Following is a short autobiography of Hobert L. Wright, recorded on audio shortly before his death. A child born into poverty in a remote section of Scott County, Hobert Wright spent much of his life in the ministry. Perhaps most notably, his sermons were among the first in rural Scott County to heavily promote the practice of tithing, which was unpopular in rural churches in the first half of the 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. The story also contains a good bit of local history. The recording was transcribed by my grandmother — Hobert Wright’s daughter. I have edited it to make it read better and removed parts of the text. Not enough to change the tone and intent of his message (hopefully), but enough to take out sections where he repeated himself or that seemed irrelevant to the overall story.
Hobert and Rosia Wright, with two of their 12 children
This is May 12, 1980. I am Hobert L. Wright, an old preacher from Grassy Knob. Grassy Knob is located in Robbins, Tennessee, two miles from the Black Creek community.
I know that I have only a few more days to live. This message is for the benefit of my great-grandchildren, who will never get to hear me or know me.
My wife and I have a tombstone set up in the Cross Roads Cemetery and people will see it, of course, but we will soon be forgotten. I would like for my great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren to know something about my life and about my preaching. I would like for them to know my God, to know what a big God he is, and how He deals with His people.
I was born here in these mountains, here in this home, here in this place. I was brought into the world by a 16-year-old girl. I guess she was pretty. Everyone told me that I was the prettiest baby they had ever seen. The old saying is, “The prettier the baby, the uglier the man,” so you can just imagine how ugly I am this morning.
I got off to a good start because I was blessed to be born into a good, religious home. My father was an old soldier of the Spanish-American war of 1898. He was unhealthy, but he worked hard in the timber woods to provide meat and bread for us children.
Our country up here was poor country. It always has been and still is. Dad and Mom worked hard to send my brothers and sisters and I to school. I was the oldest boy of the family and went to Black Creek School. They had a woman there to teach public school about three months out of the year. That is all the schooling I had. I wasn’t any good in school and didn’t care if I learned anything.
One morning when we went to school, the woman was teaching us about the nation we live in, about how the nation had sent men to war. They lost their lives to provide us the opportunity to worship God any way that we wanted to. She said, “Now, children, I want you to be good this morning. We are going to study for a little while, then we are going over to the church house.”
The church was about a hundred yards from the schoolhouse. Of course we wanted to go; we always wanted to do something exciting. She said, “There is a preacher coming out today to preach. I would like to hear him and I think it would be good for all you boys and girls to hear him, too.”
I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I sat down on the right-hand side of the church. After they sang a song or two, the preacher — old man Jacob Chambers — got up behind the desk and opened his Bible. I thought he was the ugliest man I had ever seen in my life.
I’m not sure how old I was, but I was old enough to have a sweetheart. I had found a little girl who I thought I loved, and I thought she was the prettiest girl around. A pretty woman can make a man do a lot of things. She came in and sat down in the seat across the aisle. I thought about her for a little while, then I thought, “Well, I have been wondering for a long time who I am, where I came from, how come I’m here, and why,” so I sat up and began to listen to the preacher.
The first thing he did after he opened his Bible was just stand there and cry. That made him uglier still. He just kept on crying and crying and crying. I thought to myself, “Old boy, why don’t you open up and tell us something instead of crying so much.” Since I’ve been trying to preach, I realize why he cried.
Preacher Chambers began to deliver his message. He told us about how God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die for our sins. He told us that he was sent to the church by the Holy Spirit to tell us about Jesus. He said he would like to see us come down to the altar and bow down there.
My sweetheart got up and went right by me. She went to the altar and bowed down. I should have gone but didn’t. I felt something in my heart but I didn’t know what it was. I had felt the spirit of malice when I was mad, and I had felt the spirit of jealousy, but I had never felt this feeling before in my life.
When I got home from school that day, I told my dad what happened. I said, “Paw, the school went to church today to hear the preacher preach. He told me about Jesus, and how he loved me enough to die for me. I believe he was telling the truth. I had the funniest feeling in my heart that I ever had in my life. When he asked us if we wanted to go up there and bow down before all that congregation of people and ask God to save us, I wanted to go. Then my sweetheart went and that made me want to go even more.”
Dad said, “Son, if you ever feel that feeling again, don’t turn it down. That was God talking to you. God doesn’t talk in a voice like I do, but He lets you know that He is around. You just go on up and do what they ask you to do and God will bless you, and you’ll be thankful all of your life.”
