Never Slow Down

By Kevin Tankersley

Dr. John Wood

Dr. John Wood: his life in ministry and as a collector

Pictured: Dr. John Wood and his wife Patricia have made frequent trips to Russia, collecting more art to add to their impressive collection. Photo by Chelsea Santos.

Dr. John Wood must have quite the frequent flyer miles account. After all, he’s been flying from Dallas to Russia every other month for the past 24 years.

Wood made all those trips as part of his ministry and as a humanitarian. He’s preached, helped build churches and assisted in setting up training for doctors. And during his visits he’s struck up friendships with artists and amassed an impressive collection of Russian lacquer art, carved ivory and religious icons. The west Waco home of Wood and his wife, Patricia, resembles a museum overseen by an obsessive curator. Whether it’s the front living room, with hundreds of pieces on display, or the converted garage dedicated to trophy animal mounts, no space is wasted.

Wood, who was pastor of First Baptist Church of Waco from 1981 to 1991, has written two books about Russian lacquer art, an art form he and Patricia learned about on a visit to the small town of Fedoskino in 1993.

“We were immediately captivated by this most fascinating art form and have continued to make frequent visits to this unique village,” Wood wrote in the introduction to “Masters of Fedoskino: The Master and His Students,” which he wrote in honor of his friend Gennaddy Larishev, a master artist of the technique. Of Larishev and the other lacquer artists in Fedoskino, Wood wrote, “Their creations are far superior in quality and detail to those normally found in souvenir shops or in street kiosks catering to tourists.”

Wood has also written a book on ivory carving — another one of his collecting passions — as well as “God’s Errand Boy,” which details his life in ministry; and “Learning From Nature,” an illustrated children’s book.

The Woods are parents of John Alexander Wood, a talented ceramicist whose work is on display in his parents’ home; and Leigh Ann Wood Edwards, who is married to former Congressman Chet Edwards. They have two grandsons: John Thomas and Garrison.

On a rainy afternoon in October, Dr. Wood, who will turn 85 on December 30, talked with Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley about his art collections, his hunting experiences and his ministry.

Wood begins the tour of his home in the living room, a large space with seating for approximately 30 people. Art of some form covers just about every flat surface, both walls and tables. The first pieces he points out were lacquer boxes made by artist Gennady Larishev, who was also secretary of the Arts Council for the Russian Federation.

Wood: Gennady Larishev and I just became the very closest friends. His daughter was in charge of the box-making process. She took me through the factory and showed me things that normally people don’t get to see. I took pictures, and each box goes through 72 different steps. The lacquer art is all on paper-mache. I illustrated them in the back of that book [‘Masters of Fedoskino’].

In Russia, they consider that book, in many places, the bible for Russian lacquer art. We had some kinfolks who were in St. Petersburg, [Russia,] and they went into the finest hotel over there. They went into the bookstore and asked, ‘Do you have books on lacquer art?’ And [the employee] said, ‘Here is one that is the bible of Russian lacquer art.’ And it was this book.

Wood shows a lacquer piece by Oleg Shapkin, “one of the top artists over there,” and a lacquer box by Luba Pashinina with a portrait of Patricia Wood on the cover. Wood also highlights another piece by Larishev.

Wood: He’s my dearest friend. He’s deceased now. We became such close friends, and he introduced me to his students, who are all the really top artists over there now.

WACOAN: How did y’all become such good friends?

Wood: I started going to Russia 24 years ago. I’ve been over there every other month for 24 years. I’m only going four times [a year] now. I’ve been there three times this year, and I’ve got one more trip before the end of the year.

Everywhere you go over there is Russian lacquer art. I immediately saw there were different qualities, different grades. I went to this biggest dealer in Moscow. I asked him, ‘Who would you consider the top artist in the village of Fedoskino?’ There are four villages [that specialize in lacquer art]: Fedoskino, Palekh, Kholui and Mstera. Fedoskino is my favorite. It’s the most realistic. He said, ‘Oh, Gennady Larishev. But he doesn’t sell any of his boxes. He only paints for museums and his private collection. So you can’t buy his things.’ I said, ‘I’d just like to meet him. Could you take me there?’

