Phyllis Harold was a widow that lived in a single wide trailer beside one of the smaller lakes in the Lake Tansi community. Her ministry was the nursery. Her favorite group was The Kingdom Heirs. Phyllis was well in her sixties when I met her and had season passes to Dollywood, not for the roller coasters, but for The Kingdom Heirs. If there is such a thing in gospel music, Phyllis was a Kingdom Heirs groupie.
I am about to share something that up until this time (as far as I know) is only known by me and one other person, but it is an episode in the life of Lantana Road Baptist Church that was a divine cause of why the church continues to exist and is a great witness for Christ today.
The ink was barely dry on The Long and Short Range Plans when the church voted to begin considering some upgrades to the building. The business meeting that Wednesday night gave me an incredible amount of hope. The vote may have centered on building plans, expenditures, and projects, but it was actually a display of unified faith. For the first time in a long time the church was looking ahead, no longer focused on where it was, but focused on what God was going to do. I walked out of the small, metal sanctuary building towards the block building that would later become our worship center. I am not sure that my feet touched the ground from point A to point B. Yet I had not long walked through the door when the treasurer met me with some news that would bring me back to reality. “Brian, the church is about $10,000 in the red. We owe bills to X, Y, and Z. The three letters that concerned me the most were IRS. We have spent the Lottie Moon missions offering to try and catch up.” In Southern Baptist Life spending the Lottie Moon offering on anything other than missions is equal to cannibalism, throwing puppies off a bridge, or water boarding Mother Teresa. It is an unimaginable crime, borderline blasphemy.
My feet were now squarely back on the floor. My heart was not far behind. I do not blame our treasurer for the grave error that had been committed. She was simply doing what she had been instructed to do for several years. You spend what you have and try to make it up later. The problem was that later was now. Even worse, now I was the pastor. There were so many bad business decisions going on behind the scenes that threatened the solvency of the small congregation. At the time all I could say was, “Please don’t tell anyone what you just told me. If they find out, they may hang us both.” I determined that I would go home that night and pray for a miracle. I employed one other person to do the same. It was a long night and a fitting inauguration into the dark pressures of pastoral leadership. Between the tears and flashes of failure and fear, I prayed. That is all I knew to do. I prayed that somehow God would intervene and save the church.
The light of Thursday brought no relief. I tried to manage the day, not letting others know that I was dying inside. Without a miracle my first pastorate would last less than 90 days and Lantana Road Baptist Church would have ended in the first few weeks of 1997 (at least that’s the way I felt). Darkness fell once again on Thursday night. Once again I petitioned God into the pre-dawn hours of the coming morning.
At some point I fell asleep, not in the bed, but on the small love seat couch in my study. It was about 9:00 a.m. when I was awakened by a phone call. It was Phyllis. “Brian, the Lord is telling me to do something, but you have to promise me that you will not tell a soul (sorry Phyllis, but 15 years is long enough, and since you are in Heaven now, you’ll have to chide me later; I know you will). I am not sure what the church needs, but I am going to donate $10,000, will that help?” Would that help? Help was not the word I was thinking. She should have asked, is this a miracle? God had provided our need basically to the penny. I have never shared this information with anyone, but I can verify that Phyllis‘ donation was a turning point in the life of LRBC. If nothing else, it was the price of redemption. It was the end of bad business LRBC. From that day forward the church began to grow in numbers, in faith, and in finances. During my tenure as pastor the church never returned to the red and never missed paying a bill. God answered our prayers. Lantana Road Baptist Church would prosper from that day forward because Phyllis Harold heard the voice of God and obeyed Him.
That moment was a defining moment for LRBC and for me in these 15 years of serving God as a shepherd. I have had many dark days of doubt throughout the years, but Phyllis’ call was more to me than a Friday morning alarm, it was an awakening moment that reaffirmed to me that with God all things are possible. I learned early on that the great things God does usually comes from unlikely people in unexpected corners. I have always found it to be true that the people who have the least give the most. Phyllis gave the widow’s mite, she did all she could, and God has used her gift these past 15 years to grow a great church for His glory.
Phyllis died not many years later of throat cancer. She was a dear saint of God. A few hours after she passed away I visited her trailer and asked her family for one thing, a Kingdom Heirs tape. In my office is a box full of strange artifacts that would mean little to nothing to others, but to me each item in the box represents a person or a chapter in the story of this first 15. Phyllis‘ Kingdom Heirs tape was the first item in the box. Each time I open my box I pull out that old cassette tape and I remember Phyllis, what she did, and what God can do.