I took the advice of my daddy because I thought he was the best man in the world. He always gave good advice. There was one good thing about him that people have forgotten today, and that’s how to raise good children. When he told me that he would whip me if I did something, and I did it anyway, I always got the whipping. He never told me a lie. And when he started to whip me, I didn’t run.
I want to tell you fathers one thing: Change your motto. Use the motto my father used. You’ll find it more effective. I’ve seen fathers run their boys around the house two or three times to catch them and whip them. If I ran from my dad, I got two whippings: one for what I had done and the other for trying to run from him. After that, when he told me to not do something and I did it anyway, I would just walk right up to him. He used a young maple sprout — he didn’t use a belt because he always wore overalls — and when he hit me around the legs with it, it would really sting. If I had a coat on, he would make me pull it off. I had better sense than to try to put on enough clothes to keep the whipping from hurting me. I would just walk right up in front of him and say, “Here, Dad, pour it on me.” I deserved it, and he poured it on. I went through a lot of punishment before I became a young man.
STARTING A FAMILY
When I was about 20 years old, I was working in a coal mine. We used coal to power railroad trains that hauled stuff around the country. My job was to help get the coal out of the mountains. These mountains looked like big piles of dirt that God piled up and never leveled off. There were black seams of coal through them. Some of them were two feet thick, some were 18 inches, some were just a few inches, and some were up to six and seven feet thick.
I was working in a mine in Helenwood at the time. I didn’t drive a big, fine automobile like you folks are riding to work in today. I had to use these two legs that God gave me. I was a young man: healthy, happy and enjoying life. That is the prime of life for a young man. I had taken God as my savior and my maker and He had been with me. He helped me get out of a few scraps, but now I needed His help.
I had begun looking around amongst the girls in Sunday School who were my age. I wanted a pretty one and a good one. I wanted to make a good judgment. As I looked them over, I found one who I thought was the prettiest girl in all the world. I got acquainted with her and we got together a few times. We didn’t just go together one or two years, or for a long time, and do mean things. We didn’t have a lot of “clean fun,” as some folks call it. We meant business. She accepted me as her husband for life, and I accepted her as my wife, my helpmate, and my lover for as long as life remains in this body.
That was in 1923. For a while, we enjoyed life as most young couples do. The first thing you know, God slipped us in a little baby girl. We named her Marie and we loved her. She was the flower of our home.
It touches my heart when I think of the beautiful little children God has put into homes to hold them together and the parents just throw them away or destroy them because they didn’t want them to start with.
When our baby was two years old, God gave us another one. I reckon he must have liked the job we were doing as parents. We were living in good health and getting along fairly well.
Suddenly, the second child, who had been the picture of health, took sick. We did everything we could do for her, but she just got worse and worse. We were scared and I began to call on God for help. I was scared because I felt that I had not done what I should have been doing for the Lord. The Bible says that God took King David’s baby away from him because of his sins, and David was a man after God’s own heart.
I went and talked it over with God and He began to show me where I was failing. I was failing to serve Him as I ought to. I repented of my sins and God forgave me.
I was a young man with a pretty woman and two sweet little girls. But I was not as happy as I should have been. I kept on going to church every time I could, but I still was not doing my duty. When God calls us, He has a job for us to do. He expects us to be faithful.
I had created a habit over a number of years in my life, something I call a “pet sin.” When we think we have surrendered our life to the Lord, we keep some of it in reserve. That’s just nature. In my case, I carried a pistol, like other men I knew around here. I guess it just made me feel good to have a pistol hanging under my arm when I went to church and Sunday school. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone with it but I also didn’t intend to let someone come in and butcher my family.
Our little girl’s health wasn’t getting any better. One night, I walked over to Cross Roads Church. I had a habit of going to church and listening to the preacher but when they would call the Christians to the altar for fellowship, I wouldn’t go. I would slip outside, because I was holding back on the Lord.
I got about halfway into the church house on that particular night and sat down. Bro. Walter Stringfield, the pastor of the church, got up to preach. I didn’t care too much for his preaching and never had. On that night he got up and said, “Folks, tonight my subject will be ‘A pistol and a deck of cards.’” I hated cards and always had, but when he got on the pistol, he showed me where I was failing. There I sat with my pistol under my arm. I don’t believe he knew I had it, but God knew I had it, and the Holy Ghost knew I had it. The Holy Spirit told him what to preach. He told me in that sermon that God was watching over me, and how my little girls at home were watching every move that I made.
Marie, my oldest daughter, was big enough to run around and notice things. She would watch me take the pistol out of its holster, but oil on it, and hang it on the wall.
