From Trilacoochee to Holly Springs to Parris Island to Elmira to Santa Clara: Good Things Are Happening in the Churches of Christ!

In the introduction of this book, as you may recall, I mentioned the stories you would read would not be in chronological order because, at the end of the day, there were just too many better reasons to order these stories otherwise. It might interest you to know that the entry you are about to read was the about last one this weary road warrior wrote. With several inspiring stories remaining that I wanted to share, and space left for one more story I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do; that is until we worshiped with the Zephyrhills church of Christ in Florida [] and heard a great class taught by Kevin Heaton on the topic of patience that got the wheels beginning to turn again in my heart and mind. Later that Sunday evening, we popped into the Trilacoochee church of Christ in Dade City [] and after taking in an exceptionally relevant lesson by their articulate preacher, Paul Blake, on Six Biblical Principles That Are Always Morally Right, we went to dinner with a member of the congregation, a well-known Cracker Cowboy Poet from Dade City. He shared with us the story of how his coming to Christ was the best decision he ever made in his life, even though for the remainder of his life, no matter how productive and diligent he was on the farm, he was called to patiently endure the members of his family who did not understand his commitment to faithfully observe the Lord’s Day, and their respecting him less for only working six days a week from sun up to sun down instead of seven. The Cracker Cowboy to this day has no regrets, and in fact, enjoys something money cannot buy: a clear conscience, self-respect, and a good reputation in his community where hundreds of people now come to the farm for the annual Sugarcane Festival “Pioneer Days” where Steve Melton, the Cowboy Poet, speaks, from his rocking chair, words of wisdom in rhyme while you rock along with him on “The Porch of Peace”.  His story was a living example of what we had heard during Brother Heaton’s class and that sealed the deal for me: I would dedicate the last entry I’d write to how the quality of patience has made all the difference in some of the inspiring stories that remained to be told.

Truly, good things happen to those who wait on the Lord, and one of the most jaw-dropping examples that I’ve ever witnessed happened in my early twenties. I tell more of the details of this fascinating story in my podcast entitled “Ladies & Gentlemen of the Jury, I Rest My Case”, but long story short, back in the early eighties when my adopted brother was a very troubled teenager, my mother was constantly on her knees looking for answers and prayed earnestly that God would help her find his birth family. A short time later, he was sitting at a picnic table playing cards with another teenager, when a third teenager walked past and laughed, commenting that they looked like brothers. They thought nothing of it, but stayed on the topic long enough to inadvertently stumble upon corresponding places and dates that, sure enough, on a planet containing 4.7 billion people at the time, my brother had just met his biological brother. There is a God, and He answers prayer when we, instead of giving up, patiently hang tough. In the decade that followed, she went on to endure, within a relatively short window of time, hair-raising trials that included, but were not limited to, the murder of her only sibling — a sister. Then, my father announced that he had never really loved her and moved out after forty years of marriage. After which, she lost a breast to cancer, followed a few years later by throat cancer which took her vocal cords. She had grieved to the core every one of those losses, and it was right on the heels of all that, that one winter in my living room the two of us were sitting alone on the couch just quietly talking, and she spoke these entirely honest words from the bottom of her heart, “You know. I think I'm about as happy as I've ever been in my life.” This flabbergasting statement was not from a heart in denial about a single thing, but was, rather, a testimony to how much “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) she had obtained by her fixation on “the joy set before” her (Hebrews 12:2); that is, everything God had planned for her on the other side of all the injustices of life. Good things were most certainly going to happen, and the best was yet to come. 

In our pursuit to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1), one of the most challenging aspects of His perfect nature for His children to duplicate has to be patience. The maintaining of inner tranquility in the presence of circumstances that can range from less than ideal to almost hellish, often calls for divine intervention. But as is the case with all the fruits of the Spirit, there are invaluable gifts on the other side of all that patience for those who forgo fixating on what they want but do not have, and one of those gifts is an emotional freedom that is much easier felt than explained. 

