In September of 1945, I was ‘convicted’ and sent away to a place called “Dasher Bible School”. The legend says, “The school receives any and all kids who have lost their way or those who haven’t yet found it. I came from a Bible believing, Christ centered home but my associates didn’t. I wasn’t a bad boy, I just wasn’t very good. At last resort, I caught the Florida Trailways bus bound for Valdosta. Dasher was 10 miles to the south, a campus of about 50 acres, and known for heavy discipline and corporate punishment. The boy’s dorm held forty students from various states, and this number was equaled on the girls’ side.
A few years ago, I visited the old campus. Standing just to the right of the boy’s entrance, and looking up to the second floor, I saw the curtains still hanging in my old dorm room. When I first crossed the cattle gap I had no idea that my life on that campus would be forever changed. Two men were ring-leaders in giving me new direction.
Lacy Elrod became the new president of DBS (Dasher Bible School). He had a background in dealing with troubled youth and I was one of them.
Punishment was simple. You were assigned to dig one of the 200 stumps in stump holler. I picked a small one at the top but it had been burned and after the initial shoveling, I found it to be an ancient pine whose tap root was more than seven feet straight down. Live and learn.
Before I was born. Mother made a pact with God. I was to be a boy, red headed, and his middle name would be Hardeman, after the most famous preacher of that day. Mother had destined me to be “her preacher boy”. You can argue about predestination, but there is no doubt when you are “mother destined”. From day one she would introduced me as “her preacher boy”.
After Elrod came everything began to change. This Tennessee man knew about boys. He called me one day and said, “See that orphan boy. He don’t have no mother or father and I’m putting you in charge of him. He’s a second grader and you’re going to be his daddy. You see that his homework is done, he has a bath every day, and wears clean clothes and eats regular. If you fail, I’ll be coming after you. Elrod gave me a purpose and responsibility. He showed me Jesus and changed my life.
Beginning my second and final year in high school, my heart and mind turned to preaching. It was then that I met “Good old brother Anderson”. He was a black man of some 60 years. He led a group of believers in a small one room church building every Sunday morning. I had tried preaching in three white churches, but the results were always the same – “Don’t encourage that boy, he’s a loose canon”. I must have satisfied them all for they never invited me back!
Anderson met me one day near the south border of the campus and asked if I would like to come and speak for his ‘congregation”. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance. He had heard that I had been going every Saturday to the Lowndes County Jail and talking to the inmates about Jesus. My life turned around when I met “Good old Brother Anderson.
I had a bicycle for transportation, and the little country church was only 2 miles away. The problem was most of it was dirt miles. The atmosphere was so different. “Amen’s” were generous, Hallelujah and praise God were shouted. “Preach it brother” was repeated again and again, One Sunday morning I got rather mixed up and I said, “Let me back up here”, and a responder chimed, “back up there brother, back up there.” You just couldn’t make a mistake – they wouldn’t let you. When my sermon hit rock bottom there was an old lady that would shout, “Help him Jesus, and help him Jesus.” I thought of what the apostle Paul had written; “Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believer in word, in conversation, in love, in spirit, and faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12). It was good old black Brother Anderson that “called me to preach” and the little congregation on Loch Laurel road that keep me preaching.
Now I look back over the 64 years and understand the marvel and wonder of two old men who “turned me”, and a small black church that encouraged me. If Elrod and Anderson did no other good, they set my feet on the path of 64 years of preaching, teaching and writing. To Lacy Elrod and Old Brother Anderson – “Thank God for you!”
I am glad to report that old Dasher Bible School, now named “Georgia Christian” is stronger than ever. New buildings have sprung Sprung up all about and attendance is on a steady climb up. Georgia Christian is a work in progress. To Elrod and Anderson I say, “Friendship is a chain of gold, linked in God’s own perfect mold; Each link a smile a laugh a tear, the shake of a hand, the word of good cheer. No matter how far of heavy the load; sweet is the journey on friendship road.”