His name was Rupert Bennett, but to the folks of Appalachia he was known as Beelzebub. This is his story.
I was eighteen the summer of 1978 and on a mission trip to work in a Vacation Bible School at New Hope Baptist Church in the hills of Appalachia.
Tucked in my backpack along with my Bible was my copy of Catherine Marshall's, Christy. I anticipated the land of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, John Henry, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and the Walton's. I had not seen the movie, Deliverance.
The church bus bounced between the ruts in the winding dirt road; around every bend I looked upon a land unaffected by modern times. Barefoot children stood outside run-down cabins staring blankly as we passed by. Poverty walked this earth.
Pastor Chuck Turner welcomed us. Young, tall and thin, he had the bluest eyes and brightest smile I had ever seen; right away I liked him.
Each day was filled with children making salvation bracelets, ice-cream-stick crosses, eating cookies and playing games followed by an evening service open to all.
“Beelzebub is here.” I heard a lady inform Pastor Chuck the first night. Looking up, I noticed an old man sitting alone at the back of the church holding a shotgun on his knees. Men, women and children all cleared away from him while Pastor Chuck walked up to greet him.
“Who is he?” I asked her.
“He's a mean un. Heard tell he kilt his own pappy. Some say he smothered his baby girl at birth. Poor Annabelle never could birth no more young'uns. Annabelle was a purty young thang with long, thick braids coiled atop her head. Hit wadn't right what he done. Has a moonshine still back in the hills. He's evil, that one.”
“Why is he here?”
“Hit hain't cause he loves church. The preacher hisself says he's old, sick and afeared of dyin. Goin to hell, that one.”
Night after night Pastor Chuck preached God's message of love and forgiveness; every night Beelzebub sat with his shotgun across his knees.
Sunday morning service was crowded, every pew filled, all except the back row where Beelzebub sat alone. Music filled the sanctuary as fiddles and banjos accompanied joyful voices.
Pastor Chuck stepped to the podium and began to pray: Father, bless us, your children. Remove Satan and his evil far from all who are gathered here. May each one within the sound of my voice know how much You love them, how You paid dearly for all sin and how You receive them into your kingdom with open arms. Amen
During the prayer I looked up at Pastor Chuck who was staring directly at Beelzebub as he prayed. Slowly, Beelzebub started making his way toward the altar, shotgun at his side. I could see tears trailing down the old man's craggy face. Pastor Chuck took him aside and spoke quietly with him for a long time as a hush fell over the congregation.
Without saying a word, Pastor Chuck and Beelzebub walked out the side door. The music started up again, more lively than before as one by one the congregation broke up to follow their pastor. I followed as well, passing an old apple orchard and coming upon a beaver pond where Pastor Chuck stood waist-deep with Beelzebub and his shotgun.
Pastor Chuck motioned for me to join them and I waded into the murky water not having a clue why. Beelzebub took a long look at me and handed me his shotgun. There I stood holding the shotgun while Pastor Chuck dunked the old man under the waters of Baptism. Then Rupert Bennett nodded at me, took his shotgun and walked away.
Now, many years later, Rupert Bennett has long since met his maker. But, I think about him often. The old church building has been replaced with a new one. Baptisms are done indoors.
Chuck still serves God in the community he loves...and me, I serve right along with my husband. I've even learned to eat ramps.
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