Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 1, 2004


Country folks are the best people you can find anywhere


      The finest people you can find anywhere are country folks. I am more convinced of that than ever, after spending four days down Highway 50, five miles west of Lafayette, Alabama.

          The good people at Antioch Baptist Church invited me to preach in their summer revival. We had worship services twice a day, each time at 7:00 o’clock. Like Methodists, Baptists like to eat. We had a hearty breakfast each morning and a ton of food every night.

          We Methodists use food as “bait” in the hope that we can hook a few people into spending a little time to hear the gospel. I guess we may have learned that from our Baptist friends. Jesus often ate with sinners, so it is just another way of doing “what Jesus would do.” Breaking bread together at a table is a good way to get to know people.

          I was surprised to find that though the Antioch Church was organized in 1834, it was not a dilapidated, sick and dying, old country church. The people take pride in their property. They have an attractive church plant that is being renovated. Fresh paint was everywhere. I had the impression the congregation anticipates a good future, growing and reaching new people.

          They have a handsome young pastor who, with his wife and two small children, lives in a lovely home provided by the congregation. Taylor Kendrick has a trained mind, a warm heart, and a visionary spirit. The people seemed thrilled to have Taylor and Angela as their spiritual leaders. Their children, Bethany and Jonathon, are obviously a magnet that will attract other children to the fellowship.

          I love country living and country folks. I was born in the country and now, in retirement, I am living back where I began. My friends in town used to tease me about living so far out in the country that we had to pipe in sunshine. Yet most of them delighted in spending the night in the country with me when we were growing up.

          Hang around a country church for a few days and you can meet some wonderful people. I love to meet old folks, some who are even older than I am, who still have some vim and vigor left. At Antioch Baptist, Mary Emily Conway and Gladys Christian are two live wires. I could see the love of the Lord in their faces. They made me feel welcome, and that felt good.

          Franklin and Carolyn Blackmon offered such gracious hospitality that I wanted to stay and preach another week. If ever I met two people with the gift of hospitality, it was that dear couple. Loving Jesus has made them such loving servants of others!

          I always receive more help than I give during a revival meeting. People share their struggles with me. I see their courage in the face of hardships, and I am blessed. People like Leon Lashley tell me how they are experiencing the grace of God and I am encouraged. Not long ago, Leon was given a few months to live when cancer was discovered. However, the tumors have shrunk and inside of dying, Leon is recovering.

          Though Leon is a quiet man, you can see gratitude written all over his face. He has known the goodness of God and he is willing to tell you about it. Leon sent my wife a mess of sweet corn out of the goodness of his heart. As we eat it, I will be celebrating with Leon and his wife Madeline the kindness of God.

          Madeline plays the piano for church, so she played during the revival. Full of energy, she was there morning and night, ready to serve with a smile. I kidded her about having fast feet. She had a fan blowing on her feet while playing the piano. My good friend, Gary Stringfellow, led the singing. His dad was a fine Methodist preacher and a man I admired when I was younger.

          I learn a lot during a revival. I usually learn how easy it is to draw the wrong conclusion about a church. One night I assumed that these dear people needed to adopt some missionaries and support their work with prayers and money. I figured that few of them cared much about missions. It is easy to enjoy the benefits of country living and forget about the rest of the world, especially the thirty thousand children who starve to death every night.

          After pounding the pulpit about missions, I got an earful and blushed. Dick and Liz Conway have two sons who are missionaries among the Muslims in Eastern Europe. To my amazement, I found that I had met these young men three years ago, and remembered being impressed with them.

          Compounding my embarrassment, I soon met Charles and Betty Whitsun, who had retired after serving 25 years as missionaries in Africa.

Charles had served Antioch Baptist as an interim pastor recently, so these people were well informed about missions. All my pulpit pounding about missions had been like preaching to the choir!

          Some of my friends from Opelika blessed me by driving up for the services. One even said, “You have not lost your touch in preaching!” Old preachers, and young ones, like to hear a little affirmation, and I surely did enjoy it. I soak it up like a sponge, and it helps me even when I know it may be more a compliment than the truth.

          In the heartland of America, the small church is still a stronghold of authentic Christian faith. There are hundreds of churches like Antioch Baptist across the land, and our nation is stronger because they continue to thrive.

          I am a better man for having been a guest this week of Antioch Baptist Church, out in the country where good folks still grow corn and cotton, bale hay, raise cows, work in town, and love God. May their tribe increase! + + + +