| Sixty-five years ago, the heralded and beloved Evangelist Carl Richardson, friend of many thousands of us, preached his first sermon. He was 15. Since then, his persona and preaching has blessed us and people in every state in the United States. Carl has now preached in 103 countries.
HIS FIRST SERMON was a signal event in his life. However, as we were to learn, the behind-the-scenes excruciating, and until now mostly unknown struggle to get there, turns what could have been a tragedy, into an even greater miracle of ministry. The events are true, gathered from interviews with the Evangelist.
When we are blessed by someone's life, when they have reached a standard of excellence and or acclaim, we rightfully honor the moment of blessing. However, as is true for Carl Richardson and all of us, it is the struggle, the effort, the endurance through tough times, that builds within us a character foundation upon which God can build or strengthen.
Only a wasp is born full-grown. All the rest of us have to grow.
A particular accomplishment or a series of them is a headline. The journey; perseverance, tenacity, courage to live out one's faith even in adversity, is the story.
We joyously herald the day Moses faced death by standing before Pharaoh and declaring, "Let My People Go!! But that was after 40 years on the backside of the Midian Desert. The fabled "Burning Bush" did not burst into flame in Pharaoh's Court. The fire burned and was a character-molding factor during the time Moses was suffering banishment.
This began as an article about the first sermon of an anointed and respected Evangelist. We felt it would help viewers, most of them in ministry, to share their own Call experiences or first sermon. However, it quickly became evident the goal was too small. As is often the case, it is the struggle that forms the strong foundation.
We know Carl. We are familiar with his legacy of faithfulness to Christ and in ministry. He has lived it out among us. So, let’s begin with the early years.
For years, life had been increasingly difficult for Hettie Ellen (Payne) Richardson. Where she grew up, a lot of people were identified by a two-name combination; Billy Joe, John Boy, Linda Sue, Sally Mae, Mary Bell. So Carl’s Mom was never just “Hettie.” She was always “Hettie Ellen.”
The quiet and well-respected brown-eyed Hettie Ellen and her husband Paul were separating again. He was handsome and she was crazy in love with him. He had auburn hair and stunning blue eyes. Carl says that is why he has green eyes.
NICE TURNED TO ICE
His Dad was completely charming when he wasn’t drinking. People were drawn to him. He was one of the nicest people you could meet. However, when he was drinking, nice turned to ice. His increased boozing was freezing out the relationship with his loving wife.
When he staggered home drunk time and time again, the soft-spoken Hettie Ellen told him, “Paul, this is no way to raise Carl.” He had become increasingly belligerent and rough with her. Her future was very uncertain. Women throughout the world who have been through similar circumstances, know what Hettie Ellen was feeling.
Carl was terrified of his Dad. One afternoon, Carl was playing outside. Glancing up the poverty-stricken street lined with coal mining shanties, he noticed his dad stumbling home drunk again. He began to tremble in terror.
Carl fled out of site and rushed to the house next door. He did not want to be home when his dad got there. Never again did he want to experience hearing him yell in anger, or see his drunken Dad slap a red place on his Mothers fair face. He longed to love his father, but seeing his Mom’s reddened and bruised face, was the first time he ever hated anybody. Having been taught not to hate anyone, he felt guilty.
He scurried onto the front stoop of the neighboring house and frantically knocked on the screen door. On several previous occasions, the kind neighbor lady had invited Carl inside for cookies and milk. She had no children at home and enjoyed the company of the soft-spoken, shy little boy.
Hearing his knock, she called out cheerfully, “Come in Carl. Lets have some cookies and milk.”
“No thank you Ma’am” Carl nearly stuttered from the fear. “Please hide me! Dad is coming home drunk again and I’m scared.” His panic shocked her too, but she grabbed his hand and said, “Come with me.”
Half-dragging him to the small, back room near the outside door, she pulled the lid off her “Large Bowl” ringer washing machine. Her husband had bought it for her at the coal mine Company Store. At the time, in Harlan and neighboring Lynch and Sunset, KY, having a ”Large Bowl” machine and the attached rolling wringers, was a sign you were making progress.
Reaching into the machine, she pulled out a “load” of clothes she had been preparing to wash when Carl had knocked. Throwing the clothes on a nearby small table, she turned quickly to Carl, picked him up and placed him in the washing machine.
