By John D. Pierce

The shiny bell in my home study is beautiful in appearance and sound. But is more than that: It is gift that that reminds me to be bold in “ringing the bell for freedom” — as I was charged by the generous man who gave it to me.

David M. Smith of Houston, Texas, reminded me of no one I’ve ever known. He was as unique and enjoyable as they come.

He and his wife Charis lived on a tree-lined street beside Rice University — where he faithfully jogged mile after mile with protection of limbs and leaves from the hot Texas sun. My visits always brought great stories, welcomed encouragement and generous support.

For several years David was a much-appreciated member of the Board of Directors of Baptists Today, Inc., who understood the importance of free expression, and a free church in a free nation. And he was dependably eager to help.

His creative mind was always at work. A graduate of the University of Texas and an Army veteran, David’s broad entrepreneurship led to the founding of two petrochemical companies and other ventures.

He loved God, family, nation and his faith community — South Main Baptist Church in Houston. And he loved bells!

That love he traced to the time his father sent him on a mission to find a dinner bell for the ranch. David was intrigued by the craftsmanship involved — a curiosity that led him to collect and to cast many bells over his lifetime.

His love of freedom and love of bells came together in one ringing idea. He would cast and mount beautiful bells to give on occasion to those he considered faithful in standing up and speaking out for liberty and justice for all.

It was an expression of his belief in American ideals — and the important contribution of early Baptists to the commitment to full, unfettered religious liberty for all.

So the time he shipped that 30+-pound bell to a Board meeting in Birmingham and gave it to me was one of surprise and gratitude. But it was also a charge — a reminder to never cower in silence when a word of hope, freedom, justice and truth needs to be spoken.

After a battle with Alzheimer’s, David died on Nov. 19, 2017 at age 85. My prayers for comfort, hope and peace continue for Charis and their sons David and Douglas, and other family.

As I pass through my study each morning now, that beautiful bell has even more meaning. Even its silence causes me to thank God for the enriching life of David Smith and to recommit myself to sounding out freedom and justice for yet another day.

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