If you get your news from traditional news sources, you might believe that God is on the run, if not on the ropes. In some places, there might be some truth to it, but in rural America, nothing could be further from reality. This is God’s country, and God’s people. These are the people who made America great, and they will do it again, if government gets out of the way. They give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. They support their local church, and believe the police are on our side. They are the salt of the earth, generous almost to a fault. God and Family are their driving forces. They say Grace at the table, and aren’t reluctant about saying it in public.
In my rebellious youth I thought I would be an atheist, but learned that I didn’t have enough blind, unquestioning faith to be a nonbeliever. I’m not a regular church goer, but when I attend I am made welcome and leave feeling uplifted.
Sabine County, Texas has more than 30 churches, representing 12 major denominations and a few non denominational. That is one church for every 320 residents. This is not an anomaly. Tiny Geneva has an active Baptist church, and the Methodist Church on the opposite side of the road, though without a pastor or congregation, is lovingly maintained.
Though I grew up going to a Baptist church, my mother was Pentecostal, and would sometimes attend a Pentecostal church near Lufkin, Texas. I thoroughly enjoyed those visits. Pentecostals don’t sit quietly in the pews, listening to the preacher, they join in. They take Jesus very seriously and want the world to know it. When they make a joyful noise, it is wonderfully spiritual, emotional, and loud. They don’t just love Jesus, they embrace and become one with the Holy Ghost and their joy bursts out in a torrent of sound, movement, and euphoria. Sitting quietly, struggling to stay awake, is not an option. Even if the congregation could sit quietly, the preacher would ensure no one nodded off.
My oldest son, Karl, is a Pentecostal minister in the small town of Starks, Louisiana. I spent the last weekend plus Monday and Tuesday of my recent trip to Texas with him and his family. I attended church twice on Sunday, something of a record for me, a backslid Baptist. The church hasn’t changed in the last 60 or so years, and my fond memories were reinforced. The music was tremendous, the visiting preacher was fiery, and the congregation enthusiastic. After the service, people sought me out and welcomed me, in part because I’m the Pastor’s father, but more because they are good folks who want to share their love of God.
So, despite the best efforts of misguided people who want to remove all Christianity from public view, out here in small town and rural America, God is very much alive and well.