Saints in Sturgis, Mississippi Suffer for Christ: We Can Help!
Bobby R. Holmes
West Columbia, Texas
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matt. 5:10-12).
We can well understand it when people who do not profess to be believers persecute the people of God, but it is ironic and especially sad when those who claim to be servants of God abuse his people. "So persecuted they the prophets which were before you," Moses was called the meekest man of his day because he endured repeated opposition and abuse at the hands of the very people who claimed to believe in God (Num. 12:3). Jesus Christ himself was delivered to be crucified by the religious leaders of the Jewish nation "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (Jn. 1:11).
Apostate movements among God's people breed disrespect for God's Word and contempt for those who stand in the way of digression. Of all the things Paul suffered, none could have been more painful and frustrating than the blows of false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26). Paul warned, "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers . . . . For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:2,18). This was not a warning about atheists but about digressive brethren who bite and tear, and do damage to the cause and the people for whom Christ died! John, the apostle of love, said that digressive brethren not only reject apostolic doctrine but also abuse brethren who insist on following the apostolic word (1 Jn. 2:9; 3:10-18; chapt. 4).
There is a dear band of saints at Sturgis, Mississippi, which is not ashamed to stand with Christ and with all who have suffered for truth and right throughout the centuries, They are not afraid or ashamed to suffer for Christ, though they are few in number and poor in this world's goods. They are strong in faith and rich in love for the Lord and for the truth of the gospel. We can help them in the midst of their great trial of affliction.
The Sturgis church began in 1974 with the conversion of Lela McCarter. The meetinghouse is located in a rural area some three and one-half miles off State Highway 12 between Starkville and Sturgis, Mississippi. Recognizing the need to preach Christ to the black race, the Lee Boulevard church in Starkville helped to plant the Sturgis church. The history of the relationship between the Starkville and Sturgis churches is a classic example of the results of the liberal movement within the body of Christ in departing from the Bible pattern on church organization and other things.
When a very small church building was constructed at Sturgis about 1984, these brethren were put under the oversight of the Lee Boulevard church, located fifteen miles away in Starkville. Sturgis was even required to send their Lord's Day contribution to the Lee Boulevard eldership, which in turn took care of paying the bills. The Sturgis meetinghouse was built by a combination of efforts and labors by members from Starkville and Sturgis, but the deed to the Sturgis property was put in the name of Lee Boulevard and was held by them, through the years. Later, a larger meetinghouse was built next to the small one (which was then used for classes and a kitchen for social meals) but, again, the whole thing was kept under the oversight of the Lee Boulevard eldership.
In late 1987, a young preacher named Mike Hurst was attending Mississippi State University in Starkville. He heard of the small church at Sturgis and inquired about preaching for them since they were without a preacher at the time. Mike began preaching on Bible authority, local church organization, and related subjects. The Sturgis brethren also began reading Truth, a bulletin published by the Dallas Avenue church in Lancaster, Texas (edited by Bobby Holmes). As a result of plain teaching from God's Word, the Sturgis church realized it had no business allowing another church to "assume oversight" over them and immediately shook off the chains of liberalism.
Not only have the kitchen facilities been removed, but other important steps have been taken. A letter was sent to the elders at Starkville. It read in part,
The men of the Sturgis Church of Christ, in the business meeting of January 24, 1988, reached the conclusion that the church here must be totally independent of the Lee Blvd. church in handling its own matters, financial and otherwise. In a study of God's Word, we find that each congregation is to be independent of all others. In 1 Peter 5:13, the elders are charged to "tend the flock of God which are among you, taking the oversight thereof. "We have both violated God's Word. We in allowing you to take the oversight of this church and you in doing it. We cannot help the past but we can correct the present and protect the future. Please read Acts 20:17 and 20:28.
The letter respectfully requested "that the Lee Boulevard church turn over to the Sturgis church the deed to Sturgis church property and all monies accruing from the Lord's day collections of the Sturgis church." Though Lee Boulevard offered no records to verily their accounting of the Sturgis church's money, they answered by letter that Sturgis was due less than $500.00 and transferred the money to the Sturgis church's own bank account.
The Lee Blvd. elders refused to transfer the deed for the Sturgis church's property to the Sturgis church. At first Sturgis was told they could continue to meet in their building rent free, but then later they were told they could purchase their property for $35,000! Lee Blvd. pretended that this was fair because they had paid off part of the loan from their own treasury. Sturgis offered to make arrangements to pay back that amount, to no avail.
