Editor’s Note — This is the second segment of an autobiography of Rev. Hobert L. Wright, recorded on audio cassette tape shortly before his death. Born into poverty in a remote section of Scott County, Wright spent much of his life in the ministry. Perhaps most notably, his sermons were among the first in the northern Cumberland Plateau region to heavily promote the practice of tithing, which was a controversial subject in the early 20th century. From walking seven miles to reach a church where he held the pastorate to working “full time” for a monthly salary of $20, his story paints a picture of what life was like for rural ministers in the early 20th century.
Of all the experiences I have had with this God I am serving, I have learned most that He is a God of mercy. He is a God who will forgive any sin. If you ask Him without Jesus, He won’t hear you. Jesus is the only man who ever walked the earth and lived a perfect life. He is the son of God. He is in heaven now, pleading for my sins and your sins.
I rededicated my life to Him and thought that I had given all that I had. But He called on me again. He said, “You promised when you surrendered your life to me that you would do anything I wanted you to do. Now lift up your head and look at the field that is ready to harvest. There are a lot of good people in this country. They are my people. I made them. I created them. But they don’t know me. I want you to go out there and tell them about me. Tell them about how Jesus carried their sins up Mt. Calvary and nailed them to the cross. He gave his life that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”
I thought that I might be able to win over my buddies. In my mind, that was the first job I was going to do. But let me tell you something: if you are called into the service of God, don’t get it into your mind that you can do as you please. If you want a blessing, you will do what He says for you to do, whether you like it or not.
One of the greatest hindrances I had in accepting the call to preach the Gospel was my lack of education. We were poor people here in the mountains, with only three months of school each year. We had a teacher who taught us to read and write, butI could never much more than sign my name.
I looked around me and saw that all of my schoolmates were better educated than I was. I said, “Lord, why don’t you call one of them to preach?” I didn’t want to be a preacher. When I was a little boy, I always thought I would like to be a preacher, but at this time I was a young man trying to raise a family. I wanted to be a good citizen, raise my family, and make a show in the world. But God needed me, just as He needs you.
Despite my lack of education, I surrendered to the Lord. God said, “You furnish the man and a mouth to speak with and I will do the work. I will tell you what to say.” I was uncertain where to start out, and it amazed me when God told me where I was to start. He said, “Hobert, I gave you a good-looking girl for your wife, and I gave you those children to make you happy.” My wife was a good woman but she had never been saved. God said, “The first job that I want you to do is get her saved. Make her a religious mother; a mother who knows how to raise her children right.”
A few days later, the pastor of the Black Creek Baptist Church and another old preacher came over and said that they were going to hold a revival at the church. We were looking forward to a time when the revival would start and I was praying all the while that God would give me a chance to do something for Him in that revival. And, of course, He did. He always answered my prayers when I got earnest about it.
So I joined the ranks of the preachers trying to win souls for Christ. God blessed us wonderfully. When the revival was over, I went to Sunday school. I had never tried to pray a public prayer, but the Sunday school superintendent called me to one side. He said, “Brother Wright, how about you leading us in an old-fashioned prayer today?” I said, “Brother Maynard, I will do my best.” And I did. I know the old devil tried to make me think that everyone would make fun of me, but I said, “Satan, get behind me. The Lord asked me to do this and I told Him that I would, and I am going to lead prayer every time God wants me to among these people whom I love.”
So I was a happy young man trying to learn how to serve God. We didn’t have any colleges around here; we didn’t have any big schools for me to go to. And I didn’t have any money, no how.
Growing in the ministry
I kept on as I had promised God I would. God also called on another young man, one of my schoolmates who was very sharp-minded. Roy Blevins had learned more than I had by the time we got to the point where we didn’t have a chance to go to school. He knew the Bible a lot better than I did. He could read better than I could. He could write better than I could. We had played together, hunted together and fished together.
We didn’t have any preachers around here in the mountains. The two little churches — Black Creek United Baptist Church and Black Creek-Crossroads Missionary Baptist Church — were the two places most of the young people attended. They had old oil lamps on the wall for light in the night services.
So, here we were in the mountains, in a little old church where the message had somehow gotten through to us. We appreciated what the Lord had done for us, and He was with us. We were just trying to get people to recognize that God had so much power, that he could pour the rain on both the just and the unjust, and He could bless whomever that He would. We let him lead us in revival and we saw great results.
