The Early Years – Rise in Influence

By Lewis Willis

The journey that ended in the front seat of my automobile early in the afternoon of May 17, 1997, had its beginning over 65 years earlier in a small sawmill community called Groveton, Texas. I must confess that one would have had to look long and hard for any person who might have given that little boy much of a chance to succeed in anything he might have ever chosen to do.

He was the first child  the first son  born to O. J. and Wilhelmina Willis. My parents were very poor folks! My mother has often said, “We were poor, but didn’t know it  everyone we knew was also poor.” Dad was a truck driver, a logging contractor in the beautiful Piney Woods of Eastern Texas. He had married Mom three days after her 15th birthday. Cecil was born just a few days after their first anniversary. Mom was 16! Someone has said that Mom and Cecil “grew up together” and there is more fact than fiction in that thought. On December 6, 1941, Dad moved his family to Woodlake, Texas where the family lived until a year ago.

Our parents were essentially uneducated. Dad only attended school through the sixth grade and Mom through the ninth. But they insisted on us going to school. Cecil graduated from high school in 1949. Importantly, during the years of his secular education, it was primarily Mom who made it her mission to assure him a spiritual education as well. She took all of her children to Bible study and worship, even to the Ladies Bible Class on Wednesdays!

As Cecil entered high school, the local church hired a young preacher named Bill Thompson who showed a special interest in Cecil. Bill began to talk to him about preaching and Cecil was soon speaking by regular appointments in small area churches. Don was only two years behind Cecil and he, too, was preaching. On Sunday mornings, before the family left for worship, Cecil and Don would leave for their preaching appointments, each driving one of Dad’s log trucks! That must have been a rather frightful sight to behold!

After Cecil graduated from high school, he enrolled in Florida College. He graduated four years later. In the summer of his freshman year in college, he held a meeting at the home congregation in Groveton, Texas on the dates of June 1-8, 1950. In that meeting, our father was restored to duty after many years of unfaithfulness. (Dad is nearing his 90th birthday and he has never strayed from the commitment he made to the Lord during that meeting.) Now, both Mom and Dad were finally involved in the spiritual training of their children. Also, in that meeting, Cecil baptized me when I was 12-years-old. I was the first person he baptized.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 15 p. 1
August 7, 1997