If you were a Christian during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and watched “The 700 Club,” then you remember Ben Kinchlow, who passed last month at age 82.
His genuine love for people coupled with his inviting smile and infectious laugh endeared him to audiences for over 20 years. His engaging personality, which included a sharp wit, made him a favorite among the millions of daily viewers. He left an indelible mark at the Christian Broadcasting Network, our nation and the world.
Harvey Ben Kinchlow left a lasting legacy as a man of strong faith who was a tireless living testimony for Christ in everything he did. He loved his family deeply. He was an unapologetic Christian and patriot who loved his country even more. He was a proud 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force. He led a “life well-lived.”
In his ministry, which spanned nearly five decades, Ben Kinchlow impacted the lives of millions, something on which most people would agree.
On a personal level, Ben altered the course of my life on two separate occasions and changed it in a very profound way.
“The 700 Club” was a regular fixture in American households nationwide and mine was one of them. As early as the age of nine, my mother thankfully played the show daily. I couldn’t ignore Ben’s booming voice, his laugh and genuine smile. I literally grew up watching him.
Later, I would often remind him of that, much to his chagrin. Ben made every guest and viewer feel comfortable and right at home. Most can fondly recall how he would look directly into that camera with his piercing eyes as he seemingly spoke to every viewer. He became a constant example for Christians of what a prayerful life really meant. His prayers were powerful and often proven to be prophetic.
As a young Christian, I often prayed along with him. I clearly remember that I always felt a sense of peace after praying with Ben despite the chaos that I had experienced at a young age. By the time I was 16, I had witnessed two dramatic divorces and tragically lost my young half-brother in a drowning accident that happened in our backyard pool.
It was one of the most traumatic and painful moments in my life. I held my brother as he took his final breath on this earth. My faith, and the very foundation of what I believed, was shaken to the core.
Nearly two months later came the announcement that Ben Kinchlow was coming to speak at our small yet growing church in Danville, California. It was a big deal. My mom and my youth pastor successfully conspired to make sure I would be there that fateful Sunday morning. She had given me his new book, “Plain Bread,” that August for my birthday, and I brought it with me hoping that he would sign it.
I remember the buzz in our church. As a teenager, I had never been so excited to be at church. Before I knew it, our pastor was introducing Ben Kinchlow. There he was, larger than life, giving his testimony about how he became the man we watched every day on TV. We were hanging on his every word as he shared his life story with us. It was awe-inspiring that God had changed his life so dramatically. He recounted growing up in the segregated south in Texas. His father was a minister; his mother a teacher and later a principal at his school.
Kinchlow experienced racism firsthand. He rejected a seminary scholarship and instead chose to serve in the United States Air Force. Like me, he had lost a brother while growing up. He became a bitter, angry man who was full of hate.
At that very moment, I could relate to him. His new gang became the infamous Black Panthers, and he was a follower of Malcom X. Ben Kinchlow readily admitted he was “a real bad dude” who had rejected his faith in God. His life changed completely one fateful day when a young minister prayed with Ben as he recommitted his life to Christ. He would then recite that same prayer thousands of times to millions of people, via a global congregation that came to be known as The 700 Club.
His story was riveting and powerful. I was visibly moved. He was humble, genuine and entertaining. For the first time, I began to feel a glimmer of hope again. At the very end, he joked that he was “living proof that even God could forgive, restore and redeem a ‘donkey’ if they surrendered their life to Him.”
Like a gentleman, he mouthed the slang term for the adults. Everyone erupted in laughter as he clearly made his point.
Afterward, we were told that Ben would be signing autographs and taking pictures. At the moment our closing prayer was finished, I darted with great determination to meet the 6’5” gentle giant. That same familiar smile was there as he signed it. He looked right at me as he returned the book and said, “Mr. Mark, God has amazing plans for your life. You have a big purpose. Fear not, God is with you. Be bold and courageous.”
My eyes welled up as that wise man of God could see the pain in my eyes. He gave me a hug; and just as a young minister did for him, he took the time to pray with me. It was a pivotal point in my life. Neither of us could possibly know that 30 years later, he would again echo those same words to me during another monumental moment in my life.