I paid him to pick me up and take me to Fedoskino. I just went to [Larishev’s] apartment and introduced myself. And we just hit it off. I visited the homes and studios of all those top artists, and they’ve all become my friends and that’s when I wrote that book honoring Gennady Larishev, ‘Masters of Fedoskino.’

There’s two types of artists. One is a master artist who conceives the scene and also paints it. A copyist is one who takes the work of another and reproduces it. It’s original, but it’s an original copy. I just became friends [with the artists] and began collecting them, and then I realized they were using new methods that had never been used before. So I wrote a book, ‘New Visions: Russian Lacquer Miniatures.’ Then I wrote another book on ivory carving in Northern Russia. Then I wrote a book about our ministry. It’s titled ‘God’s Errand Boy.’

WACOAN: What started your trips to Russia 24 years ago?

Wood: Well, I was pastor of First Baptist Church here in Waco, from ’81 to ’91. About the time I was the age to retire (and I always said I wanted to leave before the people wanted me to), I had a multimillionaire in my church named Paul Piper, and he had five Christian foundations. He asked me one day, ‘John, when are you going to retire?’ I said, ‘Paul, do you want me to leave the church?’ He said, ‘No. I want you to become director of ministries for my foundations.’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about that.’ We talked about it for four years. We talked about it every time we got together, which was sometimes more than once a week. Finally I said, ‘OK, Paul. I’m director of ministries for your foundations. Now where am I going to live?’ He said, ‘Right where you are.’ I said, ‘Where’s my office going to be?’ He said, ‘Well, you have the nicest office in town.’ I said, ‘To whom will I be responsible?’ Because [former Baylor University President] Herbert Reynolds’ son is president of Christian Mission Concerns, and he writes the checks, I thought that I would be responsible to him. [Piper] said, ‘To God.’ I came home and told Pat and said, ‘Honey, let’s try it.’

I became director of ministries for his foundations. I was instructed [by Piper], ‘You develop the ministry. I will approve it. I will fund it. And I will pay your salary.’ I said, ‘What are you going to pay me?’ He said, ‘I’m going to pay just what the church pays you.’ I said, ‘That’s far too generous, but that’s great.’ I spent three months evaluating the different ministries. I was going to create something that I was going to stick by, so I really got serious about it. Finally, I came up with an umbrella that I called Mission Waco. Under it I had these various ministries.

I started that, and in the process, somebody asked me, ‘Do you know Jimmy Dorrell? He teaches at Baylor and loves to do the kind of work you’re doing.’ I looked up his number and called him one day and went by his house. He lives over there at 15th [Street]. And on his own, he was just ministering and working with these poor people. He started working with me, and in three months, I realized that he knew more about working with poor people than I would ever know. It was work for me, but it was fun for him.

About that time, the Soviet Union collapsed, and here were 300 hundred million people that hadn’t heard a single sermon from anybody for over 70 years. I went to Mr. Piper and said, ‘Mr. Piper, Jimmy Dorrell can do more with Mission Waco than I could ever do. We could do it together, but he could do it alone. Let’s hire Jimmy and [Jimmy’s wife,] Janet, and pay them both so they’ll have a living wage, and let me go to Russia.’ He said, ‘OK.’ That was it. Nothing signed.

Pat and I had been around the world a couple of times, but we had never stopped in communist countries because they only wanted you to see and hear what they wanted you to. I didn’t want to waste my time doing that. Now here I was starting a ministry. I just picked out Romania, Ukraine and Russia. I didn’t have a single contact. Didn’t know a person. I got on a plane and got off the plane over there and didn’t know which way the sun came up. I just started preaching.

You know, Gordon Rountree [Sr.], from [the former] Gordon Rountree Motors, was a good friend of mine. He asked me one day what I needed for my ministry. I told him I needed a battery-powered microphone. It cost about $2,500. When I first came to Baylor [as a student], at Welcome Week they often got students to have lunch in the home of some Waco resident. I happened to have lunch in the home of Gordon Rountree. We were friends from the beginning. He bought [the microphone] for me. I went [overseas] with that, and I could just set up in the park, and I had a microphone and speakers and everything.

