J. T. Pugh -- 1923--2010
An incredible stalwart among us has passed to his reward on this day. An e-mail found its way to my box this afternoon from UPCI General Superintendent David Bernard informing us of the passing of Jessie Truman Pugh. Over the years Brother Pugh has provided great insight and encouragement to a lot of men who are in the ministry. He was an icon among us and did his job with incredible discipline and insight. A number of sermons preached by Brother Pugh over the years can be found at Faithbuilder (enter the site and then select his name from the drop-down menu).
This week I will resurrect some of the recollections that I have of Brother Pugh. Although I cannot say that I was close to him, I did have a few opportunities to spend some time with him. The first time was in the fall of 1996 when I was involved in teaching a few sessions at the district licensing seminar in Alabama. He happened to sit down at the table where I was eating and since I did not have an immediate obligation in one of the after lunch sessions, I was able to spend about 30 minutes talking to him. It has been one of those lifetime memories that remain with me.
I heard another story recently about J. T. Pugh that probably fits well with this blog. J. T. Pugh was raised by his two older sisters in an old clapboard sharecropper’s cabin in Noble, Louisiana. His father died when Brother Pugh was just four years old. A tornado came through the town and he died in the tragedy of that storm. His mother died when he was just in his early teens and he was left with his two sisters to make the best of things as they could. He said that there never was a day in his life when he felt that he would just skip school and quit. He saw it as a way out of the deep poverty that he was so accustomed to growing up with.
It just so happened that when he was in high school that a teacher noticed that Brother Pugh had a talent for public speaking and the more she noticed him the more convinced she became that he could perhaps do something with it. She would go home at night and tell her husband about Brother Pugh’s thirst to learn and better himself.
Her husband owned a general story in Noble but this man also had some attachment to the local VFW. One day, Brother Pugh was walking home and passed by this store when the man was out front sweeping off the porch. He called out and said, “Are you J. T. Pugh?” to which Brother Pugh answered, “Yes sir, I am.” He told Brother Pugh that his wife, the schoolteacher, had been telling him about how he had applied himself to the books and lessons and also that he had a knack for public speaking. The conversation went on and he mentioned that every year the VFW would sponsor a student to give a patriotic speech and there were prizes that were awarded to the winners. If Brother Pugh was interested, the store owner told him he would work with him and it could be that he might win. He told Brother Pugh that they gave scholarships to various colleges around the country.
Time passed and Brother Pugh, the store-owner, and the schoolteacher, worked long hours after school with Brother Pugh crafting and working through his speech. Somewhere deep in his mind, Brother Pugh saw this as an opportunity for education to get him out of his deep seated poverty. So the work, the self-denial, was not a task but almost a relief.
The day arrived when he was to give his speech for the state competition. He did it flawlessly and won the competition at the state level. The next step was the regional competition which took place in Memphis. On the night that they gathered in Memphis, all of the contestants were taken behind the stage and placed in individual rooms so that they could not hear the presentation of the other speakers. Brother Pugh was in his room pacing back and forth giving his speech to the air when there was a knock on his door. One of the assistants stepped in and said, “Jessie Truman Pugh, it’s your time!” Brother Pugh said in his mind he thought, “Mister, you’re mighty right, it is my time!”
One of the finer details had been revealed to all of the contestants just before the competition had begun. The winner of the regional event would go on to New York City and compete nationally for a scholarship to Yale University. Brother Pugh felt like this was his ticket to get out of all of the poverty and downtrodden life he had lived. Something begin to beat on the inside of him like never before.
He went out on that stage in Memphis and delivered his patriotic speech and he won the southeastern regional division. Now it was on to New York to deliver his speech and to get the scholarship from Yale. Opportunity had finally swung in his direction!
There was a space of time between the regional competition and the national competition and during that space of time, Brother Pugh's two sisters were praying for him. The praying sisters lived in Tupelo, Mississippi where a very primitive Pentecostal Bible college had been set up. It so just happened that Brother Pugh went over to see them during the Christmas break. He said that when you get around praying people it has an effect on you and the Lord started pulling at him in Tupelo. His sisters were praying because they knew the end effect that would happen if he were to win this scholarship to Yale.
So late one night after going to church and getting in late, his sisters went on to bed and Brother Pugh was sitting in front of a pot-bellied wood stove in that cold December winter. The Lord was dealing with him about a call to preach and he was having all of his excuses torn down by God. After a while, he reached into his pocket and pulled out that speech and began to pace back and forth while he read his speech on that tattered notebook paper. Finally at last, he walked over to that stove and opened up the door and tossed his speech into the roaring fire.
However it happened, it did. . . Brother Pugh said that in that moment the Lord showed him his whole entire life. He won the speech contest, he went on to Yale and finished. The Lord showed him the woman he would have married. The Lord showed him the job he would have had and then it all turned and the Lord showed him a miserable life. One in which his material dreams would have been realized but his marriage would have been a prison trying to love a women who despised him, children out of control with no spiritual aspirations, and largely a very miserable life.
Fast forward in time to Deleon, Texas where he knelt down in a clapboard house by a threadbare, worn couch and asked, “Bessie, will you marry me? I can only promise you a life of wearing worn-out shoes, faded out dresses, without a car for several years, and you won’t have much. I can only promise you a life of doing the will of God but if you will have me, I will love you with all of my heart.” He said that with tears dripping off of her face, she said yes.
That was well over sixty years ago. Now, Sister Pugh is stricken with Parkinson’s and Brother Pugh is confined to the house and takes care of her night and day. He feeds and dresses her. He takes care of every need. Someone asked, “Brother Pugh, how do you feel about it now?” He told them, “It is my happy privilege to do it because for years she has sacrificed for the call. . . and her reward will be great!”
I told this story in a sermon I preached about 2 months ago to the home crowd here in Dothan. The story demonstrates the power of the call on a man’s life. It is highly, highly doubtful if Brother Pugh would have gone on to Yale that he would have made the impact on the Kingdom as he has done over the years. . . .
NOTE: Photo of Brother Pugh was from flickr account of Keith Womack. Apparently taken at a conference in Monroe, Louisiana.