In memory of three friends

By James V. Heidinger II-

In a unique twist of God’s timing, I lost three close friends in ministry at the beginning of November. The Rev. Virgil Maybray, Don Shell, and Dr. Ellsworth Kalas were all in their 90s and died within nearly a week of one another. Each played a very important role in my life.


H.T. Maclin (l) and Virgil Maybray (r).

When I came to Good News in 1981 as president and publisher, the Rev. Virgil Maybray was already on staff as full-time executive secretary of Good News’ Evangelical Mission Council (EMC) ministry. Maybray died on November 4 at the age of 96. He is survived by his wife Jane.

During his EMC days, Virgil was on the road about 80 percent of the time to hold missions conferences and speak in and consult with local churches about expanding their missions programs.

Virgil served with our EMC from 1975 until 1983. During that time, he ministered in more than 350 United Methodist churches in some 35 states. Astounding! He raised literally millions of dollars for missions, with a great deal of that channeled directly through the UM Mission Board’s Advance Special Programs. In 1984, he was invited to join the newly-formed Mission Society for United Methodists. So, at that time we released Virgil to the Mission Society with our prayers and full support. He had been a great asset to our ministry as well as to that of world missions during those eight years.

Virgil Maybray was a faithful, consistent servant of Jesus Christ. He was a person of great integrity and that was evident in everything that he did. He believed the Gospel! Really believed it! And he was determined to live it out in his life every day.


Dr. Donald Shell.

Two days before Virgil passed, my dear friend Donald Shell died at the age of 91. Don and his late wife Virginia were honored by the Good News Board of Directors in January 2001 with the Edmund W. Robb Jr. United Methodist Renewal Award in recognition for their years of service to the denomination and the ministry of Good News.

Shell was a United Methodist layman, computer scientist, software engineer, and mathematician. He was an accomplished executive in the International Time Sharing Computer section of General Electric and the co-founder of Robotics Inc.

“Don Shell was an organizational genius who spearheaded the Good News efforts to influence General Conference,” the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, said. “Many of the strategies we use today were pioneered by Don. He was an expert on the Book of Discipline, and he sought always to keep the church faithful to Scripture.”

From 1980 through 1992, Don and Virginia Shell led Good News’ Legislative Strategy effort at four General Conferences. Shell was the chairperson of the Good News Board of Directors from 1993-1996 and was subsequently elected as a Lifetime Honorary Board Member. He is survived by his wife Helen.

I still find myself deeply moved in my heart knowing that Don’s life here on earth is now over. We have, of course, that great confidence and knowledge of Heaven awaited on the other side. Thank God for that. What has moved my heart is my great appreciation for Don, his friendship, his life of faithfulness and integrity, and his great help to Good News in so many ways.

Kalas-Bio lighter

Dr. Ellsworth Kalas.

On November 12, I joined with United Methodists all over the globe in mourning the passing of Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas, former president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. The seminary chapel was near capacity as we followed Ellsworth’s wishes in singing six of the great hymns of the church. With moistened eyes but grateful hearts, we joined in a worshipful celebration of the gospel and of his life and ministry.  He was 92 years old.

Ellsworth was a great leader among United Methodists. He was one of the most gifted and effective preachers I have known. Ellsworth was a gracious, Christ-like giant of a man. His kind spirit made his Christian experience winsome and contagious.  A pastor, teacher, and associate in evangelism with the World Methodist Council, Kalas went to Asbury in 1993 with the opening of the Beeson Preaching and Leadership program.  More than 35 of his books have been published, as well as 13 adult studies. He authored Christian Believer, an intensive study of Christian doctrine produced for interdenominational use. His study The Grand Sweep is now available for iPhone. He is survived by his wife Janet.

“The more importance the world assigned him, the more time he spent with the common person,” the Rev. Jessica LaGrone, dean of the chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, said at his memorial service. “The more that people called for him to speak and write, the more he listened. The more we put him on pedestals, the more he stooped to care for the smallest among us.”

Elsworth was also a friend of the renewal efforts within United Methodism. He was one of seven prominent United Methodist pastors to sign a letter of invitation that led 48 leading UM clergy to gather in Houston in December of 1987. The result of the meeting was the issuing of a statement that became known as the Houston Declaration, cautioning the United Methodist Church against any move away from traditional doctrine.

Ellsworth was a “man of priceless words because he was a man of the Word,” LaGrone reminds us. “And the way he engaged us with Scripture has forever deepened and matured not only individual believers but entire churches and the Church as a whole. We are forever grateful.”

James V. Heidinger II is the president emeritus of Good News.


  1. Ann Coker says

    I was on staff at Good News when Jim Heidinger and Virgil Maybray was there. He was a gentleman, and he taught me how to handle people graciously. I visited the Shells in their home for a Good News meeting, and I appreciate their hospitality and insight. I have a CD of one of Dr. Kalas’s messages. He had a generous spirit. Thank you, Jim, for this tribute.

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