Looking back over the past 80 years, there are certain days and times that just stand out in special ways. My birth was unexpected from the beginning. Mother had the perfect number, 3 boys and three girls and then I came along.
From the beginning she called me her ‘preacher boy’. My middle name is Hardeman, the name of the leading preacher of that day. So all introductions were the same, “here comes my preacher boy”.
Oil and water do not mix, and neither did I do well with bad associates. At last resorts and at the age of 15, I was sent to a place called DASHER BIBLE SCHOOL. After a number of miscues a most serious mistake was made. It is hard to stay in a Bible school when you insult one of the teachers. I didn’t think he heard me but he did. When the discipline committee met in SPECIAL SESSION, I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I was ‘heading home’. All voted ‘yea’ except one, the very one that I had ‘profaned’. There were some tears in his eyes as he stood and said, “I withdraw my charges against this boy”. Over loud objections, his statement stood and they passed another unusual rule called, “Perpetual Probation”. One misstep from now on and you’re headed home; no appeals. WILLIAM POTTS, by grace gave me a second chance. Without him, the ‘preacher boy’ would never have been.
I tried to preach but didn’t know how. So ‘Old Brother Anderson Heard about me and asked if I would speak to their small black congregation. I did and by their grace of many sorry sermons, I began my ministry at sixteen. When the sermon (?) really got bad, an old black lady in the back would sing out, “Help him Jesus, help him Jesus.” I spoke at three white churches and I must have satisfied them all for none invited me back. I owe my beginning to the little black church on Lock Laura Road, fifteen miles south of Valdosta, Georgia.
On June 25, 1948, I married the most beautiful girl in the world. Her name was Ann. She was different from the others we dated during that time for there was no “smooching, no hand holding, no nothing but just ‘being together’. She taught me what love was all about – to love someone for WHY THEY ARE, not for the touch or the hug or the fine art of smooching. Marion Ann McLeroy changed my life. We dated for three years (I was in college) and married. I was 19 and she was 18 and grandma said. “It will never last”. Last June we celebrated our 60th anniversary.
Following our first night of honeymoon (that’s the short period of time between “I do” and “you’d better”) we left for our first ministry appointment. Largo, Florida had used eleven preachers in the last ten years. We broke the record and stayed three. My energy was overwhelming. I spent most of the time with people and too little of the time in preparing sermon. Being with people I found out the need, and Sunday morning I preached on it. Just say nice sermons and you can stay forever, but raise the roof with lessons about the lives of members and you’re lucky to stay three.
Largo changed my life. I bought an old worn out bus in North Florida from an old preacher. It was sitting out in a field, but he had doctored it up and charged me $335.00. I barely made it back to town. It was so old it had benches (not seats) all running from front to back. With the help of others and a used motor I began the first bus route in Florida. The brakes were bad, so I did a lot of coasting. I had no insurance, but we would average some 40 kids every Sunday, waking up the town with their singing kids songs on the bus. The day we moved, the bus died, and the kids had no way to come to church.
One Sunday Mrs. Ponds came in with her 6 kids. During the preaching one of her boys (about 4 years old) sitting next to her became restless. So she did what any backwoods country woman would think to do. She modestly unbuttoned her blouse, and supplying the necessary equipment the boy responded and the gentle sucking sound began. Peace and quiet was the blessing but the sound disturbed a number. One of our more wealthy middle aged woman met me in the aisle crying. “Did you see that!!” “What”, I answered. “That” she exclaimed. I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “I’ll tell you what mother often said to me, “Jack, best save those tears for what really matter!”
Our ministry has taken us into Virginia, Texas, Ireland, Canada, and for the last 30 years I was on the speaker’s tour making my books, long-play albums and tapes available.
We have lived in a number of preacher houses and now have put out the sign, “MOVE NO MORE”. The wonderful music often comes to my ear, “Here comes my preacher boy”. Of the seven children, Tom, my oldest brother and I still survive.
Heaven is not a goal, it is the simple destiny of those who have put their faith in Christ and their trust in God. Sometimes when I pray I feel like a little boy, not having all the answers.