You Are My Brother

What constitutes a brother? The same hair style? The same color eyes? The same likes and dislikes?

by Perry Wells

I grew up in a small country home. I would like to emphasize the word small. It was four rooms and that was not four bedrooms by today’s standard. I had a brother who was a year younger than me. My other brother is fourteen years younger than me. My mom gave him to me for my fourteenth birthday and I have been bearing children since then.

I have had a brother for as long as I can remember. I did not choose my brother, he just came along.

What constitutes a brother? The same hair style? The same color eyes? The same likes and dislikes? No. A brother has the same father and mother. Everyday my dad worked and came home in time for the evening meal. He had a problem in that he thought he owned our little house and the inhabitants who resided in it. He insisted that we all be at the supper table when he came home. This did not mean in close proximity to the table, but seated at the table.

After supper we had to give him an account of the activities of the day, which mostly consisted of school and chores. Farming was an all day job and performing chores could last into half of the night.

Our mother won every fight my brother and I had. She would settle all of the differences we had before my dad came home. It was important to her. She knew he was coming home and everything needed to be taken care of before he arrived. You can believe me when I say we did not want to bother dad with the differences we had encountered!

Now that I am grown and on my own and paster a wonderful church with wonderful people, I have a new set of brothers and sisters. We all have the same Father, who is Jesus Christ. We have the same Mother, which is the Church. And we have all be baptized into One Body, which means we all share the same last name. We need to settle our differences with our Mother as the mediator before our Father comes home. By the way, our Father is due any minute!

You are my brother. Is everything right between us? If I have wronged you, I am sorry. If you have done wronged against me, I forgive you.

We are all brothers, I love you, keep up the good work!

Things That Matter

Isn’t it funny that baby animals learn so much faster than we do? A baby deer will be up and on it’s feet within a couple of ours of being born, but it could take a child more than a year to learn to walk. It is a curious thing. It’s not that humans are unintelligent. More than likely you are reading this on a handheld device with more computing power than the technology NASA used to put men on the moon. How can we be so intelligent, yet so vulnerable? Such were the musings of my dear friend. Admittedly, I’ve never heard a rhetorical question that I didn’t think needed answering, but there is an answer to this existential pondering.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27

There were a lot things created in the first chapter of Genesis. No, all things were created in the first chapter of Genesis, but only mankind was made in the image of God. Before there was government, before there was a church, there was a family. God has a high view of the family. Nathaniel Wilson said that, “God, the almighty, could have called himself anything, but he chose to call himself Father.” With the knowledge that as a Father I am responsible for teaching my children everything, there also comes a sobering weight of responsibility.

At my baby dedication, my pastor and grandfather, Brant Douglas Reynolds, summed up the complex role of parenthood, admonishing my parents to, “Teach him to brush his teeth, but teach him have clean speech. Teach him to comb his hair, but teach him to keep his mind pure.” As a parent, I’m responsible for feeding my children natural food, but also food for their minds. I’m to help them learn to walk, but also to show them how to conduct themselves in society.

In the information age, we have to be selective about what we are going to teach our children. Not only because there is false information, but because vast amount of information available, it isn’t possible to learn everything that can be learned. As parents we are the curators of the ideas and skills that we want to instill in them.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

I would do my children a grave disservice if I trained them up to do something in their childhood and then expect them to do something completely different when they become adults. What a tragedy it would be to learn that what seemed all important in your childhood was now completely irrelevant in adulthood. As sad as that is, it’s far worse to learn that what you did in your life had no weight in eternity. I want to concern myself with matters of eternal significance. I want to teach my children about the eternal kingdom of God.

In my journal, I often write my clearly defined beliefs on things. I do this in order to practice articulating ideas. But I also have a fanciful idea that my children will pass the journal down and it may come into the hands of a relative that I have not met. My prayer is that they will read these journal entries and the ideas and beliefs will not be foreign to them.

I have compiled a short list of things that matter that I feel a grave responsibility to teach my children, and am not willing to leave to chance. I want teach my children to have good manners. I want them to know how to treat people with respect. I want to show my children how to be a good father, and a good husband. I want my children to be good citizens. These are all honorable aspirations, but there are a few things that are even more important than these.

The Word of God is Infallible

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: II Timothy 3:16

As much as I would love to just give truth to people, especially my children, they must make that investment themselves.

