We had been in Nashville for several days. Finally, we left for Florence, Alabama, about a two and a half hour drive. We decided to drive through Pulaski, Tennessee, a small town where I first preached many years ago. The church met in a storefront (formerly a convenience store).
I will always appreciate this community and that church. Those people were patient — very patient — with their young, newly married, transplanted minister from Texas. At that point, I had graduated from a university in Texas as well as a Bible college in north Alabama. Much more school would follow this brief ministry, but it would be deeply impacted by the experiences with this church in this town.
As we drove through Pulaski, I remembered some of these experiences. Some of them marked me deeply. I will always be thankful for what I learned through these moments:
- The love and encouragement of so many of these people such as Dennon and Joy, Mary Cordell, the Gowans, and so many other people.
- Seeing small-town culture up close for the first time in my life.
- Going with Dennon to meet person after person in that town who I would otherwise never meet. He opened many doors for me to people in that community.
- Talking with a woman whose husband, a very visible person in that community, had committed suicide the year before.
- Meeting with a young man, an African-American about 25 years old, who worked in a nearby factory. He approached me one day and asked if I would teach him everything I knew about the Bible. We met together each week for a number of months. I’m sure that I learned more than he did.
- The experience of seeing every kind of human emotion "up close." I recall having to deal with their fear, anger, pride, etc. At the same time, of course, I was learning to recognize and deal with these same emotions in myself.
- Learning to live and minister among a group of people. I preached twice a week and taught two Bible classes. That was very difficult but also humbling. I realized how little I really knew.
- Preaching my first funeral, for a 26-year-old woman who died of cancer. To this day, I can remember standing on the hillside in the cemetery, one windy day. In fact, I can almost still hear the sound of the funeral home tent flapping in the wind.