On 26 November 1990, Lee Blvd. transferred the deed for the Sturgis meetinghouse to the name of a third church, the Highway 82 church in Starkville. This is another liberal church made up of black members, to which some of the Sturgis members had moved their membership several years ago. Next, the Hwy. 82 church wanted $200.00 rent per month from Sturgis. When the Sturgis church protested this move, Hwy. 82 said Sturgis could continue to assemble in their meetinghouse until the property is sold. At that point, Sturgis would be evicted.
Being poor, unknown, and isolated, the saints at Sturgis asked us to help them to find a solution to their problem. Both of us (Holmes and Halbrook) have preached there. We made a trip to Mississippi the week of 26 November 1 December 1990 to preach, to encourage the brethren, and to see what more could be done. We have consulted with gospel preachers in Mississippi, with lawyers in three states, and with other brethren. We are not alone in our interest in the Sturgis brethren. Clark Buzbee preaches for the sound church in Starkville and is well acquainted with the problems at Sturgis. He graciously helped to get someone to go out to Sturgis so they could have monthly preaching. J.F. Dancer at Grenada has driven one hundred miles to visit the church at Sturgis and to encourage them during gospel meetings. Wayne Fancher an elder from Grenada has accompanied brother Dancer. Frank Butter, now of Shelbyville, TN, and Roosevelt Johnson of Columbus, MS have also come to help. Other brethren who have preached or otherwise participated in the services at Sturgis include Kyle Smith (Grand Prairie, TX), George Slover (San Marcos, TX), and Gene Lyles (Brady, TX).
What about the church building? The Sturgis brethren have legitimate legal claims to their property after all these years, even though their deed has been held in trust for them by Lee Blvd. Sturgis could defend their property rights by appealing to a court of law, but who among God's people wants to see that happen? To take that course would raise all sorts of doubtful questions, gender strife, consume thousands of dollars, drag out for years, and even then perhaps end in a miscarriage of justice. The simplest and safest course is to negotiate a more reasonable price on the property and seek to make a financial settlement.
Thomas D. Keenum, Sr. is an elder in a faithful church and an attorney in Booneville, MS. At his own expense, he has done research, offered advice, and served as a neutral and fair negotiator. Through his efforts, the Hwy. 82 church has agreed to sell the Sturgis brethren their property for $17,000.00. Hwy 82 first insisted on a 1 May 1991 deadline, but brother Keenum has gotten us more time.. The Sturgis brethren are in a strait without financial resources. Donations from church treasuries would not be appropriate, but we are asking - even pleading -for individuals to help our brethren at Sturgis who have suffered so much for the cause of Christ. We must not let them lose their meeting place by indifference to their plight. Raising funds is not easy. After all these brethren have-suffered and sacrificed, let us suffer and sacrifice with them by meeting their need.
Brethren Keenum and Buzbee have agreed to help Sturgis by providing a detailed and accurate accounting of every penny received. They are not asking Sturgis or anyone else to pay them for this service, nor will they organize any institution, corporation, or board. They are not taking it upon themselves to make decisions about how the money received will be spent. They are acting purely as individuals to aid Sturgis. Every penny received will be applied to this property settlement and not a penny will be requested beyond that amount. This need is most likely to be met by the average person who can give $5.00, $25.00, $50.00, or $100.00. Send whatever you can to Sturgis Church of Christ Building Fund, P.O. Box 418, Booneville, MS 38829. Your contribution is tax deductible. To "provide things honest in the sight of all men," checks written from this account will be cosigned by Thomas Keenum and David McCarter of the Sturgis church (Rom. 12:17).
To appreciate the love of the Sturgis brethren for the truth, consider what they did when the butane gas used to heat their building ran out the night before a Saturday morning service during Bobby Holmes' gospel meeting in February of 1988.
With the temperature at 16 the next morning, you can imagine how it was in the building. Most people would have simply called off the morning service, but not these people. They came to hear a lesson from God's Word and they stayed. They had already been told the heat was off, but they came anyway. Now folks, that's having a love for truth (Truth bulletin, 21 Feb. 1988).
This devoted band of 20-25 tries to spread the gospel to their friends and neighbors. Visitors at gospel meetings include denominational people. There is good potential for this church in the days and years ahead. Appeals to Scripture and the autonomy of each local church have been made to the churches at Lee Blvd. and Hwy 82, to no avail. Purchasing the property at a negotiated price is the only viable solution. Our liberal brethren will hear neither God's Word nor the cries of his oppressed people who love the truth. Their cries are entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts (Jas.5:4). Let us hear them, too!
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 14, pp. 422-423