Bro. Walter showed me all of that in his sermon. I sat there and swallowed it down. After they dismissed the service and I started off down the road, my heart began to feel awfully heavy. I thought of this God that I am serving now and recommending to the world: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God that helped Paul and Silas get out of a Roman jail. I began to pray, and I prayed and prayed. Finally, the Lord forgave me of all my sins.
A CALL TO PREACH
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 but I 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. He needs you to work in his kingdom.
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 rival 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 with 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 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 little 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 hanging on the wall for light in the night services. I think we enjoyed our services more than people do today. They have their fine electric lights and go to beautiful churches that have carpet on the floor and cushioned seats to sit on. They have their college teachers to bring them what they call a wonderful message, but I think a lot of them don’t know what a wonderful message from God is.
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 trying to get people to recognize that God had so much power; that He could pour out 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. We were on a campaign to win souls for Christ because we loved God and we knew What he had don for us. We were saved by grace, not by our works. We proved our faith by our works.
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 to hold 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 does.
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 in 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, but I only stayed part of the week. It was a little country church with about 75 members. A little squad would come every night, but there was no power. The Lord didn’t give me the spirit to preach as I should have. I tried to find out what the problem was and finally discovered that several of the families in the church had fallen out. There were two men carrying pistols for one another. They would come into the altar every night with the other Christians, and one would go on one side of the house and sit while the other would go on the other side. There would be a little squad on one side of the church and another squad on the other side.
Once I found out what the problem was, I closed the revival out on Friday night. When I awoke Saturday morning, there was about 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 that I would receive worse discouragement than ever, because they had to finance the other preacher pretty heavily. Their 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 on 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 of 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 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.” He was a man who expected money and generally he got it. I said, “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 Phillips’ five children. It was the most successful revival I held in all my work as a pastor or evangelist.
THE MINISTRY AS AN OCCUPATION
In 1939, I was elected by the church at Robbins as a pastor under a monthly salary of $50. It was an awfully small salary, but I accepted it. It was the first time I ever preached for a salary. And I had never hurt so bad in my preaching until this time.
One of the old preachers who laid hands on me when I was ordained and who always tried to help me found out that I had accepted a pastoral appointment under a salary. He said that he hoped to never hear me preach again, so long as he lived. And he didn’t.
The churches in this area didn’t believe in giving preachers money. They believed the preacher should do all the sacrificing, do all the preaching, and not be paid anything for doing it. I didn’t feel that I was doing anything wrong by accepting the salary at Robbins.
During that year, I put my full time into serving the Robbins Baptist Church. I preached the gospel, trying to lead the Christians to a better life and help them get their children saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I was enjoying my religion then even though I was having persecutions. But I had not fully doing my duties. I had not gotten to where God wanted me to be in preaching the gospel. He wanted the churches to let go of some of their money they were getting. It belonged to God and they were holding it. They would not do anything for religion; they wanted it all to be free.
The kind of religion we were practicing at that time was not pleasing to God. He wanted us preachers to declare the whole council. As the Apostle Paul said one time, “I’ve not shunned to declare unto you the whole council of God.” When we were charged to preach, we were charged to preach the word and to be instant in season and out of season; to preach when it is easy to preach and when it is hard to preach. We were charged to reprove and rebuke with all long-suffering and doctrine.
At the end of 1939, I resigned at Robbins. I had become dissatisfied with a few things I couldn’t conquer and I asked God to give me another field to work; a job where I could win souls to Christ.
I went back to work in the coal mines and was making pretty good money. I was still studying the Bible and preaching. Sometimes I would study my Bible until midnight, then get up in the morning and walk to my job and work all day.
CONTROVERSY OVER MINISTERS’ SALARIES
Though I still had not fully preached the gospel, I was still trying to preach. I was conserving a certain part of my life for my own use, as most of us do. I would preach messages that people liked to hear, and they had given me a little money to help me buy soles for my shoes, since we had to walk everywhere in those days.
I was elected pastor at Honey Creek, seven miles from Grassy Knob. I had no horse to ride and no car to drive, so I had to make it on foot. We just had services once a month. I would walk the seven miles on Saturday morning. At 11 a.m., we would have our business meeting and service. At 7 p.m. that evening we would have another service, and a final service at 11 a.m. Sunday morning. It took me all evening on Sunday to walk home.
I served that church for one year. At the end of the year they gave me one dollar. The man who gave it to me didn’t want anyone else to know he had given it to me; he just slipped it into my hand. The people believed that if a preacher asked the people to give him money, he was a hypocrite; he was out for the money and didn’t care anything for the people.
