We traveled yesterday to Jasper, Alabama, a place that evokes fond memories for us. It’s the little town in which Glenn filled the pulpit at the Sixth Avenue church for about five years while my children made life-long friendships and learned some of their first lessons about politics, ethics, and social skills. It’s the place where Caleb put on the Lord in baptism and it’s the place where I lost my mother to cancer. It’s the place where Hannah owned both a fairy closet in her bedroom and an elf wonderland in the backyard. It’s the place where Caleb developed his first little neighborhood “company” at age eleven and where Hannah peddled homemade bread from her little red wagon all up and down our street, coming home with pockets full of change. They were good days. One of the best things about those days was exposure, for our children, to some of God’s most faithful children; children of God who were busy getting ready for their transport to glory.
When we drove past our old house on Wildwood Drive yesterday, recognizing the sheer rapidity of the passage of the days of our lives made me want to be sure I really live in every waking moment of every single day. I remembered our very first evening in that house and hearing the doorbell ring. I remembered Glenn’s eyes meeting mine and his saying “Who could that be?” I remembered looking around at stacks of half-opened boxes through which we’d been searching for bedding. I remembered looking down at myself and thinking that I was a bit embarrassed to be answering the door to this home, for the first time, in this bedraggled condition.
We answered the door, though, and there stood our brother Flavil Nichols and sweet sister Mary. As he always did for every visit, he had on his tie and sister Nichols had on her freshly pressed blouse and skirt and her freshly baked pie (I think it was chess) in hand. We could not even find chairs for them! We looked around and there was our couch, but there were no couch pillows to be found. It sat only about eight inches off the floor without its soft topper pillows, but Flavil and Mary Nichols had a seat there on that hard wooden couch and made themselves the kindest welcoming committee that Jasper, Alabama had ever proffered.
And through the years, Brother Flavil came over many times. He would come over when the youth devotionals were in our home and do the most amazing magic tricks with nine magazines and an old curtain rod on our living room floor. Sometimes he would do them with dollar bills, or with string or with the bathroom mirror. There are two or three faithful gospel preachers that have emerged from that youth group. You see, Brother Nichols knew that he was really about a whole lot more than entertaining young people.
He came over to make a speech about our great nation when we hosted the annual fourth of July parade in our neighborhood. There were watermelon seed-spitting contests, tug of war contests, a fire-truck to lead our parade and Glenn was Uncle Sam, the Grand Marshal. But the climax of the day was the little speech by Brother Nichols. He was, once again, doing more than talking about our country. He was doing his best to make the church look good in our community. He was, as always, about that better country (Hebrews 11:16).
I’m really glad that my children got to know the man we memorialized yesterday. His and sister Mary’s influence was so direct and positive in every way in their little lives. But yesterday, I started to think about all of the people who surely are still being indirectly influenced by the Nichols family in churches all over the world. I would daresay that most Christians today in Alabama, should they be able to explore the history behind their conversions to the Lord, would not go very far into that history without the events intersecting in some way with brother Gus Nichols or one of his sons. They literally taught and baptized hundreds of people in and around Walker County, Alabama. The sons of brother Gus traveled and settled in other states, too, and the influence broadened. There is no way to accurately count the number of gospel preachers who got their starts at the feet of brother Gus or brother Flavil. And the gospel moved on. Missionaries were converted by those who were converted by those who sat at the feet of the Nichols preachers. And the swelling around the eternal throne of God is incalculable.
So it was an honor for Glenn to get to speak to an audience yesterday that was largely preachers at the funeral service of a great man of God.
It’s important for us moms to realize, though, that Flavil Nichols was once a little boy. His mom washed his hands before supper, she mended his overall bib, she rehearsed his memory verses with him and she kissed his skinned knees. At his supper table, every child had to recite a new memory verse each night before turning over his plate for serving up the beans and meat. This little boy sometimes heard his Bible story and was put to bed before his father arrived home from his preaching appointment. And sometimes his father would arrive home asleep on the back of the horse he’d ridden to that preaching appointment. That faithful horse knew the way home. The gospel was the centerpiece of the life of that little boy, who held his first debate about the scriptures while still a teen and began preaching at the tender age of 15.
That kind of rearing renders greatness for the cause. Little snippets from a life of greatness (Mark 10:43), made me want to do the things that Flavil’s mother, Matilda Nichols, did for her children as they grew. Flavil told stories of accepting chickens in exchange for preaching the gospel. Once, at the end of a gospel meeting, he graciously thanked a farmer at a non-paying church, for the gift of a small pig. He just strapped it in a little crate on the bumper of his car and drove home. On another occasion, he went around a small town to which he had moved to preach and paid the debts of the former preacher who had left town owing money to the merchants. He once walked several miles to purchase the unleavened bread and grape juice for the Lord’s Supper for a church that explained that they could not afford those things. (That same church told brother Nichols that they would just pay him whatever the total contribution was that Sunday. When they paid him, he sadly realized that he, himself had contributed more than the amount they had paid him.) No ill-treatment or discouragement even slowed down his proclamation of the gospel. The power that is in that gospel is still emanating from him today. The reunion with those who reached the saving blood because of His work must be very sweet right now. I want my children to be like brother Flavil.
I hope I get to sit down with brother Flavil and sister Mary again one day soon because of that great gospel. I hope you’ll be there, too.