Back to School
By Bill Shepard
In a recent column I wrote that the mill village boy had decided to return to the classroom. What a surprise that must have been to all that knew him! The year was 1949. In that column, I reflected on my last year at St. John’s in Darlington, and the years that followed. A long chain of events had taken place in the life of this mill village boy. That long winding road had led back to the classroom, the one place no one would ever have expected, not even himself! Destiny was at work; there was no other way to explain what was happening.
Emmanuel College, a strict Bible orientated school is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in the northeastern part of Georgia. I had heard of this college while talking with a friend who was attending there. At the time of our conversation, I had no interest in attending school there, or anywhere! Time changes things!
Calhoun Falls was and is a typical mill town in South Carolina. Four miles westward, and one crosses the Savannah River and enters Georgia. I had never heard of this town before I was assigned as a pastor of a small congregation there. The year was 1949. I was at home in this small mill town; I was among the kind of people I had known for all of my years. Someone said, “If you have lived on one mill village, you have lived on all of them! They have so much in common!” I found that to be true.
Emmanuel College is located approximately fifty miles from Calhoun Falls, and after my acceptance there as a student, I drove the distance each school day over the next two years. My church had been agreeable to my decision to attend Emmanuel, and most encouraging for me to do so. My two years at Emmanuel were without question the most rewarding of my life!
The challenge was a strong one! I had a lot of catching up to do! The long drive each day, the lessons to prepare for, and the church work to be attended to was a challenge that at the time seemed more than I could meet! Except for the encouragement from my dear wife, as well as from my church folk, I would probably have surrendered! I arranged all of my classes at school so that I could meet them in the a.m. of each day and return home to do my church work in the afternoon and often into the nighttime.
As challenging as those words were, I was growing into what I was to become! I could never have dreamed what was lay ahead for this mill village boy; I was following wherever destiny’s path seemed to be leading!
My second year at Emmanuel, my young son began his first year of school. Years later, this son would also attend Emmanuel College, and so would his sister who was only four years old at this time!
My two years at Emmanuel and my two years as pastor at the Calhoun Falls church passed in a slow hurry. I was at another crossroads in my life.
There was a saying that, “Nothing success like successes, and nothing fails like failure.” I had finished two years of success. I had graduated from this junior college, and held a diploma in my hand. My church was asking me to stay on for another year, and something inside of my mind was saying, “You should move on!” Decision time lay before me. What was the next for this mill village boy, preacher and student?
My church had refused to accept my decision to leave, but my mind was made up. I would move, but where to? I had no clue as to where I would go. My wife and I were praying for direction from the One in whom we had placed our lives. Our two young children were too young to know of the struggle going on in our lives.
One afternoon while sitting in the shade of a large oak tree at the back corner of our yard, I saw a car drive up and two men got out. They saw me, and headed to where I was. Something inside me seemed to say, “Those men came to ask me to be their pastor.” We shook hands and they spoke, confirming the words I had heard in my mind. Their pastor was moving to another location, and recommended me to be his successor. These men had come to see if I would accept. Unhesitatingly I said yes!
A new adventure lay ahead! Next time!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.