Volume V, No. 4, Summer 1978
A VISIT WITH REV. J. L. STONE
as told to Beverly Barber, Photography by Beverly Barber
Reverend J. L. Stone has spent his entire life as a devout Christian. He has spread God's word throughout the Ozarks in more than fifty churches, preaching wherever he was needed and making a lasting impression on all those who knew him. We feel fortunate to call him our friend and to share remembrances of his life and times.
When I was a boy, winter nights I skated on a great big pond near our house. One night I stayed out there till midnight. To get home I had to go by a house where a little old lady lived. One morning when I went by there, this dear old lady said, "I don't know how I'm going to pay you." I said, "Pay me? For what?" She said, "My son-in-law has been here quite a while boarding off of me. He saw you go by his window the other night about midnight. He got up that morning and said, 'By golly, Liz, I'm going to leave. There's a haint that looks in every night. It couldn't be a man in zero weather.' And he left." I wouldn't want to give any names there but that was so funny because people used to be afraid of ghosts.
My Pastor when I was a boy used to go home with us for dinner. He'd pat me on the back and say, "Now, Jimmy, you go on like you are and you'll be an angel when you get to heaven." But he was wrong about that. We won't be angels. The angels will be our servants according to the fourth chapter of Hebrews, and I wouldn't have gone to heaven because I wasn't saved yet. But I didn't have any bad habits of any kind, so he thought I was all right. One problem I had, though, was I liked to get the pulley bone of the chicken. We didn't have a refrigerator, so when it was time to cook dinner, we'd look at the crowd to see how many chickens to kill. But when the preacher came to our house, we'd just kill one. Mother'd pass it to him and he'd take my pulley bone. And when the platter'd finally come around to me, I got the neck.
When I was fourteen, that was in 1910, I went to Oklahoma to pick cotton. You got sixty cents for picking one hundred pounds. That's a lot of cotton. The sack was three feet wide and eleven feet long. It would be full of cotton when you got one hundred pounds. On Sunday everybody drank but me. They drank and gambled. They didn't gamble for much, but they'd play cards but I wouldn't. I never played cards, never smoked, never swore or anything like that. I thought I was a Christian, I didn't know. But the next year I got converted at a big tabernacle meeting on the courthouse lawn. That's the way I was saved. I just went and knelt down. I didn't know what to say, so I just said "Lord, forgive my sins and make me a Christian," and He did. That night I sang all night. My sister said, "Ma, your son's gone crazy. He sang all night and I couldn't sleep. He's crazy." I talked to her the next day and she got converted and we sang all together.
I wanted to be a missionary. A man named Dr. Stewart was going to be a missionary in Africa. He gave a talk and said there was a great need in Africa for missionaries. I went up to his hotel room and said, "I'll go with you." He was fortifier years old. He said, "We'll have to go by faith. I'm too old for foreign missions to recommend me going. We'll have to go by faith."
I said, "I'll go with you by faith. God can do anything. I'll go with you down there." But before he went, I came back here to the Ozarks and read a book by Dr. Norman B. Harrison, His in the Life of Prayer. On the first page it said there were 500,000 people in the state of Missouri with no gospel and no religious training. So, I thought, "Well, I'll try to reach all of them." I decided I'd try it so I came back here. In my first meetings, during the first two weeks, I baptized fifty-nine people on the fourteenth of May, 1933, at Welch's Spring. The next week I baptized twenty-four more. That was eighty-three in May of 1933. They asked me to be their minister, but I didn't want to be a pastor because I was an evangelist. I wanted to do like the Gideons. I wanted to go out and preach to thousands every Sunday.
I had been working as a conductor on the streetcars in St. Louis, but I gave up the job. I held it for quite a while longer so I could go back and work once in a while. In those days I could preach to one hundred people and get ten cents. Of course, they gave me the best food in the world, and I could stay all night in anybody's home--sleep with the kids. But I didn't get much money because they didn't have much.When I came down here my boss in St. Louis said, "Jim, I don't want you to quit. You'll starve to death down there." I said, "Frank, I won't starve. The people'll give me plenty of food. I'm not afraid of that. They won't give me any money, but I'll trust the Lord for it." He said, "I think you're crazy, but I'll go along with you. If you come back every ninety days and work one day, I'll hold your seniority. You may need it."
I had sixteen years seniority then. So when I would go back, he would ask somebody, "Some of you fellows that have a regular job and are ready to go to work, lay off work and let Jim work." He wasn't a Christian. But they'd do it and I'd come right back. So that way I still had work but I had to go back to St. Louis to work.
When I came down here I made a rule I'd never tell anyone I needed money. There's times when I've been down to the last penny, but I'd never tell anyone but the Lord. One time I started from here to St. Louis. I had preached to 150 people, and I think I got five cents in the offering. They had the best food in the world and they gave me that, but they didn't have any money. So I got to St. James and needed gas. I walked in a gas station and got me a bottle of pop for a nickel--you could get it for a nickel then. I started talking to the man about his salvation. He said, "Well, if you pull that car over here, I'll fill it up." And he put fourteen gallons of gas in it. So I got to St. Louis.
I've been down to the last penny a lot of times and I've missed a lot of meals at noon; but I'd make it up in the evening at somebody's house. Lots of times I didn't have a dime to get a bowl of chili or even a nickel to get a hamburger. I don't think it hurts now. But I'd feed at somebody's home and could eat all I wanted.
