it. He’s considered legally blind in his right eye and has little to no vision in his left eye. He can no longer read or drive.
On October 22, 2000 – he remembers the date well – at 38 years old, Craig gave his life to Christ, completely, this time. Actually, his entire family did – his wife and two kids. His parents, as well as one of his brothers and his wife, were also saved. They were all baptized the same day at Daniel Chapel.
“I had an old preacher that always told me that I was going to preach,” Henley said. “He had a nursing home ministry that he ran, and one day he asked me if I’d be interested in taking it over. Now, I hadn’t surrendered to preach yet or anything, but I told him ‘I guess we could.’”
So on Friday or Saturday nights, Henley couldn’t remember specifically, each week his wife would drive him to Monticello to preach. She would sing some songs and read the Scripture for him and then God would do the rest. From that ministry is when Henley said God began to call him to full-time ministry.
“Me and Him had an argument about it,” Henley said. “And I told him, ‘alright. I’ll do everything but preach.’”
So he kept singing and teaching with his wife at the nursing home. He soon became a deacon and began teaching a Sunday School class. When his wife wasn’t there to read for him, someone else in the room would.
“I just wouldn’t surrender to preach,” he said. “I fought and fought and fought Him on it.”
No mountain too tall for God
Right before Henley’s 40th birthday, on March 31, 2006, he suffered a massive heart attack. He had thought he had come down with the flu. So he went to the doctor to get checked out and was told he looked fine. As he was leaving the building, he passed out. According to Henley, he actually died for a few minutes.
He went to a hospital in Pine Bluff and was told he had three days to live. His wife, Rebecca, “couldn’t accept that.” She began calling around to see if there was any other hospital willing to take him and help. A doctor at the Arkansas Heart Hospital said that if they could get him there alive, he would see what he could do.
“I had two women, friends, who worked on an ambulance in Star City who was willing to try to take me to Little Rock,” he said. “I think they risked their jobs for that, but I don’t know. I’ll never forget them though.”
When he arrived at the hospital, the prognosis wasn’t good. “The doctor said, ‘I’m not going to lie to you. It’s bad,’” Henley recalled. “He said, ‘With surgery, it could kill you, but without it, it will. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ And I told him, ‘God’s in control.’”
With that, surgery was scheduled the next day. That night, though, Henley said God showed up. “It was 2-3 a.m. that morning [of the surgery] and the Lord came to my room and said, ‘That’s no mountain,’” he said.
Henley said a few weeks before all of this, he’d found a sermon tape and had been listening to it. The title was ‘That’s No Mountain.’ He fully believed that God was telling him that he was going to make it through this. There was still more for him to do in this life.
The morning arrived and at 8 a.m. Craig was wheeled into surgery. He was out by 11 a.m. Later on that night, around 7:30 p.m. the nurses came in and began taking out some of his IVs. He recalled asking them what they were doing and they told him he was doing so well, he was being released in the morning. And he was. The following day, Sunday, he woke Rebecca up and said, ‘We’re going to church.’ And they did.
Henley finally surrendered to preaching and became the pastor of Daniel Chapel Baptist Church in 2009. Being legally blind, he studies using his TV. He has a device that works as a mouse, he scrolls over text that is used on the TV which makes it large enough for him to make it out and read. On Sundays, his wife or someone in the congregation reads the Scripture and from there, ‘The Lord takes over.’
“I live by Philippians 1:21, which says, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’” Henley said. “Whether I live or die, I’m going to be okay. This life is not my life. This place here is not my home. And that’s just the way I look at it.”