ARPTalk Erskine Theological Seminary Reverend Chuck Wilson

What I Learned at the Seminar on Poverty

ARPTalk Erskine Theological Seminary Reverend Chuck Wilson

On Wednesday, August 26, I traveled to the Greenville Associate Reformed Presbytery Church were Outreach North American was holding a seminary on poverty with Randy Nabors and Will Broadus.

Nabors is pastor-emeritus of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Urban and Mercy Ministries Coordinator for Mission to North America for the Presbyterian Church in America. He grew up in poverty in Newark, New Jersey and has extensive experience in cross-cultural ministry and ministry to the poor.

Broadus, an African-American Baptist pastor, grew up in poverty on the Westside of Greenville. He became a Christian at 14, and the story of his pilgrimage is riveting. Having served in East Asia as missionaries, Will and his wife, Becca, moved back to Greenville to plant Reconcile Community Church, which he envisions as a cross-cultural ministry to the poor.

Why Am I Interested in a Seminar on Poverty?

When I saw this seminar on poverty, I wanted to attend it. I was raised in Eloise, Florida, a small citrus-worker and migrant-worker community in Central Florida. Interestingly, I did not know we were poor until I was 12. That year I was bussed to school in Winter Haven, and I discovered my world was larger than Eloise and felt the sting of being thought of as second-class.

My wife was raised in deep poverty. She was one of four children of a single-mom in Richmond, Virginia As a small child, because her mother was ill for a protracted time, she lived in an orphanage. When her mother recovered, she reclaimed her children. They then lived in federally subsidized apartments. At 15, Erlene dropped out of school, lied about her age, got a job as a waitress, and helped her older sister to graduate from high school and her mother to care for her two younger siblings.

My wife is amazing. She tells stories of attending church via the bus ministry of a Baptist church when she was five. At 19, she became a Christian. With the help of her church and Christian friends, she was able to get her GED and attend Bible School and college. I found her in college. She sat on the front row and was one of my students. I married her three years later.

At one time, I wanted to return to my home, to the little church in which I was raised and minister to the people from which I came. However, after graduating from college, graduate school, and seminary, I discovered I could not return. I had changed too much. I could not speak the language of the people from which I came. I also discovered they did not want me to return. As a childhood pastor said, "We want better for you." And, to this day, I do not know what "better" means. As I look back from the perspective of 50 years, I do not like "better."

My career was ministry to small town Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregations, and most of the time I was the church planter and solo pastor. Quickly, I discovered the people to whom I was able to minister where people with an educational background similar to mine. Some of them were financially affluent and some were not, but all of them reflected educational accomplishment. At Fuller Church Growth Seminars, I learned this was called the Homogeneous Unit Principle. Understanding the principle, I was uncomfortable with it and did not see it squaring with the church in the Book of Acts. I was plagued with my inability to reach those who were different. I was never able to fully solve the puzzle of racial and socio-economic blending. So, those who can are a captivating mystery to me.

What Did I Learn?

Well, what did I learn at this seminary on poverty which was sponsored by Outreach North America?

One, I learned not many Associate Reformed Presbyterians are interested in a seminar on poverty. Besides Outreach North America people, people from the Greenville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, there were not many Associate Reformed Presbyterians present. This is not a statement of criticism; it is an observation of the makeup of the audience. Also, after speaking with a number of the participants, I do not think many of them have a personal experience with poverty. Once again, this is not a criticism; it is an observation.

Two, when dealing with words like "justice," "mercy," "social responsibly" and other hot button words, clear definitions are necessary in order to prevent people from talking at and past each other.

Three, I greatly appreciated Nabors and Broadus' emphasis on preaching the gospel to conversion and diligent discipleship of believers. If I understand what they were saying, poverty is a sign of God's judgment. As I heard them, discipleship in the local church leads people out of the life-destroying lifestyles that produce and continue generational poverty. In other words, a form of Christianity which does not transform is not authentic.

