#willienelson #randywillis #earlcampbell
Happy Birthday, Willie…
#willienelson #randywillis #earlcampbell
Happy Birthday, Willie…
April 15, 1900
Amiable Baptist Church
Father had taught me much about being a cowman, and about life, too. He encouraged me to write it all down on my Big Chief writing tablets he’d bought me. He said it was so that, “Those who come after us might not make the same mistakes.”
I heard tell the crappie were biting down on Cocodrie Lake. But, this being Easter they’d just have to wait to jump into my boat. Our Dominicker rooster’s crowing reminded me I should start loading the wagon for church. I was truly excited, for Father had been asked to speak that day at Amiable Baptist. Father was frail but up to the task. There would be a huge supper on the grounds after church.
I’d told Mama we should have Easter eggs. A friend of mine from Spring Hill Academy told me all about them.
He said, “When my folks lived in Germany, they decorated eggs at Easter.”
Mama replied, “That will never catch on here. The hens would revolt, and me, too.”
“Mama, they hid them, too.”
She looked puzzled and asked, “Why in the world would they do that? Were they that ugly?”
“Not to worry, Mama, a rabbit then helps them find the eggs.”
“Son, I’m going down to that school tomorrow to see if they’ve been into the cooking sherry.”
I quickly changed the conversation. “Mama, what did you bake for the supper on the grounds?”
“Apple pie, of course. And, your father has butchered a hog, so were taking a smoked ham from our smokehouse, too. You know, son, Baptists love to eat. Some I know are digging their grave with a fork.”
Mother then added, “You know your Grandpa Daniel, Sr. was the pastor there for many years. He died a year and a week to the day after you were born. He was cut from the same cloth as his Grandfather Joseph Willis, and he even planted more churches than he did. He was the best man I ever knew. It was his words of wisdom from the Book that gave me strength to go on after the deaths of your brother and sisters.”
As our wagon rolled down the red dirt road I could see the church steeple pointing toward Heaven. It would forever remind me of Father’s words that day. As the folks gathered, father arose and slowing walked to the front of the crowd. Elwa held his arm to steady him. He spoke with a frail voice.
“Now, friends, as you know, I’m no preacher. But, I’ve been asked to speak a few words of my father, who is buried a few yards from here.
“But, then again, he’s not there. Now, some of ya might be thinking that’s not true. You might say, I was at his funeral. Others of you saw him in his open casket. A few of you helped lower his pine box in the ground, shoveled dirt on it, too.
“I can only explain why I believe that by using his own words about the loss of his Preacher. If you don’t mine, I’ll read them.
“’It was a sad day—the saddest day ever. For you see our Country Preacher had died. I trusted him. I’d staked my future on him. But now he was extinguished like a flickering candle in the wind. The young Preacher’s enemies, and there were many, had won. Success had eluded him, for you see he didn’t have enough money even for a grave, much less a marker. Fortunately, a kind soul gave him one.
The womenfolk buried him on a Friday, for you see none of the men could be found, save one.
“’Oh, yes, he’d made some promises, big ones too. The kind no man could keep. But, he now had faded as the autumn colors. As victors, his enemies would surely exact revenge on his friends, so they hid like rabbits in a hole. One broke his promise and denied him. Still, another betrayed him. Many others even hated him. He was rejected by the religious folk of that day.
“’The woman didn’t seem to be afraid though, and three days later went to the cemetery to tend to him. But, he was not there, for you see the Country Preacher had risen, just as He said he would. One of the women told his followers He was alive. After seeing all He’d done, one of friends even doubted that.’
“Today, many doubt that story, too, but I don’t. Now, my friends, that’s why I know my father is not in that grave cross the road. Because if it could not hold that Country Preacher, it cannot hold my father, or me one day in the not so distant future. He had taken death, the grave, and even Hell captive. I have but three words to say. They’re the three greatest words ever spoken: ‘He is risen.”’
As father ended his words, mother stood and began to sing, “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior.” We all joined in, “Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!”
Yes, I was the first in line for Mama’s apple pie…but first I accepted the truth of my father’s words when I walked to the front of that church and knelt and asked Christ to come into my life and take over. For, you see, he arose for me, too, and you, too!