A lady stood in front of me once and said, “Preacher, you are out for the dollar.” And I said, “Sure I am, I am not denying it.” I asked her, “Don’t you have a job?” She said, “Yes, I have a job in an office.” I said, “Don’t you pack your lunch?” She said she did. I said, “Why do you go there and sit in that office all day and eat that lunch? Don’t those people pay you for your work?” She said, “Why sure; if they didn’t pay me, I wouldn’t work.” I said, “Well, what if I should say that if you don’t pay me I won’t preach? Then you say that I am out after the dollar.”
Roy Blevins, who was ordained with me, took his Bible and took the third chapter of Malichi and preached it out. He preached that the tenth of every dollar of your income belongs to the Lord, and that it is holy unto the Lord. The Lord requires you to take it to the altar. He said that this whole nation had robbed God, which is a pretty hard thing to accuse a man of. I thought, Bro. Roy, you are going the wrong way when you accuse people of robbery.
In the meantime, the Honey Creek church elected me as pastor again. I had gone out by the side of the road one day on my way home from church and asked the Lord why it was that they had only given me a dollar. The answer I got was because I didn’t tell them that I needed money. God said, “You didn’t preach to them their duty in tithing.”
So I studied my Bible as much as possible in my spare time. I wanted to see what I could fine. I found the Bible said, “The gold is the Lord’s, the silver is the Lord’s, the cattle of a thousand hills belong to the Lord. The tenth of every man’s income is holy unto the Lord and should be taken to the storehouse.” The 12th tribe, the Levites, were supposed to live on that tithe. They were not allowed to farm, or to own a farm; they couldn’t own any property at all. They were not supposed to work, and it was the duty of the church to furnish all of their subsistence.
I went to church the next month prepared to preach on tithing. As the old joke goes, there was a preacher who wanted his wife to go to church with him one night and she didn’t want to go. He said, “You’d better go because I am going to shoot the big gun tonight.” When he came home, she pulled the covers back, peeped out and said, “How did the big gun sound?” He just shook his head and said, “The gun snapped, but it wouldn’t shoot a’tall.”
That’s what happened to me. I had studied my Bible and was going to preach a message on tithing, but my big gun snapped. I couldn’t preach on it. It was right there before me, I had the Bible there, but I couldn’t preach it. The Lord wouldn’t let me.
On the way back home, I got to the same place where I had prayed the month before. I went to pray again and said, “Lord, what did I do wrong? Why wouldn’t you let me preach on tithing?” He said, “A man has to practice what he preaches.” I hadn’t tithed myself. I saw that if I preached it, I would have to practice it. I promised the Lord that I would do that.
And so began some of my heaviest persecutions as a preacher. Some of the people called me the “ten cent preacher.” Some called me a crazy preacher. I don’t care what they call me, just so they call me when it’s time to eat.
We tithed for a while, but some promises are hard to keep. We ran into a spell of hard luck and, like a lot of folks, it was easy to say that we couldn’t afford to tithe; we needed that 10 percent. I ran into money and we got to spending it. My wife fell ill with rheumatism. We would tithe for a while, then we would suffer and pray for a while. The Lord would forgive us for not tithing, but He collected it. It was His.
That reminds me of another story. Two pastors of big churches in Florida met and one of them said to the other, “How many members have you got in your church?” The second pastor said, “About 1900.” The first pastor said, “How many members do you have who tithe?” The second pastor answered, “About 1900.” The first pastor said, “How do you get them all to tithe?” The second answered, “I didn’t say that they all brought their tithes to the storehouse, like Malachi said they were to do. About 350 bring their tithes to the storehouse where the church can use them. The others just wait until the collector comes along.”
The collector may have a pillbox. He may have mechanical tools to fix your car. He may have a wrecker to pull it out of the brush. He may have an ambulance to take someone to the hospital. But, one way or another, God always gets his part.
WAR & INJURY
World War II came upon this country of ours in 1941. They called for all the young men to join the Army. People didn’t care if they attended church or not, and I think that was the reason we had to suffer the war.
I didn’t have any boys old enough for the war. I was willing to fight for my country, but my family was too big. Uncle Sam didn’t want to pay the price to furnish my family with food for what I would have been able to provide in the service. I was working in the coal mines at the time and they wanted coal, so they just let me work right on through.
I enjoyed my work in the mines. I always liked to work for a living. I got a lot of coal dust in my lungs during that period of time and I neglected my duty to the Lord to a certain extent. I made preaching a sideline. I breathed so much of that coal dust into my lungs that today I am nearing my grave. I’m like a person with tuberculosis that has a death sentence pronounced upon them. The doctors know that I am not going to live long. I know that I am not going to live long. I am living on borrowed time and I thank God that he has given me a little extra.
