Last week I received an email from fellow blogger John Dobbs. With the passing of Jack Exum Sr., he suggested that other bloggers share stories of a minister who had influenced our lives and to also invite our readers to do the same, to tell of someone who passed the torch of the gospel to us. I have been influenced by many and although for the sake of space and memory I will only list a few.
My earliest influence came when I was six or seven through Frank L. Smith. We lived in Shawnee Oklahoma and attended the Church of Christ at Tenth and Bell Streets. I remember seeing him in the pulpit with his grey suit and balding head and his ever ready smile. His sweet wife was Mary and he had two daughters and a son, F. Lagard Smith. (We knew him as Lagard at the time) I remember one sister, Sandra and sadly my memory fails me for the name of the other sister. I was too young to know or understand about the gospel at that stage of my life, still I feel I must mention him because as I look back, I remember and (understand now) the kindness and great hospitality shown to my parents, my brothers and me. We spent many Sunday afternoons in their home visiting and eating dinner with them. My mom still has a picture of me sitting on the front steps of their home. (I was baptized at the age of nine at the Tenth and Bell congregation after hearing a Hell Fire and Brimstone lesson during a revival, and later in life realized what I did was out of ignorance and fear.)
For those of you who know me or have followed my blog, you know that I have lived through some very rough years. I was pregnant and married at the tender age of 15, and had three children by the age of 23 and divorced years later. I ended up battling drugs and alcohol for several years. My path to Christianity was a long time in the making and this is where the next people who greatly influenced my life enter in. I shall briefly mention three more men and their strong and faithful wives who have taught me the way.
When I first began to turn my life from myself to Christ, I lived in the small town of Hornitos CA and began attending church in Mariposa CA. It was a very small congregation and it was there where my real roots to becoming a Christian began. Vern Godfrey was not a preacher but he was a great bible class teacher and he was a kind and gentle man. I clearly remember him teaching the book of Acts and he brought it to life. Vern and his wife Esther greatly influenced not only my life but my oldest brother Tony Tharp and his wife Pat as well. They would visit us in our homes (and believe me when I say-we were a challenge) and would invite us to their homes. To say it plainly…they loved us so much that not only were we shocked, but we learned to love them so much we did not want to disappoint them in any way and we longed to be with them and be like them.
Next are Shelby Garrison* and his wife Elizabeth. They belonged to that small church in Mariposa and they came to visit me one day after I had moved from Hornitos to Mariposa. I had given up all of my drugs at that time except Marijuana. I had just finished smoking a joint (it really pains me to write this but it’s true) and my doorbell rang. There stood Shelby, all 6 plus feet of him and Elizabeth, who wasn’t even 5 feet tall. I didn’t know what to do except invite them in. The house reeked with the weed I had just finished smoking and I was higher than a kite. I know for certain that they were aware of what was going on, but they did not condemn me or even make mention of it. They simply came by to tell me how happy they were to see me at church on Sunday and to invite me back again and wanted me to know that I could call on them if I needed any kind of help.
Lastly are Pete Casci and his wife Brenda. (It’s hard to mention great men who have influenced me in the gospel without mentioning their loving and faithful wives.) Pete was the young preacher hired by the congregation in Mariposa. Pete loved the Lord and loved the people he shared Jesus with. You could see it in his eyes and you could feel it. Being a struggling and young Christian I know I disappointed them many times and in many ways and they never, ever gave up on me. We are still the best of friends even after thirty plus years. We haven’t seen each other in several years but we stay in touch either by phone or mail. He baptized me and he married Larry and me.
In closing I must say that it wasn’t eloquence of speech that influenced me or their style of preaching. I say with all honesty it was their outpouring of genuine love and their true friendship and concern that touched my heart, that made me want to have what they had and to be like them. It was from them I first learned of Faith, Love and Hope and truly the greatest was their love.
* Shelby and Elizabeth and one of their daughters, Sarah really liked me, so much so that they all played match-maker and introduced me to their son/brother Larry. Shelby and Elizabeth ended up being my father and mother-in-law and Sarah my sister-in-law. Larry and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary in July of this year.
Frank, Vern and Shelby have all gone on to their reward. I thank God for letting these Godly men cross my path and I thank you John for this great idea and privilege to share these memories.