WACOAN: Did you speak Russian?

Wood: No. I still don’t speak Russian.

WACOAN: You were preaching in English?

Wood: I had a translator.

WACOAN: How did you find a translator?

Wood: Oh, just looking around. Just like a blind hog looking for an acorn. I went everywhere. It was so open.

I want to tell you something. I could go to a high school with 1,500 students and ask them if I could deliver a message. They’d say, ‘Sure.’ They would stop class and call all the students in to the auditorium and just turn it over to me. Can you believe that? I got special Bibles. Tract companies would give me tracts and Bibles, and I would get a pickup truckload, and I had these special real nice Bibles for the principal and teachers. Then I had all these tracts, and I gave every student in there two or three tracts on how to become a Christian. People over there would ask me why I’d come. I said, ‘To help people understand their faith. I’m not here to make Baptist out of Orthodox. I’m here to help Orthodox understand their faith.’ That way, I was accepted everywhere.

An insurance company invited me to speak to all their people. Must have been 50 of them. Brought them to an auditorium and turned it over to me.

I found a Pentecostal singing group that had their amplifiers and everything, and I met a local pastor there, and we would go into a microdistrict. The whole Soviet Union was established on microdistricts. Here’s an area with maybe 10 high-rise [apartments] in it, and in the center was a commons area with some playground equipment and so forth. I would go into those commons areas, and we got an old street light, and we would plug it into one of our friend’s apartments, and we would light up the area, and I would preach, and that Pentecostal group would sing, and people came like flies to honey.

They didn’t have television. They didn’t have anything else to do. They just poured out. There were 10,000 people within shouting distance.

I would give tracts to everybody and especially to the new believers, and then we would invite them to a Bible study. I would furnish desserts, and we would meet in one of their homes.

There were no churches. We began to establish churches. There weren’t any pastors, so we had to train pastors. I went from street preaching to building churches and training pastors and training leadership. I would take teams of 10 or 15 from here over there and teach teachers how to teach. And it’s just been amazing how it’s developed.

Right now, we’re in the church building and pastor training phase. We have four mission churches under construction right now. Every time I go over there, I take them construction money, and they build the church, and they’ve got the finest artisans in the world. When it comes to laying tile or plaster work, they’re the masters. I take them money, and they build a church. That’s what we’re doing right now.

Wood continues the tour of his living room, indicating more lacquer art as well as some decorated ostrich eggs that were a gift from the first lady of Ukraine.

Wood: Most ministries are not accepted in foreign countries. They don’t want the influence. They don’t want the conflict.

I went to Ukraine, and the president ultimately awarded me the presidential [Order of Merit] Award, which is the highest award given to a foreigner who has helped his country. And they’ve even been here in our home to thank us for what our ministry has meant to their country. We’ve stayed with them in their homes.

But all this Russian lacquer art, most of it is from the village of Fedoskino, but that big one down there is from Palekh. Here is our motto [inscribed on what appears to be mother-of-pearl]: ‘May beauty reign here, and the lovely objects renew us by their silence and perfection.’

Wood moves to a table in the center of the living room that holds several pieces of ivory art.

Wood: I’ve got two collections. I’ve got a partner in Moscow, Fyodor Shidlovsky, and Fyodor and I are the largest distributors of woolly mammoth ivory and ice age artifacts in the world. All of this is woolly mammoth ivory.

WACOAN: Is this the chess set I’ve heard about that is made from 70,000-year-old ivory?

Wood: Yeah.

WACOAN: How did you come to own this?

Wood: Well, I met the artist, and he carved it for me. He’s one of the top carvers over there. His name is Sasha Cornin. You can see not only their toes, but also their toenails. Look at that. Look at those proportions. They don’t have any model or anything to follow. They just carve it. Isn’t that fabulous? This is Napoleon [on horseback, as the king].

Wood moves on to another table, taking time to talk about a tooth from a sperm whale that is on display before discussing what appear to be two Fabergé eggs, displayed under glass domes.