I was injured in one of the mines. Trying to speed up production, I busted one of my entrails. I spent 21 days in the hospital.
At the same time, our oldest boy, Kenneth, was in the hospital at Nashville. He was six years old and we thought the world of him. He was one of only two sons we had. A knot had appeared on his shoulder, about the size of a hen’s egg. We couldn’t find where he had been bumped or injured, so we took him to the doctor. The doctor told us to rush him to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville. The doctors there examined him and the verdict was cancer.
I knew from the very day they said it was cancer that my son would never get well. The collector had come. I had failed to take my tithes to the house of God.
They finally let me come home from the hospital. When I got here, my little boy had come home from Nashville. The family was back together again. It was 1943.
BAPTIZING A SHEEP
When I was a boy, I went to a lot of church meetings and baptizings at the rivers here in the mountains. Sometimes on Sundays we would be out playing together and we would play church meeting. In these mountains of East Tennessee, the people were Baptist people and we believed that emersion — burying a man under the water and bringing him back up — was the only mode of baptizing.
When we played, I would always be selected as the preacher. I would find a stump to get up on, take a little piece of a Bible, and preach for them. Even as a child, I wanted to be a preacher. The girls around us would shout and praise the Lord and we would have a real good meeting. And, sometimes, we would have a baptizing.
One day when we were having a meeting, one of the boys said, “Look out yonder!” There was a bunch of sheep. One of the guys said, “Let’s have a baptizing.” So we went out and got the sheep and brought them to the water’s edge. We would take one at a time and baptize them.
We got hold of one that was losing its wool. He was feisty and mean. We took him out there in the water and tried every way we knew how to baptize that thing, but we just couldn’t get his head under the water. One of the boys said, “I’ll tell you what let’s do: let’s just sprinkle him and let him go to hell!”
So we played and had our fun, but only on Sunday. On Monday we had to take hold of the hoe handle or the axe handle or the plow handle and go to the fields to help provide food for our families.
Back in the deep depression, you worked for every dollar you got. You were lucky to have a job where you could make a dollar. So we just had to eat what we could grow and wear what we could get hold of. There was no relief; no pensions, no welfare. A woman who was a widow and raising a family of children had to buy a washtub, a washboard and soap, and go out and wash clothes for wealthy people. She would wash the clothes and iron them and take them back to the people. That was the only way they had to make money to feed their families.
People in this day are in heaven compared to what we had in the 1930s. Oh, we had fun when we had time for fun, but we had to work every time we could.
BACK TO WORK IN THE MINES
I had a lot of bills that had accumulated while I was sick and unable to work. I was still a member of the Robbins Baptist Church and I preached every chance I got. They elected Maynard Jeffers as pastor and when I went back down there he wanted me to preach for him.
In the fall of 1943, I went to West Virginia to work in the mines there. I took my family with me and we lived up there for a year. Kenneth had gotten better. He had been treated at Vanderbilt Hospital and the knot on his shoulder had gone away. But while we were in West Virginia, the knot reappeared. We took him to the doctors there but they were unable to help him.
We moved back to Tennessee in the fall of 1944. I built a new home, and we are still living in it today.
We took Kenneth back to Nashville and the doctors there did all they could for him, but he never got well. I had known as soon as they said it was cancer that he would never get well, because I had failed to take my tithes to the storehouse of God. The collector had come.
After Kenneth died and we put him in the grave, I went to the woods. I don’t know how long I stayed. I stayed there with God like Jacob stayed with the angel when he wrestled the angel all night to get a blessing. I stayed with God until I got a blessing. I promised Him that He would get 10 percent of every dollar that I made, even if I had to borrow money from the bank to feed the children.
From that day until this day, my wife and I always make our first check out to the Lord when we get a paycheck. If there is anything left, we use that to feed the family.
I have thought a lot lately about the little angels that will be in Heaven. When God said, “Multiply and replenish the earth,” people started that in a big way. The earth began to get over-crowded with people, and the wise men of our nation decided they had to do something. They went to work with their wisdom and invented the birth control pill. Then they made laws allowing abortion. The doctors can go inside a mother and destroy babies before they are born.
John the Revelator spoke of the city of New Jerusalem being in one place a golden city and in another place a white city. The people who came out of the great tribulation wore long, white robes. I have come to believe, and I don’t think that I am wrong, that on those golden streets of that city there will be little angels playing. There will be little boys and girls playing. That is not Bible scripture, but that is my faith. That is what I feel God has revealed to me.