Suddenly watching paint dry was exciting to me….
Destiny by Randy Willis
Available now at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733567402
Joseph Willis preached the first evangelical sermon west of the Mississippi River in 1798.
He was born into slavery. His mother was Cherokee and his father a wealthy English plantation owner.
His family took him to court to deprive him of his inheritance, which would have made him the wealthiest plantation owner in Bladen County, North Carolina in 1776.
He fought as a patriot in the Revolutionary War under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox.
His first wife, Rachel Bradford Willis (a descendant of William Bradford) died in childbirth, and his second wife died only six years later, leaving him with five young children.
He crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez, in 1798, at the peril of his own life, riding a mule!
He entered hostile Spanish-controlled Louisiana Territory when the dreaded Code Noir (Black Code) was in effect. It forbade any Protestant ministers who came into the territory from preaching.
His life was threatened there because of the message he brought to Spanish-controlled Louisiana!
His denomination refused to ordain him because of his race until November 13, 1812, when Joseph Willis constituted Calvary Baptist Church at Bayou Chicot, Louisiana.
He went on to plant more than twenty churches in Louisiana.
On October 31, 1818, Joseph Willis founded the Louisiana Baptist Association at Beulah Baptist in Cheneyville, Louisiana. Joseph Willis founded all five charter member churches.
After overcoming insurmountable obstacles, he blazed a trail for others for another half-century that changed American history.
He was Randy Willis’s 4th great-grandfather.
Rooted in a time of tradition and chivalry, she discovers a land of innocence lost.
Steamboat Paul Jones
Two fathoms deep
Mississippi River, near Natchez
Joseph Willis had turned ninety-five in 1853. He decides to see the sights along the Mississippi River one last time. His swimming the mighty river on a mule-days are long since passed. This time he will travel on the Steamboat Paul Jones from Natchez to Baton Rouge. A cool breeze breaks up the unrelenting sun. Joseph places a wet towel around his neck to relieve the heat.
The steamboat passes another one loaded with convicts. Joseph sits on the main deck next to a seventeen-year-old boy whom the leadsman called Samuel. They both are watching the colossal paddle wheel churning the muddy waters when the boy turns to Joseph. “How do they navigate in these shallow waters? It looks unsafe!”
Before Joseph can answer, the leadsman throws a knotted rope overboard and yells, “Half twain! Quarter twain! M-a-r-k twain!”
“What does that mean, Mister?” The boy crosses his arms while pushing his glasses up.
Joseph leans forward. “It means it’s the second mark on the line, two fathoms—twelve feet deep. That’s the safe depth for this steamboat. We’re in safe waters now.”
Samuel waves an offering of thanks to the leadsman. He also opens up to Joseph, explaining how his father died of pneumonia when Samuel was eleven and how he dreamed of being a steamboatman.
“Tell me more, Samuel.”
“I wasn’t expected to live when I was born. My brother and sister had already died of childhood diseases. Mother said God spared me because He had plans for me. She made me remember Bible verses. I washed that down with Shakespeare and read everything I could. Mother insisted I never throw a card or drink a drop of liquor, although I did occasionally slip off and smoke my corncob pipe.
“I figured no one was perfect. That is, until a late night thunderstorm convinced me that God wanted me to mend my ways, so I put my pipe aside. My righteousness did not last long, for I developed an aversion to slavery. Our local pulpit said it was in the Bible that God approved of it. It was a Holy Institution.
“After seeing a dozen men and women chained together to be shipped down the river, I determined that the church and I worshipped a different God. Those slaves had the saddest faces I’d ever seen, and the slave traders were human devils. My Father never laughed, yet he never was as unhappy as those slaves. It all made me want my dream even more.”
“Tell me about that dream?”
Samuel’s eyes sparkle. “When I was a lad living on the banks of the Mississippi, in Hannibal, I could see the steamboats go up and down the river. I wanted to ride one. One day a big steamer moored up at our little town—this was my chance. After all, I’d already fished away the summer.
“The steamboat advertised it was a ‘lifeboat’—I reckoned that meant it was safe and would provide the time of my life. I reckoned wrong—at least about the safe part! It was the kind of lifeboat that wouldn’t save anybody.