Four, I learned the best way to deal with poverty is by planting Bible-believing, Bible-teaching, and Bible-discipling congregations in poor communities. Since poverty is a sign of God's judgment (Deuteronomy 14.4-5), the seed of poverty is spiritual. Government, therefore, is unable to deal with the root issue of poverty. (Actually, government institutionalizes, industrializes, and promotes poverty to a political end.) A local congregation which is Bible-believing, Bible-teaching, and Bible discipling has the transformational tools which enable the poor to overcome poverty. In the words of Randy Nabors, "The local church is God's vehicle for social change." That is to say, the gospel transforms people!

Five, the question, "Why do Presbyterians have difficulty with planting congregations among the poor?" was answered by Randy Nabors. He answered it is because Presbyterian church planters expect to be paid. Well, church planting is hard - and extraordinarily hard among the poor. It calls for indomitable commitment to call and vision. It asks, "What price are you willing to pay? Are you willing to be a tentmaker in order to see your vision accomplished? Are you willing to invest 30 years of your life and count it joy?" Indeed, we look at someone like Randy Nabors who informs us his church has 1100 member and a multi-million dollar budget, and fail to hear him when he says it took him 36 years!

Six, I learned church planting which reaches the poor must take the office of deacon seriously to the point of professionalizing it. It has been my observation that Presbyterians do not know what to do with the office of deacon. In our churches, deacons are the greeters, the ushers, the ones who count the offerings, the ones who frame the budget and argue with the elders over it, the ones who oversee the cleaning and repairs of the church building and the maintenance of the grounds, the ones who open and close the doors on Sunday, the ones who maintain the Mercy Fund, and, lest I forget, the ones who make the coffee and put out the donuts. All of which is the trivialization of the office of deacon. In a congregation which ministers to the poor, the office of deacon is of paramount importance. When the poor attend church, they come with many and various needs and problems to be resolved. Deacons who cannot attend to such needs are a waste of effort. When the poor attend church, they attend with their children who are ignorant of church etiquette (as are the parents), and I can assure you the blending of behaviors between non-churched young people, Christian School young people, and homeschool young people is maddeningly complex. Deacons who cannot attend to such needs are a waste of effort. When the poor come to church and a trained and involved board of deacons is not in place to assist the pastor and elders, the work of the congregation is paralyzed.

When Jesus called Peter, James, and John, He called them to leave their boats and follow Him (Luke 5.1-11); after his healing, the demonic of the country of the Gadarenes asked Jesus if he could follow him, and Jesus said, "Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you" (Luke 8.28-39); and, when Jesus called Paul, He sent him as "a chosen vessel . . . to bear [His] name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel." (Acts 9.15). Certainly, callings are different, and a servant is only responsible to his own master (Romans 14.4). I am no man's master. However, I do admire those who are called to minister in places of poverty in Jesus' name. They go to rescue  people like my wife and I were.

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

ARPTalk Erskine College Sports Reverend Chuck Wilson

More Sports Programs Anticipated at Erskine College

ARPTalk Erskine College Sports Reverend Chuck Wilson

More Sports Programs Anticipated at Erskine College

I must begin this issue of ARPTalk by apologizing to our readers. In the last issue of ARPTalk, I announced the following new sports were added at Erskine College: football, acrobatics, E-Sports, lacrosse, track and field, and rodeo. There are, however, other sports programs under consideration. At the time, I was unaware of them.

I informed the readers of ARPTalk that the motion to pass the new sports programs was made by Bobby McDonald, who, when someone objected to not having time to read the many-paged proposal, said the board should adopt the proposal, and the members of the board could read it when they got home. Well, it has taken me some time to obtain a full copy of the proposal. Hidden in the back of the proposal and in small print were the other sports programs which are on the table for consideration. I can now inform our readers that those sports are (1) bass fishing, (2) tractor pulling. (3) catfish noodling, and (4) alligator trolling with nutria in Louisiana.

According to President Gustafson, the justification for sports programs such as these goes like this: "We are attempting to be relevant to the cultural ethos of our target student community." That means, "butts in beds."