“Curl up,” she commanded in a whisper. Then swooping up the clothes, she placed them on top of and around Carl. Almost immediately after hulling out a small space for him to breathe, there was a knock at her front door. It was Carl’s dad. Hearing his Dad’s drunken voice so terrified Carl, he was afraid his trembling body was shaking the washing machine.
“Have you seen Carl?” his dad asked. “I looked for him at the house but he was not there.”
“Yes,” the woman said. “He was in the yard earlier. If I see him out again, I’ll tell him you are looking for him.” Carl’s Dad left and the woman rushed back to her” Big Bowl” and the trembling boy in the fetal position. She lifted him out and Carl stayed close to her for an hour. He was familiar with his Dad’s behavior patterns. He would soon be in bed “sleeping in off.”
What turned Paul, a charming man who bore the name of the Apostle, into an abusive drunk? What nullified his tearful “I’m sorry Baby. I won’t do it again” apologies? ”What switched him from nice to ice?
No attempt is made here to excuse such behavior. However, whatever inner-demons a man is already struggling with, combined with long-term poverty like the Richardson’s faced every day, can squeeze out emotional bile hidden away in deep secret chambers of the heart. Scripture declares, “From the bottom of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34, KJV).
What coal-camps looked like back then, some slightly better, some much worse. https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/kentucky/25-photos-of-kentucky-coal-camps-during-the-1930s-and-1940s
Paul and Hettie Ellen had a beautiful little girl named Willow Joanne. She was a bright light in her Dad’s life. In those days, much of mining was obviously underground, and often in near darkness. Men would go to work before daylight, work all day below ground in near darkness.
Then, after a 12-14 hour shift, they would walk home in the dark. Sometimes they did not see sunlight for days. When Paul Richardson came home in the evening and laid eyes on his little girl, it was like a light of joy switching on.
On a desperately cold winter night in February, Willow JoAnne died from double pneumonia. This was before Carl was born, but as a boy, he too remembers being able to see his breath inside the house because of the lack of heat. Hettie Ellen and Paul were devastated. There may come a time when we must move beyond the death of a child, but we never get over it.
“Everyone can master a grief but he who has it.”
THE BOTTLE WAS HIS BATTLE and THE BOTTLE WAS WINNING
Because of their unrelenting hard-scrabble life and abject poverty, the Richardson’s did not own a car. So on Sundays, Hettie Ellen and Carl walked the two miles to church, and also two miles back. They never missed a Sunday. Sometimes when he was not drinking, Paul Richardson walked with them.
He was a talented man with a beautiful Irish-Tenor voice. Sometimes the three of them, the “Richardson Family Trio,” sang at church. Brother F. R. Harrawood was their Pastor. His favorite song was, “Father Along.” Carl remembers being the little boy on the front row “singing my heart out!”[/b]
Father along, we’ll know all about it.”
Farther along, we’ll understand why.
Cheer up my Brother sing in the sunshine.
We’ll understand it, all by-and-by.”
Words by: W. B. Stephens
Music by: J. E. Baxter, Jr.b
Farther Along: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UW2P9Un2ft0
The Harlan church had a brick front, but the floor was raised onto cut-off telephone poles in case the Cumberland River flooded. The back of the church actually extended out over the river bank. Building codes either nonexistent, or were not strongly enforced.
“Brother and Sister Harrawood were wonderful people,” Carl recalled. “We all loved them. There was powerful Holy Ghost worship there.”
WHLN Radio in Harlan invited the Richardson Trio to sing on-air live. The family walked to the station which was a long way from them. They were allotted 30 minutes to sing.
Station staff shoved some things aside and cleared out a space for the family to stand. They pulled up a chair for Carl to stand on so he could sing into the microphone. He often took the lead. Hettie Ellen’s smooth Soprano mixed with her husband’s Irish Tenor.
Add in Carl’s strong child’s voice, and the harmony was beautiful. It was mighty pleasing to folks listening to WHLN. It was Carl Richardson's first experience with radio. The Trio was invited back numbers of times.
SLAMMING THE BRAKES ON HAPPY
So yes, when Carl’s Dad was sober, there were some good times, some happy moments. But a fifty-cent bottle of cheap Gibson Wine, his Dad’s drink of choice, slammed the brakes on happy. Nice turned to ice.
In spite of heart-breaking poverty and commotion going on in her life, Hettie Ellen Richardson taught herself to play the piano and organ. She became an accomplished musician, and was asked to be the church pianist.
