Sturgis Mississippi: "Who Hath Despised the Day of Small Things"
W. Columbia, Texas
When God's people returned Babylonian captivity, Zerubbabel laid the foundation of the temple. In spite of great obstacles and widespread discouragement among the Jews, God promised the temple would be completed. How would that be possible? "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. " When his people walk by faith in him, God gives them the strength and means necessary to accomplish his purpose though it does not seem humanly possible. When our efforts and opportunities seem small, we must remember the question God put to his people, "For who hath despised the day of small things?" No matter how small our resources, no matter how powerful the enemy, God is still on the throne of the universe. His eyes "run to and fro through the whole earth" (Zech. 4:6-10).
The eyes of the Lord run to and fro in Mississippi. In 1974 God saw lost souls hungering for the gospel among the black people in a rural area near Sturgis. The gospel was preached and several were baptized into Christ. The Lord was grieved when the liberal Lee Boulevard church in Starkville took the oversight of the Sturgis church (including control of its treasury and property) rather than teaching the brethren that each church is autonomous under Christ. Through the efforts of Mike Hurst beginning in late 1987, God opened a door for the saints in Sturgis to learn the truth on institutionalism. They removed their kitchen facilities and in early 1988 requested that their treasury and the deed to their property be turned over to them. They received their treasury but not their deed.
The liberal Starkville church first offered to sell the Sturgis church the deed to the Sturgis building for $35,000! Through the counsel and help of brother Thomas D. Keenum, Sr. (lawyer and elder in Booneville), Sturgis offered $17,000. The brethren felt it was better to make this offer than to engage in a bitter and protracted court battle over the legitimate legal claims to their property rights. Bobby Holmes and Ron Halbrook offered to inform brethren far and wide of the situation, with the confidence that God would help us to raise the money.
In November 1990 the Starkville church transferred the deed to a third church, the Hwy. 82 church in Starkville. After first agreeing to give Sturgis time to raise $17,000 in return for the deed, the Hwy. 82 church sold the property to a denomination, leaving the Sturgis brethren without a place to meet! As faithful brethren around the country began to hear of this cold-hearted injustice, they began to answer our appeals for help in raising money on an individual basis for a new building for the Sturgis saints. Though our brethren in Sturgis are small in number and poor in worldly possessions, they are rich in their faith toward God and in their loyalty to the gospel of Christ.
Thanks to the generosity of many brethren who sent donations small and large, a piece of land was bought and a new building has been erected. Nearly $25,000 has been given, most of it in small amounts. So many people sent donations that it has been impossible for the Sturgis brethren to personally acknowledge each gift. These grateful saints have asked that we use every possible avenue to express their heartfelt love and appreciation to each person who responded, whether by prayers, donations of money or materials, encouraging words, labor on the meetinghouse, or in any other way. The following paragraphs are a firsthand report by Bobby Holmes on the construction of the building.
Thank God - And Brethren Everywhere!
The new building for the saints in Sturgis, Mississippi has become a reality. After many months of praying and planning, we met at the building site on the morning of August 24 about 7:00 A.M. and began our work. The names of all who came to help are too numerous to list though they are listed in Heaven (53 total during the week), but, some I must mention. Brother Bobby Whitton from the Dallas Avenue Church of Christ here in Lancaster, Texas furnished the transportation with his pickup that he used to pull a trailer loaded with air conditioning equipment, all kinds of scaffolds, and other building equipment, and also a van that six of us rode in. Brother Whitton furnished the A/C equipment at his cost and installed it free.
"The bunch " which came from Alabama included Johnny and Jackie Richardson, J.F. Dancer, and several others. Brother Buford Black offered to install the vinyl siding and saved us $2,450 on that item alone. Brother Ivan Logan drove all the way from Montgomery, Illinois Thursday to help. Two Spanish brethren who preach (Jesus Guerrero and Miguel Rocha) drove all the way from near the Mexican border to help (some 1,200 miles). They first stopped over in Dallas, Texas the week before to hold a gospel meeting, and then used the money that was paid to them to pay their own expenses to Mississippi.