Remember, when you have a baby come into your home, do as I have done. I always went into the grove somewhere and bowed down. I said, “Lord, help me raise this child to become a Christian. If it is not possible, if I can’t win it to Christ, then take it out of this world before it comes to the age to know good and evil.”
THE WAY TO SALVATION
I want to make a list of some words in the Bible and what they really mean. You all know that ghost means a person who has lived in this world but is now dead and buried. A ghost is considered their spirit that has come back. It is the same with the Holy Ghost: it is God. The Holy Spirit and the spirit of God are the same. We have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, working together that you may be saved and live with God in the next world.
The plan of salvation is that Jesus, the son of God — which is God in the flesh, lived upon this earth a perfect life for 33 years. He never committed a son. He never did anything wrong.
Back in the old Bible, God gave Moses the law. The sacrifice that would save them from their sins was a lamb without a spot, without a blemish; a male of the first year.
Jesus was the first baby that Mary ever had and He went to school just as we do. He studied his books just as we do, but He didn’t commit sin, He didn’t cheat, He didn’t steal, He did nothing wrong, because He was God in the flesh.
He was the perfect sacrifice to carry our sins up Golgotha’s hill. All of our sins were laid on Him and nailed to the cross. The third day He arose, conqueror over death, hell and the grave. Therefore, He was the perfect sacrifice. He is the person who will save you if you believe in Him, if you believe in your heart that Jesus is the son of God. The Apostle Paul said that if we believe from the heart that God has raised Him from the dead and with the mouth confess the Lord Jesus, we shall be saved.
There was a well-educated Pharisee who came to Jesus one night. He heard about Jesus’ power and went to talk with Him. He must have been afraid that someone would see him. He said, “Good master, we know that you came from God, because no other man could do the things that you have done.” Jesus had been healing the sick, cleansing the lepers and performing many other wonderful miracles. Jesus said to the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “Marvel not that I said unto you, ye must be born again.” Of course that sounds funny to people. It may sound funny to you that you have to be born again — you are already growing into manhood or womanhood and maybe even raising a family.
But if you are not born again, if the Holy Spirit does not come into your life, if God does not come into your soul, you are lost. The Bible plainly says that the soul that sins shall die. We are going to leave this world — all of us are. Some of us are going to Heaven, a beautiful world. Those who are not saved will go to a place of torment.
The devil is out to destroy you and take you to hell. He will, too, if you listen to him. But when you are born again, the devil loses his power over you. You are a child of God, and God takes care of His children.
I am writing this because we have nine grown children raising families. We have 35 grandchildren and a host of great-grandchildren. They are scattered all over the United States. In most every state lives some of our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. There will be more, and this message is for their good. I hope as they come to know good and evil, to know right from wrong, that they will listen with their hearts as I listened with mine.
WHO OWNS THE WOOL?
As I said before, I received my heaviest persecution from preaching on tithing. I preached a message at Robbins in 1942 on the subject of “Who owns the wool?” I think we all agree that God owns the wool, but what I would like for you to think about is who gets the wool. The shepherd? No. The owner of the wool pays the shepherds, who work for him. Jesus owned the sheep and the preachers are the under-shepherds. People have robbed God. If you are not giving the tenth of your income, which is holy unto the Lord, then you are robbing God.
The church was upset about the message. They didn’t like it. It went far enough that one of the members wrote a letter and put it under my windshield wipers during the church service one night. It was a long letter that called me everything in the world; everything except a Christian or a preacher. I just ignored it and went on serving God.
I have preached that message to every church I have pastured since then. If you give the tenth, God will bless you for it. If you think you are smarter than God and you are going to use it for yourself, just try it and see what happens. You may think you can get by with stealing from God. I am speaking from God and warning you that you won’t get by with stealing from Him.
When I was a boy of about 15 years, my father owned some sheep that ran out on the open range. My uncle also had sheep and their sheep ran together most of the time.
We usually knew where the sheep were. But when there is snow on the ground, the sheep will sometimes eat ivy and be poisoned. Once in a while we would find a sheep that has eaten ivy and it would stagger all over the place. On one particular occasion, we brought in a sheep that had been poisoned and could hardly walk. We had to work hard to get him home. When we finally got there, my uncle took some hog lard and melted it, then put it in a bottle and poured it down the sheep. In a couple of hours, the sheep was eating corn just like the rest of the sheep. You couldn’t tell that there had ever been anything wrong with him.