One time I needed a hundred and eighty dollars. This church asked me to preach since their preacher had been called out of town for a funeral. It was Wednesday night. I said, "Yes I could. I just got in and I can preach for you." I needed the hundred and eighty dollars and the lady I was staying with knew that. She was quite older and she lived by faith, too. I went over and preached. The man in charge of the money got up and said, "If you enjoyed that message, you just hand that preacher something as you go out." I'd just take the bills down in my pocket and didn't look at them. Then when I got home, I still didn't look at them. I was tired and sleepy and went to bed. The next morning I got up and went down and ate breakfast. I pulled out that money and we counted out one hundred and thirty dollars. At nine o'clock I got a letter from the treasurer of that church. He said, "I got fifty dollars from the treasury and I'm sending it to you." The lady I was staying with said to me, "Now you got what you needed, one hundred and eighty dollars!" That was a real joy.
The Lord will always give all of us something we need. He's faithful. He'll take care of you. Philippians, 4:19 "Now God shall supply all your needs according to his riches and glory, by faith." By faith, by Christ Jesus, so we don't need to worry about it.
The Lord will answer your prayers, too. I started down this long icy hill once. The back end of the car was getting in front. I had to make a square turn at the bottom. I asked the Lord to straighten it out and that prayer was pretty short. I said, "Lord, please get the back end of this car straightened up so I can make this square turn." The back wheel hit a stump and straightened out and I made that square turn. And so the Lord answers prayer thousands of times--so many times when I needed it.
Another time I was at school. The teacher said, "Get up and talk to these kids," and I did. I said, "How many of you kids have a Bible?" Not one of them knew if they had a Bible at home. I said, "If you'll memorize fifty verses between now and when I come back next month I'll give you a Bible with your name on it in gold." I didn't have the Bibles. I didn't have them done. I never told anybody I needed them--only the Lord. Just before time to give them the Bibles, I had a letter from a Gideon in St. Louis. He said, "I bought Bibles for a church and I got twenty-five too many. If you can use them let me know." I mailed him a letter that day and told him to send them. I got the Bibles just in time. I got the kids' names put on in gold. Twenty-five stood up and said their verses. Three of the boys were honest. They said, "Brother Stone, we can't say them by ourselves. We can say them with the group." I said, "Well, since you're honest, I'll give you the Bible anyway."
I'd never tasted coffee. But one night I was driving to St. Louis and I was tired. I had to have something to wake me lip or I couldn't get to St. Louis. I saw a light and went in and got a cup of coffee. It was a tavern and there was a young couple running it. I talked to them and they were converted. I stopped by later on to get some gasoline and asked what happened to that tavern. The fellow told me, "I don't know. Some guy came along and talked to them. They got converted and decided that wasn't a good business for them, so they quit." So it's a good thing I needed the coffee.
When I worked on the streetcars, I preached the gospel to the passengers. Sometimes on Sunday they'd ride to the end of the line so they could hear the rest of the sermon. Sometimes my passengers got converted, sometimes they didn't. Once a fellow got on my car when I was a conductor. There was another fellow sitting in the back seat. The first fellow pulled out a knife and said, "Now I got you. I'm going to kill you." I stepped between them and said, "Now wait a minute. I don't know anything about your troubles, but I have to protect my passengers and you're not going to touch that man." He said, "Get out of the way, I'm going to kill him." He had that big knife right in front of my heart here. I said, "now put that knife up." "Well," he said, "I can't stay on here without killing him," so he got off.Once I went down to Texas. I had a friend down there who had preached for me in St. Louis. He wanted me to come down. I went down there and I preached the first day. I suppose there was a couple of thousand people there. I just walked in and my friend saw me and said, "Here's Jim Stone. He'll preach right now." I got up there and preached. That's the way we had to do in school. They'd hand you a text and say, "Preach on it." While they introduced you, you made up your mind how to do that. You had to have an approach to your sermon, three main points at the least and a conclusion. You had to figure that out in a couple of minutes. Well, I went up there and preached. My friend knew I could do it when he said, "You come preach right now."
I started this church out here--Emmanuel Chapel--forty-four years ago. We didn't have any money when we started building it. I borrowed the materials and money. I guess I looked tough so they thought I was honest. In St. Louis I borrowed four thousand dollars. I didn't know the man. He said, "I've heard a lot about you and I believe I'm going to loan it to you. There's no use to sign anything because it's all by faith. If you fail, I'll have to tear down that church and put up a drawing house." So he loaned me the money. Everybody worked, including me, even though I didn't know how to do a lot of it. I was like the Irishman, I got the best job in the world. I'd carry up the brick and the other fellow would do the work. We got the building done, and in a little while we had 276 people packed in there. It wasn't anywhere near as big as it is now.
We didn't have any money back then. Now we've got money, more than we did have, but we've not had the conversions. We had conversions, I think, every day.
I've had a wonderful life. I've preached to the poorest and to the wealthiest, at least in the big churches. Now my great-grandson--he's five years old--put my Bible under his arm and said, "Take my picture, I'm going to be a preacher." And one of my granddaughters graduated from college and is marrying a preacher. I think they're going to Europe as missionaries. I've had a wonderful life. I wouldn't take a million dollars for my experiences.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.