My First Evangelistic Slate
I had conducted several revival meetings before, but had never booked a group of successive meetings until just before I left Bible School. The summer was quite well taken, so when my theological teacher approached me about conducting a series of revival services at Cookville, Tennessee, my reply, with an air of satisfaction, was, “I am sorry, but I am all booked up for the summer.”
My first meeting was to be held in a county seat buried deep in the hills, but a friend in another country town had asked me to go there, and had offered to make all arrangements for the campaign to be conducted in the big court house auditorium. Word came to the effect that all arrangements had been made and that I should simply contact the jailer upon my arrival. With high hopes for a great campaign in a country center, I engaged a good brother to assist in this special meeting.
We carried out my friend’s orders in going to the home of the jailer. The man said he had never heard of me before, and that he knew nothing whatsoever of the scheduled services in the court house. Finally he did recall that the man had contacted him about the building, and that he had promised it, but he had no idea of when the meeting should begin nor by whom it was to be conducted. We were stunned. “Come in,” said the jailer, “and put down your luggage. Perhaps we can arrange entertainment for a night or so.” We were grateful for this man for giving us a place to stop beneath the jail roof, but from the beginning we knew that we were not wanted.
The court room, or at least the main auditorium, had not been used for years. The place was horribly filthy, but we tackled the job of cleaning it. We literally raked and shoveled the filth out. We held open air services, painted a sign, and advertised the best we could. Some people came and went, but nothing was offered to us in the way of entertainment. We continued to camp in the jail house, but we knew we were unwanted, so actually prayed that the man would tell us to go, for we didn’t wish to offend him by leaving without being told to do so, and we had no other place to go. The answer was forthcoming. Some friends drove in from Indianapolis, so we were informed that our room would be needed. We heartily thanked the jail manager and went to the woods to give thanks to the Lord for answering our prayer. At service time we had our belongings all in the court room awaiting the verdict for the night. An interested group of folk sat in the service that night, and later said, “We certainly did enjoy the message.” They went their way, and we went our way — to a couple of rough benches which served as our beds. These boards were hard, but even then we gave thanks to God for that “prison-free” feeling. Brother Crossman, the singer, used his briefcase for a pillow while two Bibles served as my headrest. The next night we began services in Cookville where we labored for four weeks. Night after night I would preach all the way from Genesis to Revelation, then wonder what on earth I would be able to talk about the next night. About four o’clock each morning I was up crying to God to give me something which I had not discovered before in His Book. He graciously answered and gave us one of the finest meetings I had ever witnessed. A large group of young people were brought into the fold during those weeks, and some of these were mightily baptized by the Holy Spirit. One of the number shouted her way into heaven within six weeks. My evangelistic slate was completely disorganized for the summer, but God gave us some great victories.
One of the hardest places I ever labored in, not excepting dark heathen lands, was in a little town in south Mississippi. Because of a physical disorder I was in the habit of going without supper every night. The woman in whose home I lodged had a peculiar notion that it was a major sin to eat breakfast. She was not too alert in preparing the noon meal, so before leaving this place I had lost some weight. One night I went home with some friends who offered me something to eat before retiring. I was so hungry that I yielded, with the result that I was sick most of the night.
In addition to the powers of hell which were encountered in this home where my hostess served me one meal a day, I was ordered one morning to go with her 14 year old adopted son and help him rob a beehive. Of this type of work I knew absolutely nothing, even though I had been raised on a farm. I sought to explain, but this extremely religious woman would hear no reason. I must go and take the top off one of the hives and bring out the honey. The top was taken off all right, and out came the bees, but I never knew what happened to the honey. I was robbed and got a big head in the deal. The devil tempted me to wonder if I would live through this ordeal.
After my summer schedule, with its disruptions, had ended I was approached by a District Superintendent and offered two churches which would begin paying me about one hundred dollars a month. (Big wages for a boy in his early twenties back there nearly thirty years ago). I promised that I would pray about this. In the meantime a letter came from a man of God in the deep south saying that a new church had just been organized with a group of people who could make no promise of salary, but were in need of a pastor. My friend said he felt that I was the one to go there. I prayed about this unsalaried place and was led to go there. There has never been a doubt in my mind as to the will of God in this matter, but have had reason to thank God many times for this decision to take the hard place and the way of faith rather than sight. This proved to be a hard place in more ways than one, but Father saw that his little child needed some schooling which had not come his way in the conventional Bible School.