I think that describes a Christian. A Christian who is not being fed the right kind of food will eat anything. When someone comes along and preaches a false doctrine, the doctrine of the devil, and leads some of God’s people astray, it becomes the pastor’s duty to go out and hunt them. It is his duty to bring them in and feed them the right food, to bring them back to good health.
At shearing time, we would bring the sheep in and put them in the barn lot, or the shed, or some other place, where we could hold them together. My job on shearing day was to hold the heads while the sheep were sheared. My grandmother was the best one to cut a sheep and never cut the hide. She would say, “Hobie, come here and hold this one’s head.” I would look at him to see if he was an old sheep. An old sheep that has been sheared before is quiet. But a young one that has never been sheared will kick and squeal, bellow and bleat, and be awfully hard to hold. By the second year, at shearing time, they know what is coming and be quiet.
When we got all the sheep sheared, we would take them back onto the range and turn them loose. If one got away without being sheared, when you went back in the summer and looked at them, he would be the ugliest thing that you ever looked at. He would have about half of that old wool still hanging on him and about half of it pulled off. Some would be hanging in great, long strings and some in every shape. A sheep that has been sheared is always better looking and brings a better crop of wool for the following year.
God intends to use the 10 percent of his wool for the benefit of his sheep. He will keep green pastures growing for them. He will keep still, clear waters for them, and he will keep medicine for them when they are sick.
The under shepherds take those sheep back onto the range and take care of them. They lead them to green pastures for food and beside the still waters for drink. They take them into the fold for protection at night. They keep the wild beasts away from them and sometimes have to fight the beasts. Sheep have more enemies than any other animal. Dogs will kill them, wolves will kill them . . . it seems like every animal likes the meat of a sheep.
The pastor’s duty is to take his church and watch after it. If someone has failed to come to church, the pastor should visit him and find out why he has not been to church. The pastor should find out what his trouble is and find out if he has been hurt. He needs the sincere milk of the Gospel. He will listen to you, and he will be a better Christian afterwards. The pastor’s duty is to watch out for his people and know where his people are. If one strays away from the rest of the flock, he should go get him and bring him back.
BACK TO PREACHING, BACK TO THE MINES
Between 1950 and 1960, I was elected pastor of the Mountain View Baptist Church. At the same time, I was working in the coal mines on day shift. I was section foreman at the Brimstone Coal Company.
Just a few days before they elected me as pastor at Mountain View, I was standing in the mine office looking out the window and cleaning my safety lamp, getting ready to go inside to work. I knew they were having some union trouble at the mines and as I looked out the window, I saw a group of the men from the second shift gathered on the bridge with the mine superintendent.
The superintendent was a small man and they seemed to be having a pretty hot fuss. At the time, we had a man in Scott County, Bates Pennycuff, who was just about the meanest man I had ever seen. Sometime before this, Bates had shot the sheriff. The sheriff recovered, then shot Bates. Bates had gotten well, but he was still a mean man. Anything that he got into was mean, but he was a good worker.
I was watching these men on the bridge and I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I saw Bates Pennycuff. Everyone in Scott County knew him. I saw him reach down, pick up that little old superintendent just like he was a baby, and throw him over the bridge banister and into the creek.
The superintendent waded out and went on his way. Bates went on to work and that was all that was done. Bates worked right on in the coal mines as he had always done before.
I was preaching at Mountain View in revival one night, and we had three or four seekers come down at the altar call. Just before I bowed to pray with them, I looked back in the center of the church and there sat Bates Pennycuff. I had never known of him going to church. I was never so surprised in my life. After we prayed and I stood up, I looked for Bates but couldn’t see me anywhere.
A man standing beside me said, “Brother Wright, tell me who that man is right there.” I looked down and Bates was in the floor, and he was trembling all over like he would die. He was praying so loudly that you could have heard him from a mile away. He thought he was going to die. I said, “Brother Ward, that is the meanest man in Scott County.” He said, “Brother Wright, he is not going to be mean very long if he stays there and talks to God that way.”
It wasn’t five minutes before Bates came out of there. He shouted all over the house. He said that he could feel the Holy Spirit even to the end of his toes. I believe he was the happiest man that I have ever seen. When you’re filled with the spirit, you are happy and you can’t help it. The spirit drives the devil out.
Bates didn’t stop there. He went to work. He went out after the roughnecks, the mean ones. We had six or eight baptized. I don’t remember exactly how many, but many of them were grown men. When Bates went after one, he generally got him. He went on to become a preacher and pastored a church at White Pine.