Some of the most inspiring stories I’ve gathered from around the country have been a testimony to the power of not so much focusing on what one does not have, but instead focusing on what others do not have. Rick Billingsly, who preaches at the Holly Springs church of Christ in North Carolina, is a patient farmer of a unique sort. He has planted seeds of truth by volunteering in his community to teach classes for the local police department on anger management, depression, and other topics that the local government sees as helpful to the well-being of local citizens. In the course of his volunteer work as a chaplain for the precinct, Rick was once asked to sit with a man in the hospital who, in the course of transgressing many of God’s laws, had contracted AIDS and lay dying. While some might hesitate to be anywhere near this man’s “spiritual leprosy”, Rick Billingsly, who is one of the most proactive evangelists I’ve met, prayerfully went into this scene knowing that if he was patient, anything could happen.  After some small talk, Rick asked, “Do you mind if I ask you something personal?” “Sure”, the dying man shrugged. “Do you think you were born this way?” “No”, the man admitted. Once Rick saw the man’s honesty, he began to gently preach Jesus to him, forthrightly telling him what he needed to hear most. The dying man, with almost no time left to live, responded with the enthusiasm of the eunuch in Acts 8, calling out to be baptized, but when Rick notified the staff of his dying wish, he was given an inflexible, hard “No”. It became clear that no amount of pleading from the dying man, or reasoning from Rick was going to change that. He returned home frustrated, but prayerful. In a world where God is in control, how could this be? A few days later, the phone rang. It was the hospital. “Hey”, they said, “If you still want to baptize this guy, he has turned enough of a corner now, we can allow it.”  The angels rejoiced that day when the Lord used Rick’s patient act of service to extend His compassion and mercy by washing the spiritual leper clean. Though his sins were as scarlet, they were now as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) and he was prepared to meet his Maker. 

Many of the members of the Holly Springs church of Christ are also involved in their community, and one of the sisters at the Holly Springs congregation works at a shelter and taught a young resident there the gospel. The afternoon of our visit, when we’d gathered together at the Billingsly’s home after worship, their inflatable baptistry had been filled by the time we finished lunch, and we all gathered around it, blessed to witness the rebirth of a very troubled soul into Christ. This new sister in Christ was elated to start her new life with her new church family, whom God was using to help heal her heart. 

When I asked her afterward what she was looking forward to, she shared her heart’s deepest desires, and I gifted her a copy of Your Fresh Start along with a printout of the transcript I’d used to record my podcast, “What God Says Happens The Day You Are Baptized”. Another homeless girl had come from the shelter to witness this amazing scene, and she was gifted a copy of each as well. Please pray along with me that they both go on to forever love and serve the Lord, who alone can rescue any soul from any pit, no matter how dark. 

About 300 miles south of Holly Springs, patient sowers of the Word of God have accomplished amazing things at a military base on Parris Island in South Carolina— something that every congregation near a military base would do well to take note of and replicate, if at all possible.  Upon request, Rufus Clifford emailed me the details of what led up to the success of the King Street Church of Christ in Beaufort, South Carolina, which resulted in their baptizing into Christ somewhere between 400 and 500 soldiers over the years who passed through the military base located there:  “Since the middle 1970’s the congregation has taken advantage of an opportunity provided by the U.S. Marine Corps to conduct worship services at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., in the Religious Ministries Center. Many religious groups meet in the Religious Ministries Center.

In 2005 the church expanded its work at the Religious Ministries Center by conducting a Bible class. We have a study now every Sunday at 8 A.M. in the Chapel on the base. 

In 2009 God blessed us in the work at Parris Island again. A small group of recruits that claimed to be Atheists or Agnostics came into our R.E. class and participated in our study. The next week that small group returned and doubled in size and were taken to another room for R.E. This trend continued and now our attendance in this class regularly exceeds 80. All of whom claim to be Atheists or Agnostics.

