Daily Archives: April 19, 2023
Photograph by Carl Turner
Yesterday morning at 7:30 am Dr. Charles Stanley spirit exited his earthly body and joined his Savior in Heaven. You can find tons of obituaries online listing the many accomplishments of Charles ministry that spanned over 6 decades. I would rather remember Charles; the man, my friend and my brother.
Over 30 years ago I was just getting started in the photography game and running workshops with the Great American Photography Weekends, a company my wife and I founded in the very early 90’s. I was a growing, needing to mature Christian and one of my sources of reliable teaching on God’s word was Dr. Charles Stanley and his In Touch television ministry. I had bought his books and watched as much of his sermons as I could, when I found out that he was very seriously into photography. Being over zealous as I am I thought I would invite him to attend a GAPW event as my guest, surely he would love that!?
I sent a letter to him at In Touch and anxiously awaited a phone call excepting my offer! In a few weeks a letter arrive and I carefully opened it knowing I would want to preserve this first correspondence with him, maybe even frame it!
When I read the letter my spirit fell to the floor. It was obviously written by one of the many gatekeepers I’m sure protect him from over enthusiastic people like me. It was nice and business like but stated that Dr. Stanley has such a busy schedule especially on weekends that he couldn’t possibly accept my kind offer, best regards, not Charles Stanley. I was crushed, then hurt and then mad. After a few days of kicking the cat, (not really, we don’t have a cat, and I would never kick one anyway!) Finally, Sherelene, having had enough of my childish actions and complaining set me straight, “Did you really think he would jump at the chance to come to workshop and drop everything else he is responsible to do?!” She’s good at keeping me straightened out!
I knew she was right but I was very, very disappointed, but eventually let it go. As chance would have it (not really chance, more like a move of God), I was attending Imaging USA in New Orleans so I flew very early in the morning to Atlanta to change planes to fly on to New Orleans for the show. While sitting at the gate waiting to board my second flight who do you guess walked in, looked around sat right across from me! There he was, Dr. Charles Stanley! *(He later shared in a sermon that when we met God told him to sit down where he did, he didn’t want to, he wanted to sit off alone and relax, but for some reason, did as he was told!)
This was during the run-up to David Middleton’s and my putting out our first joint book, The Nature of America. I happened to have a beautiful 8 page promo piece i was going to share at the show so I simply slipped it out of my brief and reached it over to Charles and said, “Dr. Stanley, I think you might enjoy this.”
He looked through it carefully and said come over and tell me about this, which I did. He said, who are you? I said, Bill Fortney, I’m one of the two guys that put this project together. He shocked me when he said, “Your not “The” Bill Fortney are you, the one I’ve read articles from in Outdoor Photographer and other magazines! I was shocked but humbly said yes that’s me. About then they called for us to board and he said I’m going to ask whoever is assigned to sit next to me to trade seats with you so we can visit on the way to New Orleans, if that’s ok? and we did.
During the flight I shared with him about the GAPW which he was already very aware of and said he wanted to come to a workshop! I told him about the letter and he said” If I knew who didn’t forward your letter to me I would fire them, then he said well I wouldn’t fire them but I can’t believe that didn’t send your letter directly to me, I would have accepted your offer in a minute, to which I said, it’s still on the table! We spent the rest of the trip down to New Orleans sharing, laughing and talking photography, we had so much in common. When we got to New Orleans he asked me when was my flight back and I said this evening and he said me too, turned out, (big surprise), we were on the same return flight to Atlanta. That evening we shared deeply with each other all about lives and the challenges we both had faced. He was going through his divorce, demanded by his wife, and was taking a lot heat by some in his church. I did something that to this day I can’t believe I would ever say, I said “Charles, (by then he had demanded that I drop the Dr Stanley stuff) may I pray for you?” I had no more than said it that I thought what on earth are you thinking you just asked Dr. Charles Stanley if you could pray for him!!! He said Please!”
It was very emotional time and I just poured out my heart for the man I loved and admired so much, by the time I got to amen, we both were sobbing and holding each other. Fast forward over the past 30 + years we did many workshops together, traveled to many great locations just to hang out and shoot, I spent many nights as a guest in his home and we became very close friends and brothers. One night sitting in his den before a roaring fire I looked over at him and was overcome with the joy that God have given me his friendship. I said to him, “Charles I can’t believe that my prayer was to just meet you, shake your hand and thank you for all your ministry had meant to me, and God did this!” He turned back to me and said, “Well, you got that wrong, it wasn’t for you, it was for me, you came into my life when I needed a friend, someone not on my board or a member of my church but just a real friend that I could enjoy and relax with away from all of that.”
I look back on that moment now tearing up and remembering what a great friend he was, how much he loved everyone he met, how he always had time for anyone who asked for his time. We never went anywhere that he was not recognized and approached, he always was gracious and loving to everyone even while his dinner got cold, but it didn’t matter, Charles was the real deal! He was the man you always hoped you would find out that he was. I could write six chapters of a book on the great things we got to share together, but more than anything he was a real friend. Every time we talked he asked about how Sherelene was doing, he cried with me when we lost Wesley. He prayed for us at the beginning of our book project and wrote a beautiful forward for the book, I was shocked when he asked me to write the forward for his giant coffee table book of his life’s work! I was petrified at the thought of that task, but when I sent the Holy Spirit inspired forward to him he cried on the phone and said, “it’s perfect!”
No Charles you were perfect, a perfect friend, a perfect servant of Christ, a man of honor and integrity and the deepest love for your God. Yesterday you finally met the Lord you so faithfully served for all those years, and I am sure he said, “Charles, well done my good and faithful servant. welcome home!”
I bet Wes was one of those that greeted him, which I imagine was a tough ticket to get!
My Forward from His Book: I Love To Tell The Story
As a Lifelong photographer, I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing and sharing in the vision others. What is in a man’s heart will find it’s way into the images he captures. The extraordinary images in this book testament to the heart of Charles Stanley.
I’ve been honored to to call Charles one of my best friends for many years. We’ve shared great photographic adventures together, and he’s had a profound impact on my walk with the Lord. For years many of Charles other photographer friends and I have encouraged him to produce a book of his favorite work. I’m so pleased to see the project come to fruition.
Charles Stanley is a master storyteller, teacher and mentor, and in this book you get a glimpse his vision of God’s great creation. For decades, he has taught and inspired Christians around the world in their daily relationship with God. Now you can share in this intimate look at his passion for photography and share in the great joy God has given him through the practice of his craft.
We learn in scripture that God desires to not only meet our needs but also to give us the desires of our hearts. I know God has blessed Charles with the renewing pleasure of photography in his life. So sit back, relax and enjoy your journey through this wonderful collection of Charles work. In it you will discover the authenticity of a man whose heart belongs to God and whose vision has been inspired by that relationship.
I promise you will be blessed.