What started with the purchase of 50 bibles has turned into a domestic missionary effort that has resulted in the distribution of nearly 10,000 King James Version bibles by a Fentress County couple who have made Scott County their new home.
And even after distributing that many bibles, they show no signs of slowing down.
You may remember Willard and Sue Garrett from Spring 2016, when the Independent Herald profiled their efforts to distribute bibles throughout Scott and surrounding counties. Except then they insisted on anonymity. Fearing that revealing their identity would cause others to believe they were seeking personal glory instead of glorifying God, they referred to themselves only as “The Bible People.”
One year later, the Garretts are ready to let the community know who they are — not because they want a pat on the back for their ministry, they say, but because they want churches to know what they stand for. And what they stand for is the King James bible.
Willard Garrett fears that he and his wife will become associated with other people’s efforts to distribute bibles — versions that are not necessarily King James Version (KJV).
“Funny bibles” is how Garrett refers to modern translations, like the New International Version (NIV) or the Revised King James. Like many traditional evangelicals, the Garretts believe that the KJV is the only translation that sticks truthfully to God’s inspired word, and Willard Garrett says he and his wife want nothing to do with the others.
“We don’t give anything away except the old King James bibles,” he said. “They’re trying to get us to give out those NIV and revised versions and we’ve refused.”
The trouble, Garrett said, is that churches throughout the community know he and his wife as “The Bible People,” and that can cause some confusion. He recalls a conversation he had with someone at a recent church service. The woman told them she’d heard that he and his wife had stopped to help a stranded motorist fix a flat tire in Morgan County, and that they’d given the motorist some NIV bibles before they parted ways.
“We’ve heard that somebody out there is giving those bibles out and they’re being called ‘The Bible People,’” Garrett said. “The main thing is we don’t want the churches we’ve visited to think we’re giving out the NIV bibles. I don’t know what anybody else thinks about the NIV and the revised versions where they changed everything, but I don’t like them.”
Garrett knows not everyone agrees with him — “the atheists hate us and the people who use this new do-what-you-want-to bible don’t like us,” he said — but his reckoning is simple.
“I tell everybody that there are three of us in our organization — me, my wife and God. God is the boss. If you don’t like what we’re doing, go talk to the boss,” he said.
50 Bibles and a Leap of Faith
Willard and Sue Garrett were childhood sweethearts. They both attended school in a long-closed schoolhouse in Armathawaite, the unincorporated community in eastern Fentress County. But as they grew up, they both got married and went their separate ways. It wasn’t until later in life, when both their spouses had died, that the two reunited, fell in love and got married.
Having lived an adventurous life, the Garretts made a decision that would have made many cringe — they sold everything they owned, rented a home near Oneida City Park, purchased some bibles, and started giving them away.
But even after they started distributing bibles, the Garretts never dreamed that they would soon give away hundreds — let alone thousands. They grew up in the deeply religious communities of the northern Cumberland Plateau during the era of circuit-riding preachers. Back then, pretty much everyone had a bible. And they assumed that was still true.
“I never thought that there would be many people who didn’t own a bible,” Willard Garrett said. “But we purchased 50, and we had given them away in no time.”
The Garretts quickly realized a need, and soon they were distributing bibles as quick as they could get their hands on them, driving throughout the region in their old Jeep Cherokee, which is the only earthly possession they still own.
“That’s all we do: we go to church and we haul bibles,” Garrett said. “That’s our whole life. We go to the doctor once in a while and to the grocery store once in a while, and everything else is bible business.”
Supply & Demand
The Garretts say they’ve delivered bibles to every law enforcement officer, as well as courthouses, 911 dispatch offices, ambulance services and wrecker services in Scott, Morgan and Fentress counties. They’ve also placed bibles in 75 churches and given away a large number of bibles to individuals. Their ministry now extends into Oak Ridge, Clinton and other parts of Anderson County, as they approach 10,000 bibles distributed. They were shocked to learn that bibles were not being donated during relief efforts that followed the deadly Gatlinburg wildfires last fall, so they sent their entire on-hand inventory of KJVs — about 200 — to Sevier County to be distributed.
They credit Oneida Book & Gift Shop, New Haven Baptist Church and RaeZack’s Grill & Deli with helping their efforts to distribute bibles, but they say there is one major stumbling block: availability. To their chagrin, they’re finding that the KJV is in short supply. About a year ago, Garrett said, they started having difficulty getting their hands on King James bibles.
“These publishing companies just put out what sells good,” he said. “The King James bibles aren’t a good seller anymore. So they’re hard to come by, and they’re getting harder and harder to get.”
To keep up with their supply needs, Jim Sawnn — owner of Oneida Book & Gift — orders through four different publishing companies. But stock is still slow to come in, Garrett said. He points to an order he placed six weeks ago for 130 KJV bibles for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department.
“We still don’t have all of them,” he said. “We clean Jim out just as quick as he can get them.”
Finding New Churches
These days, the Garretts don’t necessarily have a home church. There are some they visit more than others — like the Baptist churches at West Oneida, East Robbins and High Point — but mostly, they just find new churches in need of a few extra bibles.
“We go to the same churches over and over,” Garrett said. “Then, after we’re able to get some new bibles, we hunt us a new one to visit.”
At the “new” churches, the Garretts ask permission to leave a box of bibles in the Sunday School room, or in the sanctuary. So far, only one has turned them down. Garrett said he didn’t understand it, but he shrugged it off. Because there are always more churches out there. He tells a story about looking for one church east of Winfield, then finding four more as he and his wife wound along the mountain road.
“Scott County has a lot of churches,” he said. His wife adds, “I think Scott County has more churches than any county we’ve been in.”
The Garretts also tell tales of things they’ve seen in churches that have left them surprised — things they weren’t accustomed to seeing in the churches they spent much of their life in, like a whiskey cabinet in the parsonage, or cold beer being served with lunch to prisoners who were doing on-site work.
“You run into all kinds,” Garrett said.
Mostly, though, the Garretts are encountering God-fearing, faithful people just like themselves. And that’s what they intend to keep on doing, as long as their health will allow it.
“We’re enjoying it,” Garrett said.
He knows he isn’t getting any younger; he’ll soon turn 84, and his wife won’t let him forget it. He laughs that there aren’t many things older than his old Jeep, which just turned 21, but he has the old Cherokee beat by just a few years.
In real years, the Garretts and the Jeep have a lot in common — a husband and wife team and a vehicle that have covered a lot of miles, but are still going strong, doing a thankless job of distributing bibles so that, eventually, every resident of the region that wants one will have one.
That is, as long as the bibles are the King James Version. The Garretts keep their motto on a sticker that is affixed to the passenger-side door of their old Jeep: “The King James bible is God’s perfect word.” And as far as they’re concerned, there’s no reason to stray from that.