While a student at Memphis School of Preaching, one Sunday I "filled in" for a fellow student who was out of town and unable to fulfill his preaching responsibility. The small rural Arkansas congregation for which he preached was about 80 miles from Memphis. Probably never before and perhaps never again will I experience so many comical incidents in a single day -- while attempting to preach the Gospel.
That Lord's Day I was accompanied by a teenage foster boy who lived down the street from our residence in Memphis. We traveled a great distance on paved highways before turning on to a dirt road. We literally drove until there was no more road. Finally, we parked the car and walked across railroad tracks into a small, isolated community.
For this northerner, the collection of frame houses with tin roofs and built on stilts was a curiosity. The only church building there was our destination.
We arrived way early since we were uncertain of the hereto unproved directions or of the time it would take us to find the building. The directions, though, were perfect and we allowed ourselves more than ample time.
Upon our arrival, our initial concern was locating a rest room. We were unable to find such in the meeting house and the "his and hers" outhouses were overgrown with briars. Evidently, they were not used in recent years. So, we approached the only brick home in the community, which was owned by members of the church. A good sister graciously allowed us to use her bathroom, though she said there was a rest room in the church building.
Still having time on our hands, my young friend and I were compelled to discover the missing rest room. Inside the building, we could find only three rooms -- the auditorium and two classrooms. Though unlikely, we even looked under tables and pews but we could not find the toilets that we were assured were somewhere in the meeting house.
Walking around the exterior of the building, we observed a small room that jutted out on the side of the auditorium. Heavy drapes dressed each window from the ceiling to the floor in the auditorium. However, behind one set of drapes was a doorway. Parting the drapes there stood two toilets and two sinks facing the auditorium. There was neither a door between the auditorium and the rest room nor partitions in the rest room. I was shocked.
To my left, on a shelf about head high as I walked through the drapes was a half-full bottle of Welch's grape juice. A cobweb was suspended in a downward arch from the wall to the lid. Inside floated a piece of cracker. I was alarmed and hoped that wasn't the source of that day's "fruit of the vine" -- which, happily, it was not!
Following the morning worship, I stood at the door and greeted each person as he or she left. I was also eager to learn whose hospitality we would enjoy that day in the interval between worship services. After all had departed, an elderly man returned and inquired whether anyone invited us to his home for lunch. Responding, "No," the old brother said, "Well, come with me then!"
Upon entering this man's one-room home, we met his invalid wife. Shortly after our arrival, by a system of pulleys and ropes above his wife's bed, the good brother was able to lift his wife from the bed into a wheel chair.
At the table we understood why our host did not initially invite us to his home after morning worship. The sole food for the noon meal was a single, warmed-over, leftover pork chop -- to be divided between four of us! I felt obligated to accept the magnanimous hospitality afforded us though doing so diminished their meager meal even more. After "lunch," my companion and I drove 11 miles to a wide-spot-in-the-road gas station and bought a bag of potato chips.
That evening as I preached, an electrical storm buffeted the small community. Heavy rain and hail beat furiously on the tin roof of the meeting house. The lights were flashing completely off and on throughout my entire sermon. Fortunately, the lights always came on when I needed to look at my notes (I was a well noted preacher -- that is, I had lots of notes!).
Instead of returning the following week, I persuaded another student to go in my place. I had found a replacement for me, who myself was a replacement for another student. On Monday, my substitute related to me that the congregation was so embarrassed that no preparation was made the prior week to feed us, that there was a feast awaiting his arrival.