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.