Men and Women's Bass Fishing

I understand the conversation among the members of the administration on the possibility of bass fishing was so exciting it bordered on the giddy. It is reported that Clarence's Sporting Goods, Tri-motors Bassemperor Boats, and Fishing Hole Bait and Fly Shops are in discussions with President Gustafson on the possibility of supporting the entire program. In a phone interview with Athletic Director Mark Peeler, he said, "I'm so excited about this opportunity. I can say I am literally in a tizzy. I have even been in the backyard today where I had the manure pile two summers ago digging for and collecting worms for our first tournament! I can't get over that our college that was once known for its liberal arts programs has evolved to the point we have a bass fishing program with scholarships. For all those who say there is no hope for Bubba and Wanda Fay getting a college athletic scholarship, let me tell you we will soon have one at Erskine College! And thank you Tri-motors Bassemperor Boats for the new Titan Emperor Deluxe Edition Bass Boat with heated leather seats. We are mooring it in Lake Academic behind the rodeo stockyard. Go Fleet!"

Men and Women's Tractor Pulling

According to Bobby McDonald, "Tractor pulling is a perfect sport for a college like Erskine which is located east of and about 7 miles from the town of The-End-of-the-Earth, South Carolina. Wilber Ebenezer Braxton Nutts (who usually goes by "Webie") has a large farm southeast of Due West. Webie loves tractor pulling. Years ago, when the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville was the BI-LO Center, Webie attended all the tractor pulling events. He says he lost his hearing because the events were incredibly loud (and being held indoors the sound was intensified); however, loss of hearing has not diminished his enthusiasm for tractor pulling. Webie is prepared to give 100 acres for a tractor pulling arena. He says an open-air space protects the hearing of young people who attend. Webie is also giving 100 acres for parking and the attending venues, and he is building a grandstand that seats 10,000. When I asked President Gustafson about this, he replied, "A big hand and a tip of the hat are due to Webie Nutts."

Possible sponsors are Ford, Dodge, International, John Deere, Coors Beer, Miller Beer, Taylor's Pride Chewing Tobacco, Copenhagen Snuff, Bib Overalls, and, lest I forget, Aurora Cannabis. When Webie Nutts heard about the possible sponsors, he said, "Go Fleet! We gonna have a high time!"

Men and Women's Catfish Noodling

Noodling? Noodling? Noodling? What can I say? Catfish noodling at Erskine College? It staggers the imagination! It is hard to makeup this stuff!

For some unexplained reason, no one is willing to talk about noodling. When I asked an old friend who presently serves on the board about noodling, he said, "Oh, Chuck, our meetings are now like attending a funeral wake!" He then went silent, and all I could hear was my friend sobbing into the phone. Finally, his wife took the phone out of his hands, and, after apologizing for his emotional collapse, hung up the phone.

I have a friend in Cajun country in Louisiana who has been noodling since he was a little boy. His name is Maurice Bourgeois. He and his wife Aimée live just north of the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge and near the town of Krotz Springs. Up on Highway 190, about 2 miles west to Port Barre, Maurice and Aimée own a strip mall called "Maurice's Fishing Camp, Oyster Bar, and Really Good Ethiopian Restaurant, Women's Hair Salon, Discount Liquor Store, One Minute Tax Preparation, Men's Hair Stylist, L'Acadiane Truck Stop, Law Office of François Bourgeois, Very Quickie Fast Grocery Store and Cajun Delights." When I was there, folks called Maurice's chain of stores and offices "Mauriceville," and it is the best place to get a mess of cracklings and boudin, a hot cup of café au lait, and a glazed beignets for dessert.

When I called Maurice and asked him about noodling as a sport at Erskine, he was ecstatic. He said, "It's 'bout time! They been doin' bass fishin' at LSU fer years!" He asked, "Do they have girls' noodlin'?" I told him, "As far as I know, Maurice, noodling will be a sport for both men and women."

