SIMPLE TRUTH: From reunion to union

Published 5:09 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2012

By Charles Christmas

This article begins with the reunion of my sweetheart and me on the college campus at the end of World War II, and continues until our wedding 15 months later. The unfolding of these events is described by the following Bible verses:

“When called to go, he obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8.

“Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8.

“God will meet all your needs.” Philippians 4:19.

“God’s grace is sufficient.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

I answered God’s call to be a pastor while in the Navy and, at war’s end, was discharged at age 19. My committed Christian fiancee had been employed in her hometown during the last year of my enlistment, awaiting our reunion on the Howard College campus.

In September 1946, we experienced our new beginning together as sweethearts, college mates once more at a different location and as classmates. We immediately began to serve together in a dirt floor mission church in a white community and leading a children’s Sunday School in a basement in a black community, both near the college.

Within two months after arriving on campus, a fellow student invited me to accompany him 130 miles from Birmingham to Lafayette, Route 3, to preach to a rural congregation which was without a pastor. I was still 19 and had only attempted to preach twice. The church’s former pastor had served them for 20 years. They were ready to move forward from services on one Sunday a month to two. The youngest deacon was more than twice my age. There was absolutely no public transportation from Birmingham to Lafayette, and I had no vehicle for parish visitation. You tell me why they would vote to call me as their pastor three weeks later! I don’t have a clue, except for God’s grace. I had to have God’s grace, but the congregation needed even more grace just to endure me.

My fellow student was a pastor 15 miles away at Huguley. He had a car and his church had services on the same two Sundays of the month as my Rock Springs Church. So far, so good. My home church, Cottonwood, ordained me on the last Sunday in December of 1946. That was 66 years ago. I looked upon this as the Lord’s doing. It was a beginning. A few realities were of help to me. In spite of my ignorance, inexperience and scholastic limitations, God had gifted me with sincerity, a dependence upon prayer, a willingness to work hard through the necessary hours, an understanding that I was to preach simple Bible truth and a real love for the church members and prospective members.

Louise and I were already limited in the time we could spend with each other back on campus. Now, there were my weekends away on the church field, my struggle to prepare two sermons each week, plus my full scholastic load. How could she endure this? Little wonder, this is exactly the time when my extremely painful weekend migraines began. But the love, commitment and endurance Louise demonstrated were unwavering.

My fellow student’s transportation for me ended within a month, when he resigned his church. Different church members responded by meeting my Trailways bus on Saturday mornings 25 miles away at Camp Hill, then returning me after Sunday evening services for the 10 p.m. bus. A deacon’s wife provided me with a small car to make church member and prospect visits Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

One Sunday afternoon, a 33-year-old bachelor son of an old farmer became a Christian after I shared the gospel with him while sitting in the front seat of my borrowed car. Originating with this old farmer’s exhilarated gratitude over his son’s conversion, he and the deacon’s wife, totally unknown to me, led in raising money for the down payment on a car for me. In a few weeks, the church treasurer asked permission to make an announcement prior to the morning benediction.

After a few words, with the down payment of $640 already paid, he presented me the keys to a new Deluxe 1947 Ford, the total cost being $1,740. It was grace, all God’s grace! The next morning, meeting the Ford dealer to make financial arrangements, the old farmer removed from his worn pocketbook 11 $100 bills and said, “I’ll pay the balance, and the boy will pay me when he can.” I repaid every dollar, including several payments to the widow after the old farmer died. A miracle equal to the events surrounding the raising of the down payment was that they were able to get my name placed at the head of the list of hundreds awaiting the post World War II production of civilian cars.

Now, God had given me, and us, our first car. One afternoon, a few weeks later, wet with sweat from running around Berry football field, I saw my sweetheart approaching. I ran to her and grasped both arms in my hands and said, “Guess what!” “What?” she asked. “We are going to get married during Christmas break!” I said emphatically. “You don’t mean it!” she exclaimed, as we embraced and kissed, sweat and all. She hurried to her dorm, bursting to find someone to tell.

Details of an all-student wedding were primarily upon Louise and her family, with hometown support. At twilight on Dec. 19, 1947, we stood at the altar of her church to verbalize the commitments which had dwelled in our hearts for years, but now were being transformed into real life. We knelt together at the altar, holding hands while the soloist sang our prayer, “Seal Us, O Holy Spirit,” a line of which says, “Seal us for service we pray.” We stood together and he sang our second prayer, “Savior, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us.” The Holy Spirit did seal us; the Savior has led us and met every need, just like a good shepherd.

It had been a wonderful, fast moving 15 months on the college campus from reunion to union, and an excellent three-year engagement. Then it was to be a good 65-year journey of God’s grace until July 19, 2012. Our Father let me love her till her last breath.

I began my new wonderful chapter of God’s grace on that day, July 19, 2012. I love my Forever Darling more today than ever. She means more to me today, in many ways, than ever. I am supported, encouraged, affirmed, rebuked, corrected, humbled, challenged and inspired daily by my living memory of her. My primary vision of her now is as another witness to her earthly faith life alongside Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and unnamed others in that great cloud of witnesses whose faith life examples challenge me to look unto Jesus and finish well.

Next week, I will turn my back on autobiographical writing to a more normal “Simple Truth” series. I will be challenged, and I trust you shall be also, by a new series titled “Living Beyond Our Means.”

—Charles Christmas is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Thursday.