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23

There is Only One God

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine hear, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thing hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

It’s easy to put this at the top of the list, because God makes it a priority throughout the Bible.

Jesus Christ is God Manifested in Flesh

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Colossians 2:8-9

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, ) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us word of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:19

You Must Be Born Again

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about baptism. I was once at a funeral where the officiating minister quoted this scripture with the addendum that ,”being born of the water was natural child birth.” I instinctively cried out, “No!” If I don’t teach my children that baptism is important, someone else is going to tell them that it isn’t necessary.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

Baptism fulfills the covenant of circumcision.

In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also yea are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:11-12

Above all, I want my children to be saved. At the birthday of the church, the Apostle Peter answered the direct question about salvation: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Acts 2:38-39

All of these things matter to me. I’ve got to be responsible for what happens in my home.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Testimony Service

Testimony service was time set aside in each church service intended to give the saints an opportunity to stand and share what the Lord had done for them during the week.

I grew up in the latter part of the 20th Century and as a result, I was able to experience a few things that didn’t carry over into the 21st Century. Things like reading the newspaper everyday, taking pictures on film, and handwriting letters to send in the mail to the girl that you met at youth camp. Some things from that era I fondly remember, like three liter Cokes, and some things I am grateful to leave behind like long distance phone bills and dial up internet. Then there are somethings that I remember with mixed emotions, like testimony service.

 

Nursing Homes

I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to take small children to sing at the nursing home, probably some adult who did not take into consideration how terrifying elderly wheelchair bound people can be to a five year old child. I was probably too young to go, but my parents were committed, so I went to everything. The nursing home we chose was a dismal place. The residents looked completely defeated, the staff had a martial air about them and the whole facility gave you the feeling of complete hopelessness, more like a prison than a care facility. Perhaps the one we visited was simply outdated, but I’ve visited others as an adult and I get a similar feeling.

I was too young to read so I was only obligated to sing from memory. My brother Zach, and Corey Barber did not get off of the hook so easily, since they were capable of not only reading, but counting too, which enabled them to use the Sing Unto The Lord hymnal. Sis. Vivian, Corey’s grandmother sat at the piano with her back to us and called out the page numbers to the each hymn as she played. In our church, we hardly called a song by it’s name, but rather used it’s page number. “Please turn to page 315.” Page 315 was Jesus Hold My Hand. Page 94 was Amazing Grace. As Zach and Corey turned the right page, Sister Vivian would play  an intro on the piano, and by then we were ready to sing. I’m sure our mothers enjoyed it. I think the residents might have just enjoyed seeing some small children, even if they had trouble hearing us. I did not enjoy it. I wasn’t miserable, I just wanted to play.

It was during one of these fidgety moments, probably about the third song, that I decided to pinch Zach on the rear end. He whipped around mid chorus of I’ll Fly Away and gave me a mean look and probably would have hit me but everyone was watching. In the midst of all this the music and the singing never stopped. Mom came and grabbed me by the hand led me to the side of the makeshift auditorium. It was really more of a wheelchair parking lot. Barring this incident, the show kept right on going. As Mom focused on singing I wondered around on the fringe of a crowd.

As we were about to leave, Mom went up towards the front to do something, possibly sing and I was left alone in my seat. One of the residents, an elderly lady in a hospital bed, pointed to me with a crooked finger and said in a weak voice, “Come here to me little boy.” Rear end pinching aside, I was an obedient little boy and I went straight over to her and said, “Yes Ma’am.”

She took my hand and put it on the back of her neck and said, “Scratch here.”

I would like to pause here and give some advice. If you are ever in a strange place and an elderly lady in a hospital bed asks you to scratch her neck, don’t do it. It’s a trap.

No amount of preliminary lecture on my behavior could have prepared me for a situation like this. There I was, not even in Elementary School, in a nursing home, doing the very thing that my parents had spanked me for not doing, minding my elders. As I was scratching the lady’s neck, a nurse rushed over and took my hand away. “Don’t touch the patients.” She said firmly. I didn’t get a chance to explain myself as she led me to Mom.

I’m glad to report that during my subsequent visits to nursing homes over the past twenty five years I behaved myself much better, although a lot of time I still get that same dismal feeling. I will also add that unless you’re playing like Merle Travis or Chet Atkins, don’t bring your electric guitar to the nursing home.

 

Vacation

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up.