God has blessed this congregation with a group of believers that have dedicated themselves to expanding the borders of the Kingdom in the Beaufort area. As a result the congregation is experiencing growth in many ways. The brethren here are excited about what God is doing for us and give Him all glory, praise, and thanks for the work He is accomplishing through us.”

Though virtually all of these Marine recruits will move on after their training on Parris Island, I love how diligently this congregation has worked to benefit the souls of these young men and women in this very transitional stage in life. Quite aware of the physical dangers that may lay ahead for these hardy risk-takers, dealing with the realities of their mortality is less daunting when they know their soul is at peace with God should they one day die for their country. The King Street Church of Christ sees the bigger picture than growing their congregation’s number of members, and in addition to saving these souls, they are helping them build more stable families as well as growing the kingdom of God on a more universal level, which benefits other congregations where the faithful among those baptized will settle and raise their families. The selflessness of their persistent efforts is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

Meanwhile, what was patience accomplishing eight hundred miles north? Preacher Joe Works had found a screamin’ deal on an old 1909 monastery sitting on four acres up in West Elmira, New York. Joe knew it would be ideal for duplicating something called Rustic Youth Camp in Russellville, Alabama, which for decades had been very beneficial for the kingdom of God, especially with regard to encouraging the next generation to hold fast to the truth.  It was going to take a lot of patient teamwork to even get the property up to code, but sure enough, when word got out, skilled volunteers from both in-state and out-of-state came together to clean up the acreage and interior of the buildings, create an access road to the back of the property required by the local fire department, update fire alarm systems, replace windows, paint, assemble 110 bunk beds, install a commercial kitchen, and so much more. For months, volunteers donated their skill, muscle, and funding to help The School of Good Works [] go from being a mere diamond in the rough to a very special place to comfortably host week-long intensive Bible camps, retreats, and such. Now, young and old Christians alike would have a place up north to stay awhile and make lifelong, transformative connections that would, for some, make all the difference and remain a source of strength for the remainder of their lives. 

Of course, even when the dust cleared and the renovations were complete, the volunteer opportunities were only just beginning.  Staff members now volunteer to head up deep Bible studies, and between mentoring the young men and women who attend these events, they feel as enthused and energized by their students as the students do by their mentors. They’ve found that there’s nothing like investing one’s hard-won Bible knowledge into the eternal souls of children; for in so doing, they are carrying out the Apostle Paul’s instructions to take what they’ve learned from the scriptures and entrust that wisdom to “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). How satisfying to these leaders it must be to know that they are equipping the next generation to go out and be the next Daniels, Josephs, and Davids in their generation. These are likely not the only Bible camps in the country, but however many there are, indescribably good things could happen if readers all over the country began something similar by simply using donated or rented space. And now you know who might have some great tips should you desire to begin such a good work in your own neck of the woods. Think about it!

2,800 miles west, hundreds of people are showing up in various communities to visit one of Mike Wilson’s one-day pop-up Bible Museums. Mike preaches at the Santa Clara Church of Christ [] and is the author of Inspiration to Ink: The Big Picture of How We Got the Bible. He enjoys hauling his collection of ancient Bibles, artifacts, and facsimiles here and there so visitors, by the hundreds, can get answers to any questions that might surface about the Bible’s authenticity and reliability. It’s not every day one has the opportunity to explore an original 1549 Tyndale New Testament or a 1599 Luther Bible or to see other artifacts and reproductions that bring to life the captivating story of how God’s holy words were handed down to us. At these popular events, Mike shares the amazing sacrifices brave souls have made throughout history to ensure the precious access we have to the Word today, and explains how we can know with objective certainty that “the word of the Lord endures forever" (Isaiah 40:8), and is as accurate today as it ever was. With many of the exhibits being hands-on, and a Children’s Room set up where kids can have some fun crafting and engaging in related activities, a lot of families make a fun field trip of the experience to help their children better understand the value of just how precious God’s word is! 

May God immeasurably bless these workers in the vineyard who have taken to heart the instructions of James 5:7-11 to “ …be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near…behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”