I cannot express the feeling that each received as we worked together side by side to accomplish the task before us. There was complete unity and harmony in all things. Some of the wives came also and worked together with the sisters of Sturgis to prepare and deliver the noon and evening meals to us. We affectionately referred to them as our "Meals on Wheels" bunch. They prepared such good food and lots of it. By the end of the first day we had the building completely framed with all the inner and outer walls up. By the end of the second day the decking was all on the insulation boards on the sides and ends were all on and some sheet rock on the walls. By the end of the third day the building was completely wired. (Brother Sammy Splarm from Mt. Pleasant, Texas furnished the labor with his coworker Ken Johnson. He also furnished all the wiring, etc.).
We had preaching Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. We had an average of some 35 people with visitors from the community each service. There were many comments by both saints and sinners about real Christianity at work in this effort. Brother Alexander Caldwell from Memphis, Tennessee, a young gospel preacher there, heard about the work at Sturgis and went down and visited the saints there to discuss the possibility of preaching for them on a full-time basis. They very much wanted him to come and he agreed to move to Sturgis. I believe this will be "the icing on the cake" in regards to the continued work of the Lord in Sturgis. The saints there are thrilled about this development.
When we left on Saturday morning there was about 10% left to complete. The front doors and the ones into the auditorium had to be special ordered, and some of the brethren from Alabama went back to Sturgis on September 3rd and spent two days completing that part and some other things that were left. Brother Black also completed his work on the siding. At the time of this writing, there are several other items that are yet to be done such as painting the inside, installation of a septic tank system, pouring of the sidewalks, gravel for the parking lot, and tile on the floor. There is a real need for an additional $3,000 to be raised to complete this project.
So many have sacrificed so very much, and to each of you I say for the saints of Sturgis, "Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts!" There were many tears and hugs of thanks before the meeting broke up Friday night. It is a dream come true! If you can help in raising the rest of the money needed, please send your contributions to The Sturgis Church of Christ Building Fund, P.O. Box 418, Booneville, Mississippi 38829. 1 want to express my personal gratitude to all who came and labored. Several took vacation time and there were many that wanted to come but because of circumstances were unable to do so. Thank each of you for your prayers and deep concern.
A Message to Starkville's Liberals
Let the oppressors of these saints in Sturgis take note. To the leadership of the Lee Boulevard church in Starkville, Mississippi, who through guile took the property away from these poor saints, God says he will judge the secrets of men one day.
Each of you will answer for your ungodly ways. The following Scriptures should cause chills to run up your backs. You have sinned against God and against these precious souls. You will answer for your ungodly deeds at the judgment bar of God himself!
Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." Psalms 59:5 says, "Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors." Proverbs 13:15 says, "Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard." These same Scriptures apply to the leaders of the Hwy. 82 church that received the deed of the Sturgis saints property from Lee Boulevard, sold the property to a denomination, and knew it was not right!
There was nothing honorable or ethical, nor any resemblance of Christianity, in any of the deeds that were done in this matter. There is an all-seeing eye that takes in every deed that we do. May you hear and fear, and may that lead you to repentance before it is everlastingly too late! You may have won the battle, but you lost the fight! Real Christlike love has prevailed and the empty shell of liberalism has been exposed for what it is. These saints paid a price for truth, but like Job, were rewarded with more.
Observations on the Sturgis Story
A few observations are in order. First, a few souls lost in the darkness of institutional liberalism can still be reached when exposed to the truth, as can be seen with the brethren at Sturgis, but most liberals "have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return . . . their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased" (Jer. 5:3,6). The conduct of the Lee Boulevard and Hwy. 82 churches in Starkville shows how the liberals, by and large, have seared their consciences. Their shrewd maneuvers in taking the Sturgis brethren's property shows that "they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge" (Jer. 4:22). They are emboldened and feel justified by their apparent successes, popularity, and prosperity. "As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen fat . . . and the right of the needy do they not judge" (Jer. 5:27-28). It is ironic that an apostate movement built partly on false, emotional pleas for the church to "help the needy" (translated: send donations to "our" human institutions) can run roughshod over brethren who are so poor in this world's goods.