I later read the inscription he wrote on the inside of the book: “Mark, God Loves You! Signed, Ben Kinchlow.” Underneath the autograph he wrote Jeremiah 29:11, the Scripture in which God declares, “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” It quickly became a scripture that was real to me.
For the next 25 years, I was not immune to further pain. I had been the victim of two separate car accidents that nearly took my life and had a total of seven spinal surgeries to relieve the pain that tortured me for so long. I battled addictions and had a failed marriage as well.
My years of chronic pain forced me to rely on God in a way I had not done before. Much like Ben, I eventually found my way back home to my faith. After a two-decade career in Silicon Valley, I took a leap of faith and pursued my passion, which was politics, U.S. history and the Declaration of Independence. Once again, after a prayer at The Billy Graham Library with my mom, I was inspired to create a radio show that called Christians to recognize that it was the faith and prayers of our Founding Fathers that enabled them to achieve the impossible.
“The Patriot and The Preacher Show” premiered on Jan. 21, 2013, on a radio station in San Francisco, California.
Within a month — you guessed it — Ben Kinchlow was booked to come on my radio show to talk about the issues of the day. My excitement level was at a fever pitch.
He was the same man I remembered. When the interview was over, we spoke for a short time, and I reminded him of the last time we met. Ben stopped me immediately and said, “Well, Mr. Mark. God did have big plans for you.”
It was no coincidence that Ben would appear in my life 28 years later. That day, my mother declared Ben would be my co-host someday. I told her that was “completely ridiculous.” That living legend became a regular guest on my show. When I mustered up the courage, I finally asked Ben if he would be a coach to me by sharing his wisdom, experience and advice. He offered to talk any time.
He was, as promised, there when I needed him. I called him when my mother had a stroke, when my heart was broken, when I had no idea what to do. Prayer was always the focal point. Our daily conversations helped us forge a unique bond. He became my mentor, confidant and champion. It felt surreal whenever we spoke, and I still had a sense of disbelief as to who I was talking to daily.
My mother’s words proved to be prophetic: In the summer of 2015, Ben Kinchlow joined the show as my new co-host and became “The Preacher.” Just as he did on television, he taught by example. Always prepared for every guest, he brought the same passion, energy and humor to all 150 episodes and a total of 450 interviews that we did as a team. As his apprentice, I soaked up every single lesson I learned. Our ratings more than doubled and our notoriety quickly grew.
As he did so many times on TV, Ben would close out every show with a powerful prayer. Listeners told us they would tune in not just because of our guests; they also wanted to hear Ben pray again.
By the beginning of 2016, we had already interviewed several presidential candidates, including Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. On Jan. 30, 2016, we interviewed the future president of the United States, Donald Trump.
The morning of we did our sound checks, we went over our questions via video conference and of course we prayed in preparation. Exactly 15 minutes before the interview, our remote studio connection went down. It was complete chaos. I was shaking — and Ben called out my name again as he did 30 years ago.
“Mr. Mark! Mark Anthony! You remember what I said to you at your church?” I nodded in acknowledgement. “Mark, you were born to do this. This is part of your purpose. Be bold and courageous. Fear not, God is with us.”
Not 60 seconds later, the station’s operations were miraculously restored. The familiar smile of my best friend was there, grinning on my screen, as he prayed to God, “Thank you, Father.”
We were on the air with the future leader of the free world in a matter of moments. Donald Trump even remarked during the interview that he loved the name of the show twice. When we were finished, I simply couldn’t believe what had just transpired.
My late friend Ben Kinchlow was a national treasure and a mighty warrior of God. His life was a living example of true redemption and the power of prayer. He was a real American hero and success story who was a grandson of a freed slave. He never let his past equal his future. An example of that is when he said “that limitations were placed on us not by segregation, but by ourselves” (as cited in The New York Times). He was a titan in the broadcasting industry who paved the way for future colleagues.
Ben spoke truth to millions with his testimony and powerful prayers that impacted the lives of generations. I saw evidence of this when we would make public appearances. Just as he taught me, Ben was bold and courageous, as the Bible commands all of us to be. He wished more pastors and leaders were like that.
He was a good and faithful servant, and I am positive that is exactly what he heard from the one God who unites all Christians.
There is no doubt that Ben was a divine appointment in my life. We both knew it. It’s why after every single conversation and every time he closed our show, I would always say, “Thank you, Ben!”