Elder J. Bryan Adair
I received a good grade school and high school education in Boone and Callaway Counties. I had the advantages afforded other boys and girls of my age except religiously. My parents did not send us to Sunday schools, and took us to church very little. Neither of them being professors of religion, I knew nothing of the activities of church people only from observation. I was taught a church was a very sacred organization, too sacred for my parents to have membership in. I was taught there was a God and do not remember when I did not believe that. I had thoughts of death and its awfulness at an early age. Sometimes when I had attended a funeral in the neighborhood, I would meditate upon it for several days. I remember when first beginning to help with the work, my father took me to pull some cockle burrs, and finding the work a bit distasteful, I asked him why weeds had to grow anyhow. He gave me the Biblical narrative of the fall of man from his surroundings in the Garden of Eden, and I spent many hours pondering why I must work and sweat because of the behavior of one man.
I knew also at an early age that many people had prayer at regular times, and I asked why it was never so in our home. My answer was that they felt people should not pray unless they had something to pray for. I occasionally saw someone baptized, but it all meant nothing until one of my uncles was baptized by Elder Archie Brown when I was a teenager. At the water's edge they sang a song and he announced if there was anyone who wanted to come go with this dear brother to come forward. I felt an impulse to go and feel yet, that I would have if I had not felt my father would have stepped forward and stopped me. Afterwards, I remember asking this uncle questions relative to his uniting with the church, but he left a feeling that I knew nothing of it and it was not worthwhile to try to explain.
Near this time in life, I began to go out into company alone, and went to church often, just as a place to go. I heard many things proclaimed that I felt were not true and had a desire to answer them. I thought I was a Hardshell and knew exactly what they believed. In high school, I met theories that I thought were contrary to God's way, but all this time, I knew nothing of what the Bible taught. I soon had a desire to know what it taught so purchased one and kept it in a closet in my room, and read when no one was watching to my knowledge. After reading for some time, I decided that night as I prepared for bed, I felt to get down upon my knees and talk to God. When I was ready and the light out, I started to kneel beside my bed only to find there was a great presence in my room. I stood to ponder that I was there alone, no one could see but God and it was he to whom I wished to speak, so again I tried, only to find the same great presence. Perplexed, I gave it up and went to bed to analyze my peculiar curse. Here I tried to speak a word or two but it seemed to hardly leave my lips.
I was now coming to the close of high school, enjoying the things most boys enjoyed and looking forward to making a mark in the world, and that at farming and livestock raising. Among the presents received at Commencement exercises was a Bible from a rich old aunt. I was almost furious about it, as I felt she should have given something useful, instead of something to be looked at.
Also, at this time, I had formed the friendship of a young lady, who I felt should help me make my mark. But she did not seem to feel the same way about it, and there for the first time in life, I found there were some things I could not control and I was ready to quit life and all it had. I went under a cloud as the children of Israel and under it I lived for eighteen months. I felt no one cared for me and I cared for no one. My mother didn't even dare to inquire into the loss of appetite and restless nights. If I went into company I felt I was not wanted and if I stayed at home I could not stand it. In this period, I tried many things to ease my nerves and kill my care, for I thought the case to be entirely nervousness. I tried to work myself to death, tried tobacco all to no avail, so I took a riding horse that we were all afraid of to break. I felt if he killed me well and good, and if I broke him I had done something to pass the time. I conquered, but yet I was the same.
One morning in hay harvest when I was trying to die by working, I started east of home to the hay field long before the dew was off so we could work. I frequently carried a fork across both shoulders with a hand on either end, and this morning my fork seemed so heavy. As I neared the field the sun began to peep over the timber that bordered the creek and grew brighter and brighter until I stopped to gaze at its unusual beauty. As I stood a little bird to my left sent forth its clear notes from a wild cherry sprout. Its tones were in accord with the brightness of the sun, and my fork grew light as though a great burden had fallen from each end. Something seemed to ask why I felt so gay, and I at once felt as all things looked. I have watched the sun rise many times since but have not yet seen that beauty again. I often listen to the little birds sing, but none have sung like that one.
I now had a new burden, what did all this mean? My next search for relief was baptism, but I pondered it long. I found so much to make me unfit for such a sacred act, until at last I felt I was ruined anyhow, and if there was no relief in it, I was no worse off. But when I began to search for a church home I found there were some things I wanted. I visited our neighborhood churches with a different motive now. One by one, I turned them down and gave up. I could live a better life than any member in any one of them. But this fig leaf apron did not wear long. So I began again and settled on one, but the night I had gone to unite the preacher said one thing I could never believe so I went away bewildered. After considering his expression, I decided he didn't believe it either, so I went again to hear the same and decide if he did believe it.