Wood: I’m going to divert just a little bit from the lacquer art. All of us have heard of Fabergé eggs. Well, Carl Fabergé was the artisan of the czars, and when he had to leave the country, his grandson Theo went to London, England, continued the work, and he calls his [eggs] the St. Petersburg Collection. If you open [this one] up, you have an 18-karat gold throne room of Catherine the Great.

My son-in-law was a congressman, so I was in Washington [D.C.], and my daughter says, ‘Theo Fabergé is in town, and he created an egg.’ They were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the White House, and they needed a [Fabergé] egg [that was not made in Russia]. They talked to Theo, and they got him to come to America to create the only Fabergé egg created in America. That celebrates the 200th anniversary of the White House. They gave one egg to each living president, and they gave one egg to each governor. They gave the first one to Hillary [Clinton] because she was first lady. Outside of [former President George H.W. Bush], these are probably the only two eggs in Texas.

I met [Theo Fabergé], and we just hit it off. I told him that I wanted to buy one of his eggs [from the St. Petersburg Collection], but I wanted the St. Petersburg Egg. He said they were all sold out. I said, ‘I understand you keep 50 in your private collection. Sell me one of your St. Petersburgs, and I’ll buy both of them [the St. Petersburg Egg and the White House 200th Anniversary Egg].’ I bought both of them.

That’s just a little aside. Now we’re going back to the heart of the lacquer art.

A wooden display cabinet near the back of the house contains dozens of pieces of lacquer art of varying sizes.

Wood: I said there were two kinds of artists: master artists and the copyists. Almost all of these right here are master artists. They conceive the scene and paint it. Those gold ones up there are by Gennady Larishev. There are several in there by Gennady and a bunch of them by his son German Larishev.

WACOAN: Why is this the heart of the lacquer collection, in the back of the house and not with all those pieces in the living room?

Wood: They’re by the artists that composed the scene and painted.

WACOAN: It’s just beautiful work.

Wood: Isn’t it, though? All that is hand done. It’s absolutely amazing. The reason I have so many of them is ‘cause every time I see one, I want to buy it.

WACOAN: How many pieces of lacquer art do y’all own?

Wood: Three-hundred and fifty. It’s probably the largest collection in the United States.

I’m going to show you how they’re made. You’ll really appreciate them.

Paper-mache is a French word for ‘chewed paper.’ This is just high-grade wood fiber cardboard. You can see the different layers. Every box, there is a form in that shape. They lap layer after layer around that. They tear the edges by hand so there’s not a bump where they overlap. Then they put them in a centrifuge that spins so fast the glue penetrates the fiber, and the layers become one. Every box has a form, and that’s where they start. Then they shape it. They make these hinges out of brass. Isn’t that amazing?

WACOAN: It is.

Wood: You can saw it and shape it and whatever. Then they start coating it with lacquer. After it gets several coats of lacquer on it, then it goes to the artist. The artist starts painting on it. From start to finish, it goes through 72 different steps.

WACOAN: How long does that process take?

Wood: Well, they don’t work on them one at a time. They work in stages. They may have eight or 10 they’re working on [at once], but they work on them in stages. It’s hard to judge how [long] each one takes. They can take mother-of-pearl in thin, paper-like sheets and carve down and groove the paper-mache. Then they’ll paint over it and let what they want to shine through, like the sun is shining. It’s fabulous.

The Fedoskino artists use oil paints. The artists in the other three villages use egg tempera. The background, when you go back beyond a couple of hundred years here, there were many icon painters in Russia. An icon is a window into heaven. These priests would go into seclusion and pray that God would give them a vision that they could share with the people and give them a better view of heaven. When the communists took over, they outlawed icons. Here were all these cities made up of icon artists, and all of sudden they don’t have any work.

Over in Fedoskino, which is about 40 [kilometers] north of Moscow, there was a guy named Peter Korobov that went to Germany, and he saw these little snuff boxes. Snuff was very popular. They didn’t chew [tobacco]; they sniffed it. Your position in society was determined by the quality of your snuff box. They developed all these fancy snuff boxes, but they were made out of paper-mache. He saw that and thought, ‘We can do that.’ So he comes back to the village of Fedoskino, and he hires about 20 artists, and they start painting Russian lacquer art. That was about 225 years ago.

