By Jason E. Stringer
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations, ask your father and he will show you; your elders and they will tell you.”
When I got the news that brother O.J. Willis had passed away, I must say that it had an effect on me. I got home the other afternoon and there was a message on the machine from Elsie Hale to let us know of his passing, and then I checked my e-mail and there was a message on a list service to which I subscribe from Mike Willis giving the information that I had just heard from Elsie. I must admit, that when I found out O.J. had passed away I had an emotional moment akin to those you feel when you have lost a close relative. My eyes welled up with tears for a few minutes and a touch of deep sadness filled my heart. I hadn’t seen O.J. in a number of years. For the past couple of years I had mentioned to my mother that we needed to go and visit him and Wilhelmina, but time just never was there. It’s sad too, because I don’t think he ever knew what kind of an influence he had on me, my brother, and other young folks that went to church in Groveton when he was there.
Often times living in Groveton when mom or pop would invite someone to attend services with us they would often say, “Oh, nothing but old folks go there,” as their excuse for not coming. I don’t think any of them meant it in a derogatory fashion, but the connotation was that as far as children were concerned, the Highway 287 church of Christ had only a handful, mainly my brother and myself. At times we longed for companionship at church of those in our own age group. We couldn’t go and spend the night at friends’ houses on Saturday night because we knew where we were supposed to be on Sunday morning, and going somewhere else wouldn’t be right. But, having grown up in a congregation with “nothing but old folks” I can see some true advantages I had over those who had a younger crowd to hang around with.
First of all, they taught us. In Bible classes they gave us solid information that came from years of experience in serving the Lord. In Deuteronomy 32:7 we have a reading from the “Song of Moses” where he says, “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations, ask your father and he will show you; your elders and they will tell you.” Having the benefit of the wisdom of these “old folks” was far better than having anyone our own age to play with. They helped to bring us to a maturity far greater than any amount of play with our peers could have. Someone once said, and I can’t remember who it was, “Those who do not learn about the past are destined to repeat it.” We learned about the past. The struggles they went through to maintain their faith and to fight the liberal influences that came their way. Far better teaching than we could have gotten anywhere else.
Second, they taught us the importance of brethren to one another. We all need each other, and we cannot deny it. Not only for our spiritual well-being, but in a lot of instances for our physical and mental well-being. In Hebrews 13:1, the Apostle Paul, if he is the writer of He- brews, and I believe that he is, states, “Let brotherly love continue.” A short verse, but filled with power. Many of these “old folks” didn’t have anyone but their brethren. Some had children who lived far away and they never really got to see them. When there was a problem they called one of their brethren. Romans 12:10 sates, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” I saw these “old folks” open their homes to one another. Take care of each other and love one another enough to say, “what’s mine is thine.” My mother always said that when she got old she hoped there was someone like O.J. and Wilhelmina Willis to take care of her. As I sit here and think about it I know of three brethren, right off the top of my head, they shared their home with for years.
There were many other things I learned from these “old folks” that would take too much space to mention. But one more thing is appropriate. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus said, “. . .be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” I learned faithfulness from these “old folks.” If people like O.J. and Wilhelmina, Jim Money, Butler Thompson, Madge Hill, James Turpin, Jody Harrott, Fred and Ruby Morris, and many others weren’t at the church building when the doors were open, we knew that they were sick and just couldn’t make it.
Hebrews 10:25 says, “Forsaking not the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” No matter how they felt, and many times they were in pain, agony, and misery, most of these “old folks” were in the assembly. Their bodies may have ached, their eyes may not have focused just right, their hands trembled many times, but they knew the rewards of faithful service to God, and I thank God that I was able to witness that faithfulness myself.
I suppose an ideal thing would be for children to have a good mix of “old folks” and their peers in the assembly. We need to go about and do our best to train children so that their will always be a faithful group of brethren teaching the truth. However, if and or when I ever have children of my own, if I have to make a choice between the congregation that has the high percentage of younger people or a high percentage of “old folks,” believe me, I choose the “old folks.” They did so much for me when I was young, and I want my children to have the benefits.