His voice is raspy as a film noir mob boss, its message erudite as a polished scholar, and dynamism zesty as one of those TV product-pitchers who can persuade you to dial immediately for a combination carrot-dicer and log-splitter.
And he is 89 years old.
John Edmund Haggai is an author, international entrepreneur, motivator without equal, leadership developer, passionate evangelist, one of the world's top comeback artists, and relentless honer.
John Edmund has always been an unlikely figure. A Massachusetts-bred man of Syrian and blueblood New England parentage, he became one of the best-known evangelists in the Deep South church revival era. John Edmund, a 1945 graduate of Moody Bible Institute, was noted then as now as a polished speaker and thoughtful theologian,.
John Edmund Haggai's own life challenges have run the gamut from hubris to humiliation to honesty to honing to hope. He could write much about hubris' temptations. As a young pastor he built hot, growing churches in cold, shrinking places. He was the next Billy Graham, people said. John Edmund wrote several books, including How to Win Over Worry, still a runaway bestseller. Not letting up at 89, his Success Secrets of the Bible has recently been published by Harvest House.
But in the late 1960s, John Edmund vanished from the American church scene.
In a 1964 meeting with Christian leaders in Beirut, John Edmund became angry over criticism of western missionary strategies. "I told them what a crucial role the missionaries had played in my father's family coming to faith in Christ," he remembers. "Missionaries the world over had sacrificed greatly, many giving their lives."
"Please don't be upset, habibi (an Arabic term of endearment)," a local representative said. However, he continued, indigenous thought-leaders "are not willing to let young foreigners set the agenda and deploy the leadership personnel. We are not rejecting Jesus, but Western domination and philosophical colonialism."
The humiliation John Edmund felt over his own traditional understanding was a needle in the big balloon of hubris. Grappling with self-honesty, John Edmund decided to give the rest of his life to facilitating change in global mission strategies.
The honesty wrought through humiliation comes in the "dust," but honing happens in the "desert." The Apostle Paul knew this, and so did John Edmund. That's why he vanished.
John Edmund came out of that searing period with a revolutionary vision: Nationals reaching nationals; change in the nations coming from inside-out rather than outside-in. He would establish a training institute using international faculty to equip indigenous leaders who would go home and train others to reach their own countries for Christ.
I met John Edmund in 1969, the year of his first training project. I watched as he slammed into a bitter glacier of what could have been vision-freezing humiliation. John Edmund was dishonoring the history of modern missions, said his critics. Some accused him of tromping on the gallant reputations of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, and other missionary heroes.
The potentially humiliating accusations did not stop John Edmund and his vision. They drove him into the dust of gritty honesty in examining his own motives and assumptions, and then into the deserts where he honed and honed his strategic understanding.
Out there in the heat, John Edmund's "philosophy of honing" emerged: "Gather in your resources, rally all your faculties, marshal all your energies, focus all your capacities upon mastery of at least one field of endeavor."
That's why John Edmund disappeared from the American revival circuit. He honed his "mastery" of the "one field of endeavor," the equipping of indigenous leaders to reach their own people for Christ.
There's no doubt that the relentless, never-give-in work of John Edmund Haggai and Haggai Institute is a major factor in the worldwide explosion of the church, and the shift of the center of global Christianity to developing nations.
At 89, he's still girdling the globe. Other old-timers have refused to embrace new-fangled technologies, but John Edmund masters and uses them like a scion of Silicon Valley. And even though he's in his ninth decade, the passion to hone has kept John Edmund from succumbing to the hubris of thinking he knows it all. You can't have a five-minute phone conversation or email exchange without John Edmund firing questions, wanting to know what you can teach him – even if you are many years his junior.
John Edmund has seen his vision of almost 50 years become amazing reality: Haggai Institute has touched 185 nations and territories, now totaling almost 90,000 alumni, who have transferred their knowledge and strategies for reaching their nations by conducting local institutes that on average equip 100 others.
John Edmund still spends much time in the desert of honing, but he long ago staked a claim on Mount Hope. Avalanches of angst about international tensions, financial collapse, and the purported "impossibility" of his own vision thunder around him, but none can force John Edmund to surrender his territory on hope's peak.