Stephanie was an elementary school teacher and taught precious children in both kindergarten and first grade at Statham Elementary School for 21 years. More than 1,000 people came to her viewing and some 500 people came to her memorial service. Family and friends came from far and near to show their love and respect for such a brave and noble person like Stephanie.
As I thought about our present and progressive experience called grief I believe God gave me a definition for grief I have never read, as least to my conscious memory. It is this: Grief is a gift from God to enable us as His beloved children to come to grips with what is most important in life.
I can tell you as an 83 old man that prestige, position, wealth, fame, houses, lands, automobiles, trucks, fishing boats, etc. is not what is important.
I have come to realize that all of the things we have thought to be valuable and worthy of pursuit are really only temporal, all that will soon pass away and vanish. What is most important is our relationships.
For me, my most treasured relationship is my relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. What a change in my heart and life has been since I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and Lord at the age of six. It has been wonderful. I didn't understand the theology of what occurred in my spiritual life, but God gave me enough understanding that my life and future were in the hands of God. He had forgiven me of my sins as a boy of only six years of age. I knew deep inside of me that my name was now written in heaven in the Lamb's Book of Life, and one day I would go to heaven to live with Jesus forever.
However, when I was 21 years old, I discovered that I was backsliding. I knew that I was not serving the Lord. I was a young Marine, away from home. No longer was I accountable to my parents who lived hundreds of miles from where I was stationed at Quantico, Virginia. In the midst of that drifting away from God and what I knew to be right, God sent a young Methodist Navy chaplain to minister to me and the other Marines who were also members of the Quantico Marine Band. The blessed Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, gave me the gift of repentance and I turned from my sins, asked Christ to forgive me, and He did for He was gracious and merciful to me, a sinner who had been saved by His grace through faith. I was restored and renewed, and I rededicated my life to Jesus Christ and whatever He had for me to do in life. Through the ministry of Navy Chaplain James Hull, of Greensboro, NC, God called me to be a military chaplain. I found out what the requirements were and I diligently pursued them to meet the educational, spiritual, and pastoral leadership requirements to qualify to become a military chaplain. I finished college, was ordained and married to Melvine Stewart from Draper, NC, in 1960, and after our honeymoon, we drove to Wilmore, KY, where Melvine and I lived for three years and I completed my resident work for the Master of Divinity degree in May 1963. Melvine taught school and I worked part-time. A Methodist lady in Sebring, FL, gave me a scholarship by paying 50% of my tuition every quarter for all three years. She said she wanted to invest in a Pentecostal Preacher Boy, and I just happened to be that boy.
I needed to get a minimum of two years of pastoral leadership experience following seminary to qualify for the practical experience. Leon Stewart was my conference superintendent. There was only one church available that year--the Brownville Pentecostal Holiness Church about six miles from Evergreen, Alabama in Conecuh County. The church had sixty-six members, but I don't recall that many people who attended at the start.
I knew in my heart if I would give my very best to that congregation and community God would do the rest. The church began to grow. Melvine taught in the Evergreen High School and that was a plus of our ministry. God gave us families with children and youth. We were young and energetic to spend time with them. It was there on a Wednesday night that Jesus baptized me with the Holy Spirt with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues, and later I was given a devotional tongue to aid me in my personal prayer life.
We learned in April of 1964 that Air Force Chaplain, Colonel, Eugene Myers was killed in a military transport plane in Manila, Philippines. George Fisher, who worked with Oral Roberts, told us about it when we, along with a number of pastors and wives, had a breakfast meeting with Oral Roberts in Pensacola, FL. Shortly, after that meeting, Bishop J. A. Synan, called me and asked me to go into the Air Force to fill the vacancy that needed to be filled. After prayer and fasting, I made the decision to accept the gracious offer of our presiding bishop. I had to resign my commission as an Army Reserve chaplain, and sworn in as an officer and chaplain in the Air Force. So, in May of 1965, Melvine, Greg, and I drove across the United States to Toccoa, Washington where I began my career as an Air Force chaplain at McChord Air Force Base.
I have said all of this to let you know that on Saturday morning, Jack Shaw, from Greenville, SC, called to check up on me, and to see how I was doing physically. His call came at an important time in my life as I face more health issues that I will write about in today's Hugh's News.
It is all about relationships. I have known Jack Shaw since our college days at Emmanuel College in 1952-1953. That friendship has lasted and has been enriched over the years. Jack's call and concern for me as his friend means far more than I can express in words. What I think it means for me is that I need to call my friends more often than I do and check up on how they are doing. As we get older, we all have health issues. We thank God for some of the finest young doctors in the know world. May God bless Jack and Jane Shaw. Jack is involved in large Baptist Church where he teaches some 100 adults in a Sunday school class every other Sunday. I rejoice to know that Jack continues to served the Lord as a Bible teacher, and is a witness for Christ in the business world in Greenville, SC.