By: John E. Phelan, Sr.
It was on a naval base in California when a fellow sailor asked me if I was saved. He used terminology I had not often heard in the denomination in which I was raised. Soon after that, I received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, was baptized, and received into fellowship at the assembly in Riverside, California. The teaching at the denominational church where I grew up made me aware that I would never be able to continue there even though my former pastor offered me one hundred dollars a month to stay in his church as youth worker. That was a lot of money for a college student in 1948, but my convictions were firm.
Upon discharge from the navy, I missed and sought the fellowship that I had experienced among the believers in Riverside. The closest assembly of believers that I knew about was in Louisville, Kentucky, 180 miles away, and that was before interstate highways. Worshipping with fellow believers at the Lord’s Supper had been such a blessing, that I began traveling to Louisville as often as possible, sometimes by Greyhound bus.
Meeting in our home was an option after we married and studied at Emmaus Bible School, located in Chicago at that time. One of the many blessings at that time was meeting Hal and Norma Greene of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada. They moved to Nashville in 1951 with the encouragement of William MacDonald. We bought and erected a tent expecting to see the LORD do great things. Like Jonah of old, we had to learn that “salvation is of the LORD”. In His own time, the LORD was pleased to save many people from the working, blue-collar neighborhood where the LORD had placed us. With the winter of 1951 approaching, and no place to meet with the new believers, we decided to winterize the tent and stay there until spring. No one told us that it could not be done, so we just did it. Since the tent was heated by a wood burning stove and a kerosene heater, we were not surprised when the fire marshal condemned the tent and rightly so. The following week we distributed 500 handbills in the neighborhood announcing the following Sunday morning subject which Hal Greene preached, “Condemned or Not Condemned”. It was during this time that we received encouragement from T. B. Gilbert, a pioneer preacher, whose work is recorded in “He Loved to Plant” by Don Norbie.
We appreciated visits by George Landis and others, including Ed McCully on his way to Ecuador where he and his missionary friends would later be martyred by the Auca Indians. Ed’s dad also visited us on a Sunday morning when the fire in the warm morning heater went out in the tent. Shivering as he left, he said, “You fellows sure have courage”. He never mentioned good sense.
Even we were smart enough to know that two winters in a tent would be insanity. Our first building was on the location where the tent had been pitched. We spent countless hours in neighborhood visitation, Vacation Bible Schools (VBS), and youth efforts resulting in much rejoicing but many heartaches. Additions to the original building were made in 1955 and 1964. It was in 1964 that the LORD led Hal and Norma Greene to Cape Girardeau, Missouri to pioneer a new work there. A year later, I was led of the LORD to leave secular employment to give full time to His work.
In 1979, a new location on six acres in the Bellevue community, became our new home. It is called the “Lord’s Work”. It is much easier to start a new work than it is to maintain such a work. There is the ongoing preaching of the gospel, the discipling of new believers, teaching the Word, preaching funerals, performing weddings, counselling, radio messages, ministering to the needy, and much more. Lest I am misunderstood, over the years we have had two overall objectives: to preach the Word of God, and give pre-eminence to our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s Word will not return void and He honors those who honor His Son. Proof of that promise is that which started out simply as a gospel outreach to a blue-collar neighborhood, is now home to believers from numerous language groups and cultures from all over the world – all in Christ.
It was in 1957 that the three assemblies in middle Tennessee – Nashville, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville – launched the Mid-South Bible Conference at Montgomery Bell State Park. For over thirty years there were thousands of believers from all over the United States who were blessed by the teaching of many of God’s faithful servants. As an outgrowth of the ministry of Mid-South Bible Conference, Horton Haven Christian Camp was born. Located on 350 acres, on the banks of the Duck River near Chapel Hill, Tennessee in Marshall County, the camp ministry operates twelve months a year. It serves over 900 campers each summer, as well as our own retreats; plus, we serve many guest groups. Mid-South has now become a Labor Day weekend conference, with many enjoying the camp facility, including the modern comfortable rooms, dining hall, chapel and much more. The annual Labor Day Family weekend continues to be a blessing to those who attend.
In addition to the chapel located in Bellevue, and the site of Horton Haven Christian Camp, a group of believers hived off in 1976, and now meet on the east side of Nashville, Christian Believers of Donelson. Over the years we have co-labored together, especially in the ongoing work of Horton Haven Christian Camp. GOD has truly done remarkable things since that question asked back in 1947, “Are you saved?”