Friday, August 05, 2005

Three Ozark Brothers

Long before I was born, my paternal grandfather, Horace Hodges, died from injuries sustained in a tree-felling accident.

Grandpa Hodges had two brothers, Isam and Robert.

Sometime after the First World War, Uncle Isam was riding a mule back home after a long day plowing the fields for planting when he had a revelation from God. He 'overheard' the Trinity discussing his future, and he understood that God wanted him to become a pastor and thereby plant other kinds of seeds.

He related his experience to some local Baptist pastors, and -- following Southern Baptist practice -- was ordained by them to preach. So, he was already a preacher when he started Bible college at Mountain Home, Arkansas. His calling took him and his family to Little Rock, then to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, then on west to California at a time when roads across the country were still unpaved.

His wife remembered a moment of questioning Isam's "calling" when their car stalled on a mountain out west and began rolling backward down a steep grade on a road with a thousand-foot drop to its left. Somehow, Isam got the car's engine running again and averted disaster. The family ultimately reached the San Francisco Bay and settled in Oakland, where Isam pastored the Golden Gate Baptist Church. Eventually, he founded the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, which is now located in Mill Valley (but has some other campuses).

I visited the seminary in the early 80s, and they allowed me to look through their archives, where I found a letter from my Grandpa Hodges to Uncle Isam, bringing him up to date on family news. Uncle Robert had gone to West Plains, Missouri, where he had gotten drunk, into a fight, and thrown into jail.

I had already known of this story. What I heard was that Robert woke up in jail during the night, reflected upon his wickedness, and began praying. Now, Robert had a deep, resonant voice, so it carried. As he prayed out loud, confessing his brokenness, his voice awakened the jailer, who began listening to a man he'd considered just another brawling drunk, and Robert prayed with such eloquence and power and at such length that the jailer couldn't stand it any longer. He took his keys, flung open the cell door, and told Uncle Robert:

"Go home. Any man who can pray like that don't need to be in jail."

Uncle Robert was a preacher, too. Unlike Isam, he had no formal education, but he was smart, could speak well, and had memorized much of the Bible, so he could preach. In fact, from the reports that I've heard, he could preach like a man with a fire in his soul. People came from all over the county to hear him, and he was called to preach revivals throughout the Ozarks. He had such a powerful presence as a preacher that people in his congregations would sometimes faint from the touch of his hand on their heads as he prayed for them. I never saw this myself, but people who did spoke of it as uncanny.

People knew of his drinking and brawling, of course, but Ozark folks accepted these things as the weaknesses of a man whom the Lord, in His mysterious way, had chosen to carry out His work.


Post a Comment

<< Home