The Primitive Baptists seemed to conform to my belief, but they were not very popular in our country, and they were about all gone anyhow, and folks said as soon as the next preacher died it would be the last. But I concluded I would just die with them, and if I made a mistake it wouldn't be for long anyway. So in October 1926, I was ready to put my case in their hands, but they did not meet. I believe from that until November meeting was the longest month I ever saw. When the day came I was among the first at the meeting house but told no one my intentions. I do not know the text or any songs they sang. Only a few were there and Elder George Edwards was much discouraged. For six years he had been coming and no one had united with the church. I do remember he almost forgot to open the door of the church, but finally said, "Well, I guess we had better give an invitation, somebody might want to join." I then went forward and was received just on this testimony, "I'm leaning on the arm of Jesus." Perhaps I might not say that alone, for I found myself unable to control my emotions. A song was sung and I was given the hand of fellowship. I had seen this done before, but did not know what it meant. I did not know one person could have the love for another that I found they had for me and I for them. That night I slept sound all night, the first time for eighteen months. Next day I was to be baptized and little thought what I was to experience there. When I was lifted from the water what joy I felt. At once a song my mother so often sang came to my mind, the chorus of which is
"Peace, peace, wonderful peace
Coming down from the Father above,
Sweep over my soul forever I pray,
In fathomless billows of love."
I at once knew what the poet who penned these lines had felt. I was given assurance there is a Heaven and that I will be there. As Elder Edwards and I changed our clothes, I told him there was one thing yet to make this peace complete and that was to tell this sweet story. If I ever had a call to the ministry it was there, for I believe only for modesty sake I should have shouted, sung and preached on the bank of the same little stream I saw the sun rise above.
Within a month I was trying to talk in a prayer meeting, and from then until now I have taken advantage of every opportunity to speak of this great love. At the close of each attempt I experience that calmness and before each baptism, I carry a burden similar to my own and a peacefulness at the close. Brethren, these are my evidences that this is of the Lord. Two years from the day I was baptized, I was married to Miss Adah V. Collins of Hazel Creek Church, Adair County, Missouri, and moved my membership from Cedar Creek, Callaway County, Missouri, to here. The Lord only permitted our home on this earth to last sixteen months, and the cold icy hand of death claimed her. Here I learned again the lesson of the goodness of God. He makes no mistakes. Some of His lessons are hard, but they are remembered. I had conducted several funerals, but I did not know how. But later when I stood to console a young husband and six children who had given up a young beautiful mother, I felt to know why the Lord had put me through the fiery furnace.
Again, the Lord had blessed me with a help mate, Miss Viola Capps, also of Hazel Creek Church, and our home has been blessed with a baby girl. My companions have both loved the cause I try to serve and have been a great comfort in the trials that are mine. I was ordained to the full work of the ministry, August 25, 1931, and here I learned the meaning of "laying on of hands." From that time on I have tried to give my full time to the care of churches. At present, I have the care of four and I feel to love them as a parent does a child. They are my care, my thought. In these hard times they have done well by me, caring for me as a preacher, and how there must be more ahead of me. Surely I have learned that He will never leave nor forsake me, yet I have doubted Him enough to send my soul to hell. Sometimes, I want to pray "Lord make it my way and I will never doubt again," but I know I will, and I know my way is not His way, so I try to pray "Thy will be done" possibly the hardest prayer we ever pray. To those who would say, "If this is the way the Lord leads a poor sinner, I am not being led" I would say these mile posts along the way were not known as I met them. I have looked back and learned what they were. The Bible the rich aunt gave me has been my most treasured gift, and I have carried it all the while. It has traveled many miles with me, on its pages I have seen many beautiful promises and precious doctrines. Also, I have gazed upon its pages when they were as blank as its covers. Nine years after its presentation, I stood with it to deliver the funeral discourse of this same aunt, and she and I have wept together over its blessed teaching. From it I have preached funerals from the four months bate to those nearing a century.
In our home we have prayer for we have something to ask God for and something to ask him for. Dear reader, I have written this scattered account of what I feel is the Lord's dealings with me in the hope it may encourage some poor one along the way. Should I write the many little experiences that have taught me big lessons it would make a good pamphlet, so I bring this to a close, hoping to see that day when the Sun of Righteousness shall shine into my clouded soul and the clear notes of the Angels shall fill my soul with peace and I shall drop this great load of mortality and put on immortality, be lifted from the grave and find that it is Heaven.