Then the artists who got out of work in Palekh said, ‘Over there in Fedoskino, they’re painting their boxes. Let’s try it.’ In Fedoskino they used through painting, or layered painting, so that when you watched them, as I have done, their first application looks like a kid’s painting where they’re painting [by] numbers. It’s just kind of a blob. Then they keep refining it and refining it so that the finished product, you can see into it, like an eye.

WACOAN: What started your ivory collection?

Wood: I was in the home of one of the top artists over there, doing research for that book you read [‘Masters of Fedoskino’]. They had a visitor who came by. We sat on the couch together, my interpreter and this man. I asked him about his work. He said he wasn’t a lacquer artist. He was an ivory carver. I’ve always been interested in ivory. When I’ve been around South America and when we’ve been to China and Japan, we would pick up little things of ivory. I asked him where I could get his ivory. He gave me two names and numbers. I gave them to my translator and said, ‘Call those first thing in the morning.’ She called the first one, who didn’t really have anything at that point. The second one said to meet him. It was a self-storage place. It was two-story, big old iron doors, 1 quarter-inch steel. We opened up one of these things, and it was filled with ivory tusks. I nearly died. Then he showed me a second [storage place] and a third one. All of a sudden, I had seen more ivory tusks than I had seen in all of my life combined. I said, ‘I’ve got to have one of these.’

Out of all of those, I picked out what I thought was the best. That was my first one. He wanted to expand, and he didn’t have the money. So I put a half-million dollars in this effort. He did the work, and I financed it. That was our partnership. We created a museum in Moscow that now is one of the most popular stops on the tourist trek. We have thousands of the finest ivory carvings that you’ve ever seen. All different artists. All of the artists want to work for us. One, because we give them international exposure. Two, we pay them the most.

If you look at a map [of Russia] and go all the way over to the right and come back a little bit, you’ll see a big river, the Kolyma. Then you see another big river, the Indigirka. All that area up there in northeastern Siberia, we have permission to search for ivory. We pay the government a percentage of everything we get. In all of these little villages, ivory doesn’t mean anything to them. But if they can sell it, the money means something. We pay them the highest dollar. Every school child, every farmer, every rancher, every hunter, every fisherman that finds anything, artifacts or tusks, takes them to the council where they have a storage room. Periodically, we go in a big Russian helicopter around and gather it up and pay them for it. I’ve seen us take stacks of 500 rubles [bills] and pay for that. The helicopter itself costs us almost $1,200 an hour. It’s expensive.

WACOAN: I know you can’t use current ivory —

Wood: It’s illegal because you have to kill the animal.

WACOAN: The ivory that you buy, how old is it?

Wood: The youngest is 10,000 [years old]. I have had in my den, and I wish I still had it to show you — I own the largest wooly mammoth tusk ever discovered. It was found on the Indigirka River and it is 17 feet long. Right now, it’s in a museum in Dallas. They wanted to buy it from me, but they have it on loan right now. It’s a private museum by Randy Best, of Best Associates. It’s not open to the public. [It’s open to] friends and family. But it’s a fabulous museum. He’s got gold nuggets that will fill your whole hand. He’s got 13 of them.

Wood moves to the den, where a large mounted lion, standing on its back feet as if ready to attack, greets visitors.

Wood: When we moved here in March of ’81, this was a three-car garage. It had a flat ceiling, finished Sheetrock walls, a concrete floor and three automatic doors over here. I took the doors off and closed it up. I took all the Sheetrock off and put on this 1-inch rough-sawn western cedar because it’s heavy enough to hold all my stuff. Then I hired carpenters to come in here and vault the ceiling, do the fireplace and the gun cabinet. Then I did the walls and the floor. Everything in here I killed, and I do the taxidermy work.

This lion I killed in Botswana. Years ago, I made 13 safaris to Africa. You see this elephant and the lions, those are African.

