I grew up on thirty acres of Eden in rural Mississippi. In another word, paradise.
Our days consisted of running around the woods playing war with sticks, building makeshift bridges over any puddle of water we could find, pushing toy cars along scratched-up dirt roads, and fishing in drainage ditches.
I had two brothers who always made sure that I was included, a dad who worked extremely hard to provide for our family, cousins who lived just through the woods, and a mother who cared for everyone she met, like most good southern mothers. My grandparents lived up one hill, and my uncle and aunt lived up the other side of that same hill.
It was heaven.
Mom made sure to keep us in church as much as possible, even when we didn’t want to go, so we grew up with not only our parents to raise us, but a host of women who took it upon themselves to see that every kid in their Sunday School class knew both the stories of the bible and the love of Jesus.
Mrs. Shirley often kept us in the nursery (this memory is fuzzy), Mrs. Brenda helped in the kids department (and she played the piano), Mrs. Debbie led my youth class, as did my parents for a time. It was a good ole Southern Baptist church with lots of wonderful people, but back in those days, there was also a pretty ridiculous group of good ole boy deacons who made sure to keep the pastors fresh every few years. So throughout my years at this little church, we saw preachers come and go, we even had subs in between the pastors. It was almost like a basketball team.
“Hey you! Sub out for this one – we didn’t like the way you preached that sermon. In fact, we’re trading you. Give us the keys to the parsonage!”
The first pastor I remember was Bro. Archie. Every service we had an altar call for anyone who wanted to give their heart to Jesus, and mostly every Sunday we sang three stanza’s of Just as I Am and went home, but one day my cousin Marriah wanted to go down and accept Jesus.
“Go with me, Cuz,” she whispered. “I don’t wanna go by myself.”
So I went, of course.
A few days later, Bro. Archie came to the house and explained everything in detail, making sure I understood what I was doing. Then, after a few weeks more, Mariah and I stood on concrete blocks set in the middle of the aged blue baptistry (we were too short to see over the baptistry walls). That day, we were baptized, and the tiny little congregation amened just loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to be considered a closet charismatic.
We both swam out I think. It was a big baptistry.
The most pronounced memory I have of Brother Archie happened one Sunday not too long after we got dunked. I was minding my own business, sound asleep in church, like every week, when something happened that changed my life.
I heard a voice. Yes, a voice. This voice was so different from any other voice I’d ever heard that I still remember it vividly. It spoke one simple sentence.
“You are going to be a preacher.”
And that was it. I don’t know if it was audible or a dream, because I was asleep (I’ve never heard the audible voice of the Lord since), but to me it still seems like it was audible. Even at six, I somehow knew the Lord had spoken to me.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is not that the Lord spoke to me, but that He woke me. I’ve been told that I inherited my dad’s spiritual gift of snoring.
I don’t believe it for a second.
I woke up, sat up in the pew, and looked at Mom.
“Momma, I’m going to be a preacher!”
She looked down at me with those dove eyes of her’s and smiled. Having raised three sons, I’m sure she’d heard this type of sudden exclamation concerning our life’s calling a hundred times – probably ranging from astronauts to kung fu grandmasters – but she still looked at me like she fully believed what I said. At that moment, I knew mom believed I would indeed be a preacher.
That’s my mother. If there’s one line of wisdom I learned from Mom, it’s this: “With God, you can do all things. Even if no one else believes in it, if God is leading you, keep going.” Dad has always rounded out that advice with something that I belie matters just as much.
“Dusty (that’s what the family calls me), working hard matters. Not just for money, work hard because it is the right thing to do. Never lie, and work hard.”
Gold. Faith and diligence together.
“Will you tell Brother Achie?” I asked Mom.
“You tell him.”
And so, with trembling little hands, I shook Brother Achie’s hand and told him that I was going to be a preacher just like him. He looked at me with just as much belief as Mom and told me how good that was. He believed that I could do it, and since Mom and Bro. Archie believed, so did I!
Today, I am a preacher, to thousands on television and thousands in person all over the world. Over the years, I’ve had the same experiences with children, and each time I do my best to emulate my mother and Bro. Archie, but I can’t help but wonder if Bro. Archie’s private thoughts weren’t something along the lines of… That’s great. Step one, stop snoring during my sermons.
Years later, before Bro Archie passed, he and his wife, Mrs. Bernice got to see that I had indeed become a preacher just as I said I would. Not much makes me more happy than that.