I was ordained in August 1926. Bro. Roy was ordained with me and one week later we started out on our mission. We went to a little community called Blaze Gums and held a revival. They had not had a revival there in about 15 years. We preached two weeks and baptized 13 people. It made us feel good to see mothers shout because their children were giving their lives to the Lord. And we kept on holding revivals in little country churches. We would go from church to church, preaching the word of God.
We were like young squirrel dogs. Every time a squirrel dog hits a scent, he barks and runs this way and that way, then trees up every tree around. He doesn’t know exactly which tree the squirrel went up. That is the experience I had in trying to preach God’s message as a young minister.
At this point, I was 30-some years in age. I had a wife to clothe and feed. We had babies coming to our place every two years, and they had to be taken care of. It took money. I was still trying to preach, and I always picked up every job I could to support the family God had blessed me with.
On one occasion, God led me to Helenwood Baptist Church to hold a meeting. Helenwood was four miles from where I lived, but four miles was more like 10 miles now because the four miles had to be walked to get there.
I went to Helenwood and stayed over the weekend. I inquired about a revival and the pastor there discouraged me. He told me that the church had already voted to bring in a pastor from Harriman to help with a revival.
The preacher they were getting was the man who brought the message that won my soul. He had been successful there before and they felt he would be successful again. But what we feel is right and what we think is not always right. We don’t feel like God does, and we don’t think like He was.
Nevertheless, I went back home and didn’t lose any sleep over what had happened. I was satisfied, and they went on with the revival in Helenwood.
Meanwhile, I went to an association meeting, which lasted three or four days, and let a preacher there talk me into holding a revival at the church for him. That was a mistake. I was not listening and letting God tell me what to do. I was listening to preachers instead.
I went on with the revival. When I closed it out, I awoke Saturday morning and there was two or three inches of snow on the ground. The snow had fallen early that fall. I had to wade through that snow to get home, about five or six miles away. That taught me a lesson: let God lead; don’t listen to men. A preacher has to live and learn.
In the meantime, when the revival was finished at Helenwood, they had one person to baptize. I thought my burden was gone and I could sleep good at night. But when I found out the preacher had gone home without much success, God said to me, “You go to Helenwood like I told you to do.”
I headed to Helenwood to see the pastor again. I knew I would receive worse discouragement than ever, because they had to finance the other preacher pretty heavily. The deacons had worked hard to raise money to satisfy the evangelist.
I talked to the pastor and was discouraged, as I expected. We preached Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night, then dismissed the service. I thought it was over. But my uncle asked me to stay the night with him. I rolled the bed from one side to the other until after midnight; I couldn’t sleep a wink. Finally, I got out of bed and found a pencil and paper. I wrote a note to tack to the post office bulletin board the next morning.
The note said, “A revival service will start tonight at Helenwood Church.” I thought we wouldn't have but a handful of people show up, but I went anyway. There were more folks there than I expected.
We had services all week. On Friday night, when I was about halfway through my sermon, I saw Luther Phillips, a deacon in the church, sitting on the first seat on the left-hand side of the church. He was drinking down every word that I said. I can tell when people are feasting on God’s word. I knew all about Bro. Luther’s family: he had five unsaved children at home.
When the service was over, he came to me and said, “Brother Hobert, I want you to go home with me.” I went, and the next morning he and I took a walk towards the barn. He said, “Brother Wright, I made up my mind last night that I would go all the way with you at this revival.”
I said, “Brother Luther, I know what was holding you back. You raised all the money you could for the last preacher. I don’t care if I stay here a month and don’t get a dime out of it. If I can just get some relief and some sleep it will be worth it.”
By the end of the week, we had the best revival there had ever been in Helenwood. At the conclusion, we baptized Luther’s five children. It was the most successful revival I held in all my work as a pastor or evangelist.
The third installment of Hobert L. Wright’s autobiography, in which he recalls becoming a full-time minister,, will be the subject of the June 2018 installment of Focus On: Religion, which will appear on this page in the July 26, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.
This article is the June 2018 installment of Focus On: Religion, presented by Huntsville Manor on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's "Focus On" series. A print version can be found on Page A3 of the June 28, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.