Preachers move. I did my share of it. We nearly starved to death in our first church in Largo, Florida. A vivid reminder of having to eat leftover beans or black eyed peas for breakfast. That was 60 years ago. My salary was $30.00 a week and an old barn like house to live in. We budgeted $12.00 a week for food. We left with two kids under the threat of bankruptcy.
The Waycross church was next. It was small – just 35 members. They were meeting in an old WOW hall and we went early to clear the beer cans off of the stairs. Members of that congregation were energetic and committed. A wood framed building was already under construction.
What little furniture we had was not worth taking. We packed everything we owned in, on, and around our ancient 1936 Ford coupe. Enclosed in the rusted frame of the ‘green hornet’ was my wife, Ann, our two sons, Jack Jr. and Robbie, and a chow dog named ‘Duke’.
The radiator drank water like a starving animal on the desert. The dog had diarrhea and the boys were sick and throwing up. The normal time of travel would be about 6 hours. It took us 13. We stopped often and fed the radiator with water from the drainage ditch.
We finally entered the city limits of Waycross. Our prayer was simple. “No parties Lord, please, no parties.” The prayer was soon to be answered just not as we had suspected.
The backbone of the little church was the Gornto brothers, Sam, James and Lonnie, and their families. Sam (bless his heart) visited us in Largo and witnessed first hand the terrible conditions in which we had been living. We drove to a new subdivision and stopped where Lonnie lived. All the Gornto’s were there with their flocks. I again whispered, “Please Lord, no parties.” When we prepared to follow this parade, our car wouldn’t start. With the three brothers pushing, it cranked up and we were away. We drove in much of a circle and stopped before one of the new houses – 333 Pine View Drive. The house was surrounded by a number of cars. Again I plead, “No parties Lord! We are broke, thoroughly worn out and we had been on the road a full day. But people were moving about inside and there was no way out. It was a ‘grin and bear’ it situation and I determined to put on a good face and brave it through.
The house was new, tastefully decorated with three bedrooms, bath, floor furnace, living room and separate dining facility. Drapes were hung, pictures on the wall and all of the beds were completely made. The kitchen was roomy and the tour ended there. New appliances, a pantry literally overflowing with can goods and other needs, the fridge was loaded and a pound of ‘real’ butter caught my eye. A 12 pound ham was waiting our greedy eyes along with veggies, gravy and a pecan pie.
Sam said, “Jack, Ann and little ones, this all yours. Take your time, get some much needed rest and we’ll see you in a few days”. We were totally speechless. As the last car drifted out of sight, we just fell to the carpeted floor, held each other tight and sobbed. The kids looked on with interest.
I never heard any of the three brothers say an evil thing about anyone. I do remember each Wednesday night we would all go to James’ house and watch the Wednesday night fights on CBS in color. During good times and bad, the Gornto’s were all the same – just good honest Christ like folks. Their only sin was that they played golf on Sunday afternoon.
Little did we know that it was in Waycross our middle son, Robbie got polio. I was away on a meeting in Melbourne, Florida at the time. Rushing home I went directly to the Ware County Hospital and as I entered from the west wing, I saw the Iron Lung, just outside our son’s door. The doctor was blunt and said he wouldn’t live through the night. He had bulbar ascending type polio and when it reached vital organs his life on earth would be over. The church prayed all night and we stayed by the Iron lung and begged God for mercy. By morning Robbie was still alive and most of you know the story that he is now in his fifties, married to Sveta and lives in Lake City. Now two of our children are buried in our family plot here in town, awaiting the arrival of Mother and Dad.
The secret to this essay could be found in the words of the apostle Paul, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude nor self-seeking, not easily angered. Now these three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love” (Romans 12:9-13; II Corinthians 13:4-13).
It reminds me of the orphan girl who wrote a note and threw it over the fence. It was in large block letters, “WHOEVER FINDS THIS, I LOVE YOU!” Look carefully and you will see these same words on my calling card. Jesus said, “Hereby shall all men know that you are my disciples in that you love one another” (John 13:35).