Years ago, the Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, collapsed and carried 46 persons to their deaths. The event touched off national concern about our country's infrastructure. So much depends on a bridge.

Every leader is a bridge, connecting people with meanings, relationships, and opportunities. So much of what is possible for people depends upon bridge-persons.

I thought about this image in a fresh way when evangelist Tom Skinner died June 17, just 52 years old, a victim of acute lymphatic leukemia. Tom, a dear friend, was a bridge-person, a leader whose ministries across the years connected thousands of people with what informed, influenced, and helped them, particularly the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Readers of Skinner's 1968 "Black and Free," one of four books he wrote, will recall his early life as a gang leader in Harlem, and how divine providence protected him when, after being converted, he went to the gang meeting place and withdrew his membership-something no one does without severe consequences. The rest of the story involves the hand of God as well, with an effective and ever-widening ministry as evangelist throughout the United States, Guyana, Bermuda, Barbados, Jamaica, and elsewhere. Readers of that book, and its companion, "How Black Is the Gospel?", also know how he documented his concern to reconcile peoples, blacks and whites, urbanites and suburbanites, evangelicals and "liberals," social-gospel advocates and those who view the gospel mandate more restrictedly. When several hundred young African-American evangelicals attended the 1970 Urbana missions convention, Tom used his scheduled address there to interpret their militancy and the need for the rest of the church to understand that militancy ...

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