Mom, widowed when seven months pregnant with five kids under the age of eight, decided we ALL must attend EVERY church service available. Her theory: we’d be raised right and kept occupied/out of trouble. It was mandatory, regardless of age. Mom ruled with a stern hand, punishment was swift, and apologies demanded.
Therefore, I obeyed without second thought …
I was six years old during the revival of 1954 held nearly a block from our house in an
old, battered tent near the levee in an Ohio neighborhood of Kentucky folks who’d relocated to find employment. Most of the adults spoke with a slight Southern accent, were huggers, and exceptionally friendly. Deeply influenced by my dad, I never met a stranger and had complete confidence that “I” could do anything (unaware that I was hearing impaired then).
Ma, with one baby in her arms and another sleeping in her lap, kept up with the congregation in songs and nodded with the evangelist preaching. She was moved beyond words and beamed compliantly.
It was a week long revival and, frankly, by the middle of the week, we kids were tired of going nightly yet Mom insisted. I always failed the daily review of what had been said the night before so Mom suspected that either I wasn’t listening OR, worse yet, was sleeping through the sermon.
“Tonight,” she whispered as we entered the tent on Thursday, “I want you to go up when the evangelist asks for hymn requests and ask for ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’.”
“But mom,” I protested. “I don’t know this man. What if he doesn’t know that hymn?”
“Well,” Ma smiled, “in that case you’ll just have to sing it to him.”
I was nervous during the sermon …positive I’d make a mistake and already dreading it. Ma didn’t like it us embarrassing her.”
When the moment came, Ma nudged me forward and, even though, I’d taken my shoes off, she didn’t give me time to put them on again. Thus, six and barefoot, I walked down the center aisle and straight up to the pulpit before clearing my throat and pulling on the pants of the talking minister.
“Ma would like to request the song, ‘Bringing in the Sheep’.”
The evangelist’s ears perked up, he turned and looked down to see who was speaking to him and smiled. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of that hymn before.”
I motioned for him to hand me the microphone and took a deep breath before starting to sing. “Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, sowing in the noontide, and the dewy eve; waiting for the harvest and the time of reaping, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheep.”
Everyone appeared to be leaning forward, some with ear-to-ear grins, but no one interrupted me so I continued singing. “Bringing in the sheep, bringing in the sheep, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheep. Bringing in the sheep, bringing in the sheep, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheep.”
On the next stanza, the evangelist began singing too, his voice bellowing loudly and the entire congregation followed.
When the song was finished, we sang it a second time … just for good measure.
The evangelist took my hand and thanked me for the inspiration, then took the microphone and said, “That’s EXACTLY what we are looking for here tonight … sheep who are lost in the fields! We want to bring them IN from their fields of SIN!”
I took my seat, beaming at Mom, as he gave the alter call. Mom didn’t say a word to me the remainder of the service.
Seeking us out, the evangelist came over to meet Mom, took her hand in his and shook it. “You have a very talented young lady there.” I was ushering my siblings together, trying to keep them from wandering off, but took time to acknowledge him with a smile.
Mom’s face was flush, “She didn’t sing it right. I tried and tried to teach her the right words.” She shook her head, embarrassed.
“Sister,” the man leaned over and put an arm around Mom’s shoulder, “she said all the right words. God speaks to our hearts and who is to say that she heard HIM incorrectly.”
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