However, just as her marriage was falling apart, there was a brief window of hope. Her husband Paul finally realized that coal mining was not for him. They moved the five hours from Harlan to Columbus, Ohio.
The Richardson's visited the West Rich Street Church of God in Columbus. The Pastor was James H.Stephens. His son James David Stephens, was a little boy then, younger than Carl. He now serves as Assistant General Overseer of the Church of God.
The Stephens family was gracious and kind to the Richardson’s. Hettie Ellen felt comfortable with them and liked the people at church. After all these years, Carl and J. David are still close friends.
The only place the Richardson’s could afford to live, was in a tiny, brick structure Carl refers to as a “Ghetto Hut.” The address was: 460 West Towns Street, "slap-dab" in the middle of the booming Industrial area.
The rent was $12 a month. When the landlord later raised it to $15 and then $17, Hettie Ellen was distraught. If the rent went up even a dollar more, they couldn’t afford it.
The area was loud, gritty, and dirty all day and night from industry. When the sun went down, the noise and grit increased.
On the left side of of them was a lesbian bar. A so-called “regular” bar was on the right side. Prostitutes walked the street. The police had to break up more fights at the lesbian bar than at the regular one.
B&TMetals Manufacturing Company was directly across the street. It was a 24-hour-a day operation. Sparks were always flying and steel was grinding. The noise never let up. Within sight of where the Richardson’s lived, was the massive EBCO Manufacturing Company. To this day, EBCO supplies water fountains around the world.
If you went to school almost anywhere in America, you most likely drank from an EBCO fountain. It was poured and hammered into shape within site and sound of where Carl was growing up.
BIG AS SMALL CATS
There were rats, lots of them; big ones! Carl still shudders a bit thinking about it. He says some of the rats were “as big as small cats. They would stand up on their hind legs and eat dead roaches.
"I know it is gross to think about,” he said, “but you asked about the area and that that’s how it was.” Some nights it was difficult to sleep with all the grinding going on across the street and in the bars on either side of where they lived.
With two bars next door, it didn’t take long for Hettie Ellen’s husband to find liquor in Columbus. Soon, the handsome, gregarious man know for his kind demeanor and charming smile, was gone, a wandering soul drifting into the dark night of addiction.
Hettie Ellen was left alone to provide for herself and Carl. The worship and fellowship of her local church, and the kindness and support of her Pastor and his wife, were steadying factors for Carl. It was a soothing balm to Hettie Ellen’s spirit. Becoming the church pianist gave her an added sense of purpose.
She found a job at Kawneer Manufacturing for $50 dollars a week, but it was miles away. Each morning she left early. She walked a mile to the bus- stop, rode the bus for three miles, and then walked an additional mile to the job site. She often didn’t get home until 6pm or after.
In addition to school where he was excelling, Carl was also earning some extra money as a newspaper boy. He loved being able to help his Mom support them. He quickly built the newspaper route to be the largest.
Pastor Stephens invited Evangelist E.T. Gregory and his wife Loren, to preach a revival. Carl vividly remembers the Evangelist’s powerful preaching and the amazing car he drove. He didn’t know there were cars like that in the world. It was a shiny, black Packard with white sidewalls and plush interior.
“I was in awe,” Carl said. He was even more impressed with Evangelist Gregory’s preaching.
“I never did find out what the ‘E.T.’ in Brother Gregory’s name stood for,” Carl reminisced, “but I soon found out he stood strong for God.”
"During that revival," Carl said, “it seemed to me that Brother Gregory hung my soul over hell. I had never heard nor felt anything like that night. Not until that revival did I realize I was headed for hell unless I made things right with God.
“No man in Ohio State Prison felt more guilty than I did that night. Conviction, Godly sorrow for my sins, gripped my nine-year-old heart. I felt like the biggest sinner who ever lived. I got saved that night and it…it…”
At that moment, Carl’s voice broke. He began to weep. We were talking by phone, me in Atlanta and him in Tampa. I couldn’t see him, but I knew hot tears were running down his face. This was no whimper. He broke and stayed broken in emotion for several minutes. Tears flowed down my cheeks too. I prayed softly trying not to interrupt him.
To be continued in PART II - The [b]FIRE still BURNS Brightly[/b]
Due to a technical issue, completely my fault, PART II will be on Wednesday instead of today.
The largest room in the world is the room for improvement.
Last edited by doyle on 6/2/20 5:56 pm; edited 31 times in total
5/2/20 4:06 pm