I like to fish, and when I go fishing and catch a fish, I want to get him on a string before he gets away. I felt like I had caught a good one when I got Bates, so when the services were closing, I gave church privileges and he joined the church. He wanted to be baptized. He was so big that he had to look down at me; he must have weighed close to 300 pounds. He said, “Do you think you could do the job?” I said, “Brother Bates, I will do it or be found trying, if that’s what you want.” So I baptized him.
SUFFERINGS OF THE BODY
I have given you some of the things that have been done in my work as a minister. We are proud of our mountain preachers. Some of them don’t have any education and are just like I was. Some of them have enough education, if they could study their Bible as they ought to.
As I said to start with, I only made it to the fourth grade. You can imagine how much a child in the fourth grade knows. I could barely read and write. I was not interested in doing anything but I had a feeling that it would be an honorable job to be a preacher.
In my work in the coal mines to make a living for my family, I contracted the Black Lung. I have breathed enough of that coal dust into my lungs that my wind has been cut short. I have suffered with Black Lung for several years now. Finally, the government has given us a pension to help take care of the expenses of Black Lung. It does not make us live any longer, though.
In 1943, I was hurt in the mines and stayed in the hospital for 21 days. In 1970 I had an artery operation and pneumonia fever kept me in the hospital for 40 days. I had a light stroke that has crippled me now, and I have spent about a hundred days in the hospital. I walk with a walking stick.
I can’t hear a lady speak at all anymore because the high frequency of my ears is dead and gone. I can hear a bass voice a little. I can’t talk much and I can’t hear. My wife is learning fast. She is in the best school she has ever been in. She is learning to write letters to me. I told her last night that she is improving a lot.
She said to me once, “How do you feel?” I told her that I felt like I had run across the wilderness and had come to the Jordan River but didn’t have strength enough to cross it.
I said, “I am now preparing to go over where Jesus went.” When Jesus left the disciples standing on the mountain near Jerusalem, an angel stood by them and said, “Why are you standing here gazing into the heavens? This same Jesus that you saw go away will come again and receive you unto himself.” Jesus is coming back some of these days. I have a son over there. I have a daughter over there. And I am going over there. If you’re reading this and you want to see me, come to Heaven. I will be there.
There may come a day, maybe 50 years from now, when you want to come back and trace the life of Rev. Hobert L. Wright. You will be welcome, and you will have something to trace. You are my offspring and I love you. I love everybody, saints and sinners. I am going to meet those who give their life to God, those who believe in their heart that Jesus was the son of God, and trust in Him to save them. I am just about ready to go. I feel like this will be my last job.
So, goodbye, folks. I hope I get to meet every one of you in Heaven. I will meet you if you trust in God, if you are born again and baptized into His kingdom. If you have lied to God and have just told some church that you were saved to get the church to baptize you, then you will land in hell and I will not get to see you. But every person who has been saved, every person who has given their life to God and has been baptized with the Holy Spirit will be in Heaven. I will be there with them. May God bless you is my prayer, and I hope you enjoyed this story.
— May 12, 1980
Hobert L. Wright was born April 4, 1903 and passed away June 21, 1981. He was the son of George W. Wright and Julie Silcox Wright. He married Rosia Jane Branim on January 7, 1923. To this union were born twelve children. Their youngest daughter, Linda Fay, died at birth. Their eldest son, who suffered with cancer, passed away at the age of eight. His name was Kenneth Wiley. Their other 10 children lived to adulthood and raised children of their own. Their names, from oldest to youngest, are: Marie Byrd, Aree Blevins, Flora Terry, Flonnie Blevins, Hazel Flossie Debord, Onlee Joyce Garrett, Casto Riley Wright, Virginia Ruth Ainsworth, Lois Irene Hogan, and Wanda Sue Compton. Rosa Jane Wright passed away on October 1, 1987. At that time, she had 35 grandchildren and 63 great-grandchildren.
Footnote: Roy Blevins, who was ordained with Hobert Wright at Black Creek United Baptist Church in 1926, later served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Oneida — Scott County’s oldest church — for nearly 50 years . . . Bates Pennycuff, who was saved during a service at Mountain View Baptist Church in the 1950s, was often called “the meanest man in Scott County.” When the sheriff he had shot — Dorsey Rosser — returned the favor, it was written that Bates coughed up the bullet. The two men later worked together in law enforcement, and Bates Pennycuff began a sign campaign after he turned to the ministry. Even today, some of his old signs — “Jesus Is Coming – R U Ready?” — can be seen along the roadsides throughout Scott County.