I took Hank Williams Jr., the country singer. I took him on a 30-day safari on his honeymoon. I killed my lion first, and then before he killed his lion, I told him, ‘Hank, you kill one, and I’ll mount him for you.’ Those were the most careless words I ever spoke, but he killed one, and I mounted it for him. He gave me a shotgun. I wouldn’t accept any payment.

WACOAN: How did you meet Hank Williams Jr.?

Wood: One of my best friends was his best friend, this hunting guide. He wanted Hank to meet me, so he brought him over and showed him my den and all. That’s how we met.

Have you seen [Robert Griffin III’s] statue at McLane Stadium? Well, Pat and I gave that. This is the original [smaller statue], then they digitally enlarge it to 9 1/2 feet. This is what the sculptor actually [works from].

Here are some signed footballs. [Griffin] gave me several of them.

Here is a rhino horn. In China, that original would cost about $250,000. That’s a replica.

This is a mammoth tusk, but it’s only 10 feet long. The other I had [from the woolly mammoth] was 17 feet long. It’s amazing.

You know, an elephant is right- or left-tusked, like we’re right- or left-handed. These white tusks are from an elephant I killed back when it was legal. You see that worn spot at the end? That’s a callous. He was constantly pulling vines down and eating them. It just wears down.

WACOAN: What’s the most unusual thing you own?

Wood: This — this is a fossilized whale ear drum. They can hear for 2,000 miles with that. I think that is the most unusual thing I have. I don’t know [how old it is]. A Russian air force pilot gave me that.

WACOAN: This is quite a room.

Wood: Isn’t it something? This kudu I killed in Botswana.

WACOAN: How did you learn taxidermy?

Wood: By doing it.

WACOAN: What was the first animal you worked on?

Wood: You see that light-colored animal to the right of the door? Beside it? That’s the first mule deer I ever mounted.

WACOAN: Was taxidermy hard to learn?

Wood: It’s tough.

WACOAN: What was the hardest part?

Wood: Well, every step is hard. Skinning it right is hard. Then you have to have it tanned. I send it to south San Francisco, California, to New Method Fur Dressing. They do a lot of the really fine furs for women’s coats and everything.

WACOAN: Where do you do your taxidermy?

Wood: Right here [in the converted garage]. I’ll take that lion and move it this way and put down a tarpaulin. I have a little workshop in the back there, but it’s not big enough.

WACOAN: Do you still do much taxidermy?

Wood: This big buffalo, the one up here, that’s the last thing I mounted. I’ve killed about eight buffalo. It’s taken me 50 years, but I add a little here, a little there. Every time I take a trip, I bring something back.

WACOAN: Are you running out of room?

Wood: Yeah. You see that big moose? I killed that moose in Siberia. That was the last thing I shot. He was so big that I didn’t have room for him. So I just brought his rack back. That was about five or six years ago.

That moose next to it, I killed that moose in Alaska many years ago. But that is as big as moose get over here [in the United States].

WACOAN: Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

Wood: I would like to go back on safari in Africa. I’ve been all over South America many times. I’ve hunted in New Zealand. I would like to go kill a big red stag in New Zealand.

When I was preaching in the Billy Graham crusade in New Zealand, Graham would preach, and my church was in a leisure resort area. Beautiful lake there. Big lake trout you can’t believe. In that church was a guy named Ivan Bowen, the world champion sheep shearer. He could shear a sheep, blindfolded, in 60 seconds and not leave a nick. He did it for me, and I have a picture of him giving me a haircut.

WACOAN: Y’all were in Kentucky before coming to Waco, right?

Wood: I got three degrees from [Southern Baptist Theological] Seminary in Louisville. I was a pastor in Shelby County, in Russellville and in Paducah. I stayed there 30 years. Loved it. I was already pastor up there when Pat and I married in ’54. I graduated from Baylor in ’53 and went straight to the seminary, and then she came, and we got married.

I’m from Fort Worth, and she’s from Houston, and we met at Baylor. We spent our first 30 years together in Kentucky.

WACOAN: What drew you to Waco?