I only ever remember taking one family vacation growing up. I was two years old when the whole family went to St. Louis, Missouri to visit some family friends, Sharon and Richard Davis. We drove Dad’s little red Mazda four cylinder pickup truck with a camper on the bed. Lindsay was under a year old so she was privileged enough to ride in the cab with air conditioning and the radio. Zach and I rode in the bed of the truck the whole trip. Mom was kind enough to give us a blanket to sit on and plastic three liter Mountain Dew bottle in case we had to go to the bathroom, which was great fun. We had no clue that this was not the proper way to go on vacation. Mom and Dad must have wanted to get away real bad. I remember falling into the penny pool at the bottom of The Arch, and being rescued by Andrea, the middle Davis girl.

For the rest of my life, we didn’t really go on vacation. I’m not even sure what a normal vacation is supposed to be like. If it’s what I think it’s supposed to be like, we couldn’t have afforded it anyway. What we did find a way to afford and what we looked forward to more than anything was spending time in Montgomery, Alabama at the Alabama District United Pentecostal Church Campgrounds on Pike Road. The original building was built in 1918 as one of the first schools with grades 1-12 all under one roof. At the time, High School was considered higher education, hence the “High”. The Alabama District had purchased the old brick school in the ‘70s and converted the classrooms into dorms and used the auditorium as the sanctuary. There was a big “Debt Free In ‘73” Plaque in the old lobby with the names of people who had donated to help pay off the mortgage early. My grandfather’s name was on there. By the ‘90s, a new sanctuary had been built beside the old school, I remember the new sanctuary always being freezing cold, I think they trying to make that air conditioner make up for all the years that it was absent. I didn’t complain, we didn’t have air conditioner at my house until I was eight and I think my parents had the same mindset.

There were four different week long camps held each year during the month of June: Crusader Camp, Jr. Youth Camp, Sr. Youth Camp, and Camp Meeting. Each of these camps roughly coincided with elementary school, middle school and high school, with camp meeting being for the whole family. Every June from the time I was eight until I was nineteen, I spent at least two weeks at the campgrounds for the various camps held there.  Camp was so great an influence on my life that it became one of the annual events that I still use to measure the years in my life, the other being Christmas. The focus of each camp was the same: Church. The daytime would be filled with games and activities, and the night time we would have church. There was also a day church session.

Crusader Camp was my introduction to camp. I remember The Hoppers were the feature children’s evangelists. I was and eight year old from a small congregation in a small town, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like a minority. Our church taught gender distinction and to put this doctrine into practice, I only wore long pants (and still do) and my sister only wore skirts or dresses that covered the knee (and still does). Perhaps this dress code was a little redundant seventy five years ago when ladies had only just begun wearing pants, but glancing at the current gender identity crisis we have in America, I think we made the right choice. I’ve always stuck out- perhaps not as much as my sister- for dressing modestly, and Crusader Camp was the first time that I didn’t feel like an outsider. This was the longest that I’d been away from home in a single stretch. I had so much fun that I could have stayed another week.

I remember one year the air conditioner died in the dorms and the heat was unbearable. At about midnight, all of the boys were led out to lie down on the cold cafeteria tile, and the girls went to the freezing sanctuary. As soon as the counselors got everyone to stop giggling and lay down, the air conditioner came back on and we had to gather everything up and go back to the dorms. I’m very thankful for air conditioning.

Jr. Camp is when I really wanted to start playing the guitar. The two main events were softball, and choir. Since social media was not on the scene and  good decade away  from saturation, we were just excited to be able to hang out with our friends and we didn’t really need an event packed day to have the time of our lives. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive, so we would just sit and talk at the snack bar if we didn’t play softball. I loved playing air hockey at Jr. Camp, but what I looked to most was hanging out with friends, especially girl friends. The premier event at Jr. Camp, and Sr. Camp for that matter, was the Pizza Banquet on Thursday night. Guys would ask a girl to be their date and we would eat Domino’s Pizza after service in the back of the sanctuary. While we were eating, we would have Midnight Madness which is a lot tamer than it sounds. There were skits, messy games, music, but mostly comedy. People were easier to entertain before YouTube and social media.

In a time before cell phone cameras, we would buy a few disposable Kodak film cameras, snap terribly framed group pictures, and order double prints so we could share them. There is something ceremonial about viewing your pictures when they come back from the one hour photo at Wal-Mart. You sit down on the couch and pass the pictures around and relive the moment, a week or so later. It seems that camp was one of the only times I thought it was important enough to take pictures and I have a stack of pictures from different events at the campgrounds over the years. I remember feeling a lot cooler than I look in these pictures.