“I became overjoyed to be on a real sure-enough steamboat, enjoying the motion of the swift-moving craft until it commenced to rain. When it rains in the Mississippi country, it rains. The rain drove me to cover. I realized it was not a lifeboat when the rain was almost my demise. I thought I would die as the red-hot cinders from the big stacks came drifting down and stung my legs and feet. Would I ever see my home again?
“For some reason, Mama’s supper came to my mind. I expressed my desire to get off that boat. They put me ashore in Louisiana. I finally made it back home.
“Mister, please excuse me if I was a little edgy when the leadsman yelled mark twain. I thought it meant something bad.”
“Just the opposite, son.” With a slow smile, Joseph assures him they are safe.
Samuel raises his thick eyebrows. “Where you headed?”
“Only as far as Baton Rouge,” Joseph mutters, fanning himself from the heat with one hand. “Seven thousand people have died this year in N’Orleans from the yellow fever epidemic. I want to go to Heaven—but not today. Baton Rouge is far enough.”
“Your story of the lifeboat wrongly advertised reminds me of Louisiana’s Governor Johnson.”
“How’s that, Sir?” Samuel asks, scratching his head.
“The good Governor got the great state of Louisiana to build the state prison in Baton Rouge. I’m considering visiting those inmates we passed earlier and tell ‘em about a real lifeboat.”
“What kind of boat is that, Mister?” Samuel gazes at Joseph.
“One built many years ago by a feller named Noah. His boat was mark twain, too—safe from the dangers that lurked in the murky waters below. That boat had no helm, for it was not guided by human hands.”
“I love a good story, Sir. I fancy myself as a storyteller. Would tell me the rest of it?”
“Be glad to. God told Noah He was going to destroy the Earth because of its wickedness. But, God was also going to provide a way of protection from His judgment. The Lord told Noah to build a boat—a boat of safety, if you will. The Good Book says Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That was the first time that word appeared in the Bible. Noah received the unmerited favor of God. Grace provided deliverance from the Lord’s judgment.
“Now there was a lot to be done. The Lord told Noah to build the boat out of gopher wood. We call it cypress in Louisiana. It will not rot in our lifetime.
“’Put pitch on the inside and outside too,’ the Lord insisted. The word pitch in the Hebrew means atonement. We need to be in Jesus just as Noah needed to be in that boat. As the storms of God’s wrath beat upon the ship, the winds of God’s wrath would later beat upon the Lord Jesus. If we are on the inside, not one drop of judgment can come through. We are sealed with that atoning pitch—Christ’s atoning blood.
“It took Noah more than 100 years to build it. It takes a lot of faith in the Lord’s promise to do that. The boat was built like an ancient coffin. There was no steamboat pilot to guide it—only God.
“The Lord gave precise instructions. ‘Set the door of the boat in its side.’ There was only one door to pass through to escape God’s judgment. Jesus is that one door.
“By faith, Noah and his family entered the boat. Once they were all inside, the Lord shut the door. God sealed the door—not Noah. ‘Put a window in the top of the boat, Noah, so you can look to Heaven for all your needs.’
“God had Noah build rooms in the boat. There is a room for me. There is room for you—for the asking.
“Noah’s boat floated many days. It finally landed on Mount Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. That’s our April 17th—the same day Jesus rose from the grave. Noah went into the boat with little, but when he came out, the entire world was his.”
“What is your name, Mister?”
“You should be a preacher.”
Joseph smiles at the irony of that statement. “Grace provides our Salvation. Grace provides our Savior. Grace provides our security—grace keeps us. But, we all must choose to put our trust or not to put our trust in God’s ark of salvation—Jesus. There’s still room in that ark of safety.”
“I reckon Heaven goes by favor.” Samuel exhales. “If it went by merit, we would stay out, and our dogs would go in.”
“That’s a clever way to put it. You should be a writer.”
Joseph Willis died in 1854, at age ninety-six in his beloved Louisiana. Forever in the ark of salvation—Christ.
#destiny by #randywillis
Destiny is a powerful epic with love stories, battles, testimonies, drama, politics, history, and even humor.
The sweeping family saga spans four centuries.
Inspired by true stories.
Available now at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733567402