By James P. and Maria Needham
On May 8, 1998, I will have been trying to preach the gospel for a half century. During those years I have had a diversity of experiences among my brothers and sisters in the Lord; all the way from births to marriages, to baptizing whole families, to seeing people who knew the truth turn away from it, to serious illness, to deaths of both young and old, and to coming to know the best people on earth. In our experiences as preachers we come to know some people who are extra special; who come to mean more to us than we can possibly describe. We also come to know people as nobody else knows them, and they probably come to know us as nobody else does.
I have often stated what I have never heard another gospel preacher say, namely, “preachers, don’t discount or overlook the advice of godly women.” Maybe others have not had the experience along this line that I have. As a young preacher I think I benefitted more from the advice of the good sisters than from brethren. Maybe it is the mother’s touch on how the advice was given, or just maybe they had an insight that men seldom have. Men’s approach to preachers tends to be more antagonistic or adversarial than that of women. I know there are notable exceptions to this, but it is generally true.
In this article it is my exalted privilege and pleasure to pay tribute to a “mother in Israel” who has meant more to me than words can convey. I moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1961 to work with what became the Expressway church. I lived there almost nine years. I came to know some of the best people on earth, and we had a very fruitful work, though it was very stormy and unpleasant at times.
Justice and Elsie Shull were members at Expressway, and had been members of the old Taylor Boulevard Church for many years. They gave me wonderful encouragement and inspiration in one of the most difficult times of my preaching life. The old Taylor Boulevard church, the largest church in the state, had divided over the institutional issues, and filed a law suit against the conservative brethren (about 200) to bar them from the building. The situation was very disturbing and one in which a preacher needs all the moral support he can get.
I received great support from the elders, and a large majority of the members, and especially from Justice and Elsie Shull. Elsie kind of adopted me as a son, and I came to look upon her as my second mother. She often refreshed my spirit and held up my hands in the battle for truth. Compromise was not a thought she ever entertained, and she loved every gospel preacher who had the courage to contend for the faith. She reminds me so much of Paul’s statements about women he had known in the Lord. He admonished Timothy to treat “the elder women as mothers . . .”(1 Tim 5:2), and he said to Philemon, “And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life”(Phil 4:3).
Elsie was both a lovely and a lovable person. She was a woman of impeccable character, physical beauty, and of great influence in the Expressway church. God blessed her with a physical beauty that is seldom seen which she possessed until the day of her death at age 90, but she was no less beautiful on the inside. A more beautiful “mother in Israel” I have never known.
There are many words that fitly describe this very un- usual lady, such as: righteous, beautiful, generous, neat, gracious, devoted, lovely, loveable, kind, considerate, motherly, supportive of that which is good, sweet, and a lover of truth. Before the Expressway building was finished, I used to hold Bible classes in the basement of her house, and I stayed with the Shulls during a gospel meeting at Expressway, and I can safely say there never was a neater housekeeper than Elsie Shull. Nothing was ever out of place. Her basement was like a living room. Her laundry was neatly ironed and folded and put in its place as neatly as if it were on display in a department store! She was a neat person!
Elsie lived to the ripe old age of 90 years. We corresponded throughout all the years after I left the work at Expressway in 1969. At age 90 she could write a letter as uplifting and inspiring as she ever could. She not only corresponded with me and my family, but with others she came to know through the years.
She said something to me in a letter when our precious daughter died, whom she had known since infancy, that I have never forgotten and which has been a source of com- fort to me ever since. She said, “Jim, don’t worry about Karla, she is in a better place.” It is my firm belief that the same can now be said of our dear Elsie. If our loved ones can converse with each other in that land beyond the sky, I am sure Elsie is still speaking words of comfort.
Elsie, like most people, was not without burdens in her life, but she bore them with the grace and beauty that was so characteristic of her. Her faith was her bridge over troubled waters. Justice preceded her in death by several years. She lived alone for the rest of her life in the beautiful little house they had shared and which Justice probably built, for he was a carpenter par excellence. Some of her children were not faithful to the Lord, which was one of the bitter realities with which she lived and for which she prayed daily. Thank God she lived long enough to see one of her sons and his wife return to the Lord with a devotion seldom seen. It was a much deserved happiness and an answer to a mother’s prayer before she crossed over.
Her only daughter, Bobbi, lost her husband to cancer, and in time she was married to Connie Adams, a well-known gospel preacher. Bobbi, like her mother, is a beautiful person within and without, and has that same devotion to the Lord exemplified by her sweet mother. Elsie greatly admired Connie and his stand for the truth. She often spoke with sadness of the milktoast preaching that characterizes many pulpits among us today, and with becoming pride of the kind of preaching done by Connie, Grover Stevens, Greg Litmer, the present preacher at Expressway, and others she had known and loved.
She is gone but not forgotten, nor will she ever be by those who knew and loved her. She is one of the many special saints I have known in my life as a gospel preacher and her sweet disposition and spiritual devotion will continue to be an inspiration as long as I am in this tabernacle. I express my heart-felt sympathy to all her family and friends and all who were touched and influenced by this gracious and loveable “mother in Israel.” We shall all miss her sweet smile, her beautiful face, and most of all, the inspiration that she was to us all. Heaven is sweeter now!