By the time I was old enough to go to Sr. Camp, I had already made a host of friends and I looked forward to seeing them at camp every year. By my second or third year, I was playing guitar for the worship team. I don’t remember the first time that I got to play guitar at camp, but I know that Bro. Stan Davidson had a hand in it. Getting the opportunity to play guitar at Youth Camp when you’re fifteen was a pretty big break, and I’m still thankful for that opportunity. Playing at Youth Camp opened the door to play at Camp Meeting. I don’t want you to think that I was an amazing guitar player at fifteen, I was painfully average, but playing in front four or five hundred people forced me to excel. Men like Stan Davidson and Zane Isaacson believed in training young people. They made me feel like a real musician and encouraged me to keep at it. Encouragement is something that was lacking in my community. People who could only whistle would criticize you for trying to learn an instrument. Camp provided me with confidence and opportunity to be a musician.

Something that always plagued the campgrounds was an outdated septic system. Not only were the pipes laid in 1918, the system wasn’t big enough to accommodate a small army of teenagers. Every year someone had to work on the septic system in some capacity. By the time we were teenagers, Zach and I were also emergency staff members. One year the sewer line got clogged sewer line, and Zach had to help out, I was fortunate enough to be at band rehearsal, so I got out of helping that time. When they opened the release valve, sewage sprayed about fifteen yards. When he was done with that job, he just threw his clothes away.

Once a year, not during the camp season, we would make our way to Pike Road to help out at work week. I’ve helped tile bathrooms, paint doors, but what I did most was clean and haul away trash. One year Zach was helping run a piece of conduit under the sidewalk for an electric line. The pipe was hung up under the concrete sidewalk. “Hold on, I think I can feel it.” Zach said to the man on the other side of the concrete and reached his hand down to see if he could pull the pipe through. At the same time the man on the other side of the sidewalk shoved the pipe. The pipe cut Zach’s finger pretty bad and it started spurting blood. He grabbed it and ran into the kitchen with the whole host of workers following him. After we washed the finger off it was still bleeding really bad and someone said, “You better take him to the emergency room.”

My Dad, said, “We don’t have any insurance.”

This reply was met with a smirk by the man who had shoved the pipe. When Bro. Mike Hartzell saw this expression, something came over him and he took Zach’s hand and said with authority, “Let’s pray.”

After everyone prayed, Zach pulled the wet paper towel away from his hand and we couldn’t even find the cut.

I heard some life changing sermons at that old campground. I used to buy all of the tapes at the end of the week with the money I had earned hauling hay. I still have a big stack of those tapes at home, although they are a little warbly from years of listening. There is one tape that has a reserved spot on my desk at home, “The Things God Measures” by Rev. Doug White. I can quote much of it. “The book of Ezekiel, chapter 40…God wants to know how big your altar is…” I remember that night like it was yesterday. I felt God calling me to preach in the altar call after Bro. White had measured out about a hundred yards of rope as an illustration of the line of flax. There were other memorable speakers from the various camps that I distinctly remember, J.T. Pugh, C.M. Becton, Paul Mooney, Mike Chance, and Wayne McClain. I remember being so tired from staying up all night that I fell asleep on the front row of the day session at Camp Meeting one year. I’m ashamed to say that this happened while Bro. Becton was preaching.

I also made lifelong friendships at camp. Back in the days before everyone had a cell phone and the internet was a luxury, we used to get a booklet with every camper’s name and address. It was a thrill to get a letter in the mail, especially if it was from a girl. I had my first crush at camp and we corresponded through the mail until the long distance phone rates went down. I hope that she could read my handwriting. It took a lot of courage to call knowing that her father could answer and I would have to ask to speak to her.

There was a distinct culture at camp and unless you experienced it, it might seem odd and a bit hard to understand. Sort of like someone trying to explain a real vacation to me. I wish the Pike Road Campgrounds story could go on and on, but sadly it must come to an end. In recent years, the Alabama District made the hard decision to sell the campgrounds for a myriad of reasons. This put a seal on my childhood. Sometimes, we adults would like to go back to being kids, but it’s not possible, we can only remember. I hold the memories that I made every June at camp very dear. Temporal things will not last, and even memories fade, at least for now I still have those tapes and pictures.