Wood: I was called to First Baptist as pastor. I was there for 11 years, then one year establishing Mission Waco and Church Under the Bridge. Then I’ve done 24 years in Russia and Ukraine and Romania.

WACOAN: I read something about John Wood Ministries. What’s the purpose of that organization?

Wood: John Wood Ministries is where we do all our religious things.

Several years ago everybody that I would talk to [overseas] had some physical problems, medical problem they wanted help with: ‘Can you help my son? Can you help my mother? Can you help me?’ I wasn’t a doctor. What could I do? Then God just laid it on my heart, ‘Well, you can’t help them, but maybe if you train the doctors over there, they could help.’ We started a medical exchange program. That was in ’96 or so.

I’m president of International Medical Education Foundation. We bring teams over here and train them, then we take teams over there and actually do procedures and further train them. That’s why the president [of Ukraine] gave me that presidential merit award, Viktor Yushchenko.

In 1999 we started teaching them [in Ukraine] off-pump, or beating heart bypass. It’s very popular here in the [United] States. Normally, they put your heart on a heart-lung machine. Where we work, a lot of places don’t have a heart-lung machine. We developed a process where we stabilize only that portion of the heart that needs repair, and the heart goes on beating. Since we never stop the heart, we don’t lose any patients. When we started teaching off-pump in ’99, their mortality rate was 11.1 [percent]. In two years we had it to 0.5 percent — half of 1 percent. It’s been 0.5 [or] 0.6 ever since. Because of that, we’ve saved thousands and thousands of lives.

We taught Anatolii Rudenko, who’s chief of cardiovascular at the Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery, which is the largest heart hospital in Kiev, [Ukraine], then he taught his colleagues. Then his colleagues taught their colleagues. By teaching one man, we end up teaching maybe 50 doctors, and they do heart surgeries all day every day. It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing.

A preacher from Waco, just by faith, launched out and ended up building all these churches and leading all these people to Christ and transforming the medical scene over there. People sometimes ask me why I retired. I tell them I didn’t retire. I left the pastorate and entered the ministry.

WACOAN: What do you miss about being pastor of a church?

Wood: Fellowship with the people. I was in the hospital every day. I was in homes every evening. I was knocking on doors and meeting people every day.

I can’t do that today. My legs won’t let me. I can’t drive a car because I don’t know if my foot is on the gas pedal or the brake. I haven’t driven a car in two years. We had this board meeting at Baylor — we’re on the board of [W.R. Poage Legislative Library] — and Pat drives me. I have another walker that folds up. I can’t take a step. Without that, I couldn’t walk from here to that other chair. My brain doesn’t know where my feet are. I can put my hand on your shoulder and walk anywhere because that contact lets my brain know where my feet are. Isn’t it amazing? You know how when you sit a certain way and your leg goes to sleep? You stand up and you can’t walk? Imagine both legs being like that all the time. That’s where I am.

WACOAN: When did this begin?

Wood: It started about 20 years ago, but I got by until about two years ago. It just got worse and worse and worse. Then all of a sudden, it just stopped me. But I just kept going. People ask me, ‘How in the world do you do that?’ Flights [to Russia] are about 15 hours. The hardest thing I do is sit on planes. I have to get up and walk around. It’s not easy.

WACOAN: Have you thought about slowing down?

Wood: When they put me in a box. The only alternative is stay home or go to the nursing home. It ain’t for me. I want my epitaph to read like the mountain climber’s: ‘He died climbing.’

WACOAN: I imagine it would be daunting to preach the funeral of a longtime pastor. Have you decided who is preaching at yours?

Wood: O.S. Hawkins, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention Annuity Board. He and I grew up together, and I preached the funerals of his parents. Also, John Laida, who is 94 and retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Clarksville, Tennessee. He’s going to do a eulogy, and O.S. is going to do the service. I’ve got it all planned. I’ve got my plot and my casket picked out, and I’ve got my order of service. All I’ve got to do is go.

WACOAN: Where do y’all go to church now?

Wood: Church Under the Bridge, when we’re here.

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