Elmer Towns: How Sunday School changed my life
My first introduction to Sunday School came from Jimmy Breland. He was a Sunday School teacher from the Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, who made a living from being a door-to-door salesman for Jewel Tea and Coffee. It was the end of the Depression-the late 1930s-when Jimmy came to our home and spread out his wares on the living-room floor. As he began to sell the coffee and tea items to my mother, I entered the room.
"Where do you go to Sunday School?" asked the salesman.
"What is Sunday School?" I replied.
Jimmy explained that Sunday School was a place where they told stories, sang songs, colored pictures and played on a sand table.
"What's a sand table?" I asked innocently. Jimmy could see my interest in the sand table. I was like a fish on the line, so he reeled me in slowly.
"If you come to my Sunday School, we'll make a sand mountain and show you how Jesus walked across the mountains."
That was the first time I remember hearing the name Jesus. Then he said, "We'll put a mirror in the sand and it will become a lake; I'll show you how Jesus walked on water."
"Like walking across Savannah River," I said with wild enthusiasm. Then I told my mother I wanted to go to Sunday School.
"Not so fast," mother quipped. She and my father spent their time in taverns, drinking and dancing. They were trying to get away from God and the Church. My mother thought the enthusiastic tea and coffee salesman might represent a cult, so she asked him, "What church?"
Jimmy replied, "Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church."
My mother had been married in a small Presbyterian church in South Carolina, so she found it hard to object. Then she said, "Where is it located?" When Jimmy explained that the church was about five miles away, she said, "He's too little to walk that far; he'd get lost."
Jimmy Breland turned to me and said, "See that big black truck out the front screen door?" I could see large gold letters on the shiny black panel truck, JEWEL TEA AND COFFEE. "Want to ride in my truck to Sunday School?"
"Yeah," was all I could say.
Jimmy's church was located in a neighborhood that had gone bankrupt during the Depression. My mother protested that many of
the homes remained unfinished shells with deep ditches in and around the yards and she was concerned for my safety. Then she said, "Wait till he goes to the first grade. Then you can take him to Sunday School."
A few months later, September 1938, I entered the first grade. The following Sunday morning I was waiting on the front porch. I wore starched white short pants and my hair was greased down with oil. There was a misty rain falling, and soon Jimmy Breland came driving down the street in his truck, splashing through the mud puddles. He took me to Sunday School and I never missed one Sunday during the next 14 years.
Jimmy Breland was more than my Sunday School taxi driver. He was my shepherd, and he taught me the Bible and Christian values. He became my counselor, mentor and, because my father was an alcoholic, he became my substitute role model of a father. He was always teaching me and making me think about my life. Once when he happened to drive by the schoolyard, he saved me from getting beaten up in a fight. While he drove me home, he asked, "What would Jesus do?"
Jimmy Breland, with only an eighth-grade education, never became an officer in the church and never owned a home; nor did he ever own a car. He always got a job driving a truck, because money was tight. So I went to Sunday School in a Jewel Tea and Coffee truck, an Atlantic Richfield truck and a linoleum truck.
I was not the only one influenced by Jimmy Breland-19 boys in my class of 25 went into some form of full-time Christian service. When I told the story of Jimmy Breland at the National Children's Workers' Conference in San Diego, California, a lady hurried down the aisle to tell me she and others in her class were also influenced by Jimmy Breland-eight years after I was in his class.
Without a lot of education, church officer experience or public recognition, Jimmy Breland made a difference in my life and in the lives of many others. You can do the same. You can influence a life for Christ.
-- What Every Sunday School Teacher Should Know (Elmer L. Towns)
Elmer Towns is part of the All Star Sunday School Training Team. For details of meetings with Elmer Towns see http://allstarsundayschool.com/