Second, this situation shows the emptiness of liberalism's plea for communication and unity. When the Sturgis church asked that its autonomy be respected in keeping with the New Testament, the Lee Boulevard and Hwy. 82 churches answered by taking the Sturgis brethren's church building from them and selling it to a denomination. That is real 14 communication" and "unity"! During the Dallas meeting (July 12-14, 1990), speakers on opposite sides of the institutional issues studied together in an open forum. Cecil May, Jr. (President of Magnolia Bible College in Koscuiusko, MS) denied that the opponents of institutionalism had been quarantined by the liberals. He pled for open lines of com munication. Since brother May lives close to Starkville, Ron Halbrook wrote him letters on November 8 and December 24, 1990, informing him of the travesty being perpetrated on the Sturgis brethren, and pleading with him to appeal to the Starkville brethren on behalf of Sturgis. The second letter to brother May pointed out that the Starkville elders cut the line of communication which had been opened in an effort to help Sturgis. This letter said in part,
I know from your comments at the Dallas Meeting that you believe the charge that we have been quarantined is false, in spite of the editorial space and commendation given to a letter calling for that very thing in the 18 November 1954 Gospel Advocate. The brethren at Sturgis are being quarantined and put out of their meeting place of 17 years, unless they would like to "purchase" it for $30,000! Since these black brethren are very poor, felt helpless, and were at a loss to know what to do, brother Holmes tried to intercede on their behalf. He is now quarantined! I hope that I can expect an open line of communication rather than the yellow tag of quarantine from you.
Remember, the brethren at Sturgis are not newcomers, squatters, or robbers. They don't wish to deprive Starkville of anything but only ask that their building not be taken from them! . . . . This church is still sincerely committed to following the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, just as when it started. All they are asking is to be respected and treated as a separate, autonomous church under Jesus Christ. Will you speak up for them? I hope you will.
Think of depriving people purchased with the blood of Christ of their meeting place, and then "negotiating" to "sell" it back to them! And where will these poor saints find the money? Only a hardened conscience could perpetrate such an injustice, or be quiet in its presence. I can't be quiet. Can you? I hope not.
Ron Halbrook also wrote to Darrell Holt, preacher at Hwy. 82, on January 31, 1991, pleading with him "to teach the Hwy. 82 brethren they have no scriptural right to hold the deed of another church's property."
All of these letters and appeals were ignored, but an answer has finally come. The Magnolia Messenger for October 1992 carries a picture of the new brick meetinghouse built by the Hwy. 82 church, which seats about 200. It was built with the money gained by selling the Sturgis church building! Brother May rejoices with brother Holt over the "progress being made by the Lord's people in the Starkville community" (p. 8). Communication and unity in the minds of liberals mean the power to crush the poor and needy who serve the Lord and who refuse to bow to the Baal of apostasy.
Third, in spite of all the rejoicing and gloating of the enemies of truth, the gospel of Christ in its purity and simplicity will be faithfully proclaimed in the Sturgis community. These saints have continued to meet and teach the truth as best they could throughout this ordeal. The community has seen a demonstration of the faith and love shared by God's people as Christians from around the country labored together for a week constructing the new building. The interest of people in the community is running high.
Brother Alex Caldwell has just moved from Memphis, Tennessee to Sturgis, ready to strike while the iron is hot, ready to follow up on new opportunities for preaching the gospel. The saints at Sturgis are ready and willing to work with brother Caldwell. They are anxious for the unsearchable riches of Christ to be preached without compromise, anxious to learn, anxious to bring others to hear the truth, anxious to help Alex make new contacts and get into the homes of people who need to be saved. (See the "Sturgis Report" from brother Caldwell.)
Two needs remain. About $3,000 is needed to finish paying off some outstanding debts and expenses on the church building. Individuals are invited to send their tax-deductible donations to the Sturgis Church of Christ Building Fund, P.O. Box 418, Booneville, Mississippi 38829. Individuals and churches are requested to consider the needs of Alex Caldwell for regular support as he labors with the church in Sturgis. Brother Caldwell is 34 years old, attended Florida College one year, gained practical experience with other preachers before entering full-time work, and has been successful in located work. Few black preachers stand openly against institutionalism, but brother Caldwell stands solid as a rock. He also preaches the whole counsel of God on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. His work is well known to brother Bob Bunting in Memphis, Tennessee (phone: 901-373-9250).
Who can despise the day of small things when Christians have shown such great faith against such great opposition and impossible odds? All who have had any part in helping the dear saints in Sturgis have been blessed (Acts 20:35; Jas. 1:25). It is a privilege to join our hearts and hands with those who are not ashamed to suffer for Christ. What does the future hold for this church which has come so far in spite of its fiery trial? Brethren, with the courage and stedfastriess of the Sturgis saints and with the zeal and soundness of Alex Caldwell, the cause of Christ will grow and spread in Sturgis. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 23, pp. 712-715