Maurice's daughter, Trudimae Yvella (whose first name comes from her maternal grandmother who was born in Arkansas and was a Baptist), is a noodler. She has won numerous tournaments in Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Maurice asked me for Athletic Director Mark Peeler's phone number. Maurice said he needed to know when Erskine is planning to launch the noodling program. He said a scholarship for Trudimae guarantees a women's championship, and he is prepared to buy all the catfish caught in tournaments for Maurice's Fishing Camp, Oyster Bar, and Really Good Ethiopian Restaurant.

Well, I thought I had seen everything in Due West! Noodling! Noodling? I just cannot wait to see Trudimae at work again. The sight of a young woman with her arm up to her elbow in the mouth of a 61-pound catfish is not something one sees everyday! It is a sight one does not soon forget!

Men and Women's Alligator Trolling with Nutria in Louisiana

Now, the sport of alligator trolling with nutria in Louisiana makes ecological and financial sense. A nutria is a giant South American rat which was accidentally introduced into the swamps of Louisiana in the 1920s. Today, the nutria population is so large the nutrias are about to eat all the vegetation in the Louisiana swamps and coastline. They cannot be killed fast enough to eradicate them. No one can find anything the nutria is good for. It is not even good for food. I know; I have tasted nutria. The only thing a nutria is good for is being a 24-hour-a-day eating machine. Anything to help with nutria control is a good idea. So, let us give a high-five to the folks at Erskine for coming up with this idea for a college sport. It is ecologically friendly! Go Fleet!

Alligators were once endangered in Louisiana. However, those days are long past. Today, alligators are an everywhere nuisance. Control of the population is problematic. A sport which helps in alligator control will be profitable nowadays. There is a growing market for alligator meat and a luxury market for the hides for shoes, luggage, handbags, watchbands, wallets, and jackets. This is a money-maker! A cash cow!

I do not know how the sport of alligator trolling with nutria in Louisiana came to be considered at Erskine. I did my best to get an interview; however, everyone was reticent to talk about this. Finally, I found one person who spoke with me, but she said she would talk with me only if I promised to conceal her identity. And, yes, I will keep her identity a mystery. I do not want her to lose her job.

According to my source, in a late night brainstorming session, one of the administrators said he knew someone in Louisiana who had an idea for a new sport that would solve a problem and make a profit. He said, "Instead of following, let's create a new sport and be first for a change." Well, it was late at night!

The next morning a couple of phone calls were made to the Louisiana Fish and Game Department and to other state officials. They were simply beside themselves in glee. Help from South Carolina was on the way! So, alligator trolling with nutria in Louisiana is now under consideration in Due West. As one of the Erskine administrators is reported to have said, "This is a great opportunity. We can launch a new college sport for the Southeast. It now makes sense to begin recruiting in Louisiana. If the target student population in Louisiana is similar to what we have in South Carolina, we have a bonanza of potential students! Go Fleet!"

When I called Maurice Bourgeois and told him about alligator trolling with nutria in Louisiana, he called Trudimae over to the phone so she could speak with me. She was so excited! She said, "Fergit 'bout noodlin', sign me up fer gator trollin'!" Well, maybe she can be a two-sports athlete with two scholarship and get two varsity letters!

When I finally did get through to President Gustafson and asked him how catfish noodling and alligator trolling were compatible with and advanced the Erskine mission as a Christian college, he responded with, "Uh, well, un, and, well, uh, uh, uh, uh. What was your question?" Suddenly, I was speaking with his secretary who said, "Mr. Wilson, Dr. Gustafson is presently indisposed! Can you call him back next year?"

Earlier, I said this stuff cannot be made-up. It is not possible! It sounds too much like something out of a Flannery O'Connor story gone mad in a LSD parlor in Savannah in 1964. I thought Hazel Motes died at the end of Wise Blood, but it seems he recovered and is alive and well in Due West and employed at Erskine College!

Finally, in my last conversation with my unidentified source, I asked her how she was doing. She responded, "Thanks for asking. We are attempting to master the art of selling moonlight to a full-moon night sky as we slide into academic insignificance and the attending fear, anxiety, and depression of those awaiting execution by hanging."

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson