Enjoy this article. I hope it reminds you that your “homestead” can produce products that help and encourage others.
It may be a self-published book, a Christmas tree farm like Grant Tree Farm, or The Tomato Lady in DeRidder, your imagination is the limit.
Go for your dream.
How to Build a Profitable Business Out of Your Homestead
No matter what products you get out of your homestead — be it jams, eggs, meat, herbal medicine, and so on — you can earn some extra cash by starting a business out of them. The chance to live self-sufficiently on a homestead is an opportunity to scale and make some money by specialty selling goods. This article discusses a few basic steps to take when starting a homestead business and how to make it profitable.
It’s relatively simple to get started. The first thing to do is to create a business plan. Create a brand, make a list of your products, and develop your business mission — this is where you get to determine what your ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ are for launching this profitable startup.
Setting up your business should not be difficult as there are numerous resources online to browse. It’s important to create and establish a personal brand so people can relate to it and trust your and your offerings better. You’ll also want to do research on your competitors and determine your role in the market.
Knowing your market is one of the most important aspects of entering into this business — or any business, for that matter. For example, if you are selling fruits, vegetables, or greens, you will likely have to compete with grocery stores that are more convenient and usually less expensive. Be sure to have something that sets you apart — give a detailed account of your product, how it will benefit customers, and what advantages you have over your competition, such as personalized service or more sustainable practices.
Your business plan should also include your business structure. Most small businesses can benefit from an LLC model as it offers several advantages and is cheaper to establish by yourself or through a formation service. In a nutshell, the LLC structure secures your assets as well as guarantees tax benefits. Regulations differ by state, though, so do your research or use a service like Zenbusiness.com.
Lead Your Homestead Business to Success
When people go into business, whether or not they make it depends on the marketing strategies they implement. First, you need to decide how you are going to promote your brand. Will you create a social media account? Develop an online shop? Pay for professional billboards around the town? There are countless ways to market your company these days — you just need to see which are the most realistic for your budget and your area and what works best for your offerings.
Also, you need to understand the logistics of running an enterprise, time management methods, and staying organized for the business to operate smoothly. Decide if you need to hire someone to help you or which tasks to outsource so you can save time and energy. For instance, you can invest in software to handle your business’ accounting and financial tasks and automation tools like a social media tracker or an efficient email newsletter platform.
Most importantly, you’ll also want to make sure that your customer service is top-notch. Communication is crucial for brands and can make or break your business. Ensure your message is loud and clear and your business and products meet customers’ needs. your customers’ data safely.
It’s exciting to consider the possibilities when you take your successful homestead activity to the next level. Still, carefully consider these important factors before turning your hobby into a profitable business. With a well-planned approach to establishing your brand, thorough marketing, and different tools and resources to help you run it, you can start your dream business while enjoying a hobby.
Author’s note: this story is from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank. It concerns a mockingbird and a place I love called Dry Creek Baptist Camp.
This week is Girls Camp at Dry Creek. The photo below shows four of my granddaughters, my two sisters, my daughter-in-law, a great-niece, and their friends at camp. I am so excited to see another generation experiencing the joys of camp at Dry Creek.
They are sitting near where I wrote this story in 1999. Enjoy!
Each day he sits up there—on the highest limb on the tallest oak in the campgrounds. I call him “King Mockingbird.” The area around the Tabernacle belongs to him. He is the biggest and loudest mockingbird around. It is easy to recognize him high up in the oak tree. His beautiful, loud singing soars above all the other noises of camp life.
Other mockingbirds dare not fly into his tree knowing a good pecking awaits any intruder. Resident cats and camp dogs steer clear of his territory knowing from experience how fierce he is. Even as I walk under his tree I go with all due respect, knowing the inviting target a bald camp manager makes for a territory-loving mockingbird.
And can he sing! There’s nothing prettier than the song of a mockingbird on a clear morning. As I hear him cheerfully chirp, I’m reminded that things may be bad in many parts of the world, but in his area, all is in order.
As I think of King Mockingbird, I’m reminded of the great God who oversees Dry Creek Baptist Camp. He has blessed this ministry beyond any words that we have to describe.
In addition to creating the beautiful song of this bird, He is continually working in the lives of people who visit this place called Dry Creek.
When you visit Dry Creek, be sure to stop and listen to King Mockingbird. And be sure to remember, and worship, our great God who created him.
P.S. The original mockingbird of my story is long gone. However, I bet that one of his descendants is singing happily today as hundreds of girls pass beneath his tree.
I’m working on a book of short stories. So far, I haven’t found a publisher.
There’s no use keeping these stories to myself. Enjoy! Pass them on. I’ll be posting a new story (at www.creekbank.net) every few days. I’ll use my Curt Iles Facebook page to announce new posts.
I’m always open to suggestions, feedback, and constructive criticism.
Chapter 1: On a Solid Foundation
The burly Rapides Parish Deputy stood ahead of me in line at Albertson’s. I’m Southern friendly and couldn’t help myself. “Sir, I’m writing a book for my grandsons as well as young men who don’t have a role model. I’m sure you’ve worked with young men all of your life.” I held up one finger. “What one thing would you tell a young man?”
The deputy was a large man in his early fifties. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been an Army drill sergeant in his younger years. He stared intently at me. I nearly expected him to say, “Give me fifty.”
Instead, he said, “I’d tell them they need to know Jesus. If they really know and follow Jesus in their hearts, it’ll take care of everything else.”
I thanked him as he hefted two grocery bags and strode out the store.
One thought filled my heart as I watched the deputy exit.
There walks a man with a solid foundation.
The Pineywoods Manifesto is full of lots of practical advice about living a productive and successful life, but following all of these maxims your life can still come crashing down if you don’t have a solid foundation.
It’s not meant to be a preachy book, but more of a conversation between me, the writer, and you. I’ll strive to as honest and transparent as possible. However, I’d be deficit in my duty if I didn’t avow that my solid foundation is not of things of this world.
Here’s a story that illustrates about the right foundation.
During the infamous 1989 World Series Bay Area Earthquake, a particular area of San Francisco suffered a higher proportion of collapsed buildings and fatalities. The investigation revealed that this certain area had been built on sand pumped from the Bay. Most of the city is built on bedrock and can withstand strong tremors. Sadly, many people died that day because their homes were built on sand, not bedrock.
A strong foundation is essential to anything.
That same Jesus the deputy referred to, once said, in his most famous sermon.
24“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.27And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
I have a Life Song* that serves as my foundation during life’s storms. Although the author is anonymous, the song, “How Firm a Foundation” has comforted people for centuries.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
The second verse is my favorite.
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
As a depression survivor, I’ve been pulled under the deep waters of my disease, so I take solace in the third verse:
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
Once again, that promise to be with me in spite of where I’m at.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee;
I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
I’ve been in those fires, but never alone.
I especially love the penultimate final verse that I call the double-double-triple negative promise:
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Take the wisdom of this book and use it in your life. I’m simply passing it on from others.
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he [b]meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the [c]rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. -Psalms 1:1-3 NKJV
Drone photo by Todd Burnaman less than twenty-four hours before the White House burned.
Saying Goodbye to a Grand Old Lady
Throughout my life in my hometown of Dry Creek, a building has stood that serves not only as a link to the past but as an anchor for our community.
We called it the Dry Creek White House. It had a personality of its own, and we often called it the Grand Old Lady.
Originally built during the years surrounding World War I, it served as our local school from its construction until its closure in 1962. It was built over nearly a decade by the men of the community, and it was constructed sturdily and with great care.
We’ve discussed over the years what style the building was constructed in. When I posted on Facebook a photo of the building, folks came out of the woodwork (pun intended) with everything from antebellum, colonial, to plantation style. I simply will say it was unique.
The Dry Creek (DC) White House clearly had some of the palladin neo-classical structure of the south façade of the other DC (as in District of Columbia) White House.
Another fact is that the Dry Creek White House was originally painted brown.
After its years as Dry Creek High School, it remained vacant for the next two decades. A family from Minnesota bought it as a winter home. They didn’t use it much. We always said it was too cold inside even for Northerners. Amazingly, during these empty years, there was no vandalism or broken windows. That’s how the community loved this building.
The original school bell
Later, Dry Creek Baptist Camp bought the Old School and renovated it into a bed-and-breakfast-style building with 27 lodging rooms.
Its official name became the Adult Conference Center (ACC), but it was affectionately known as the “Dry Creek White House.”
For the next four decades, the White House hosted hundreds of events and thousands of guests. It was such an interesting facility: 2 stories of 14-foot-high ceilings with rooms of every size and shape. It was my privilege during my 14 years as camp manager to experience and watch so many happy guests, as well as lives changed by God, within its walls.
Unlike most rural schools closed during the 20th century, it wasn’t torn down or allowed to deteriorate through the years. It was given a new lease on life as part of the Camp.
Its use as a facility ended on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, when it burned to the ground. As sad as I am at the loss of the White House, I’m glad it didn’t rot down or be unceremoniously hauled off piece by piece. The Camp gave it a reincarnation of continuing to serve our community and thousands of guests.
Let me get this out of the way: some folks called this building a “White Elephant.” It was expensive to renovate causing the Camp to take on an enormous debt at a time of high inflation. Secondly, it was difficult to maintain and heat/cool. When someone said to me about it being a white elephant, I’d simply smile and reply, “Yes, it may be a white elephant, but it’s our white elephant.”
I use the term our on purpose. Although the White House was owned by Dry Creek Camp, the entire community felt it belonged to them and loved the building like the way you’d love a grand old lady who had touched lives for nearly a century.
This community ownership meant that everyone in Dry Creek had a specific story to tell about the White House. Camp Manager Todd Burnaman told of countless people, after the fire, sharing in person or online about the building’s place in their lives. They spoke of wedding receptions, how far the school bell could be heard, voting there in local elections, and kids running up and down the carpeted stairs on each end of the White House.
Sam Burchard, pastor of Dry Creek Bible Church and next-door neighbor to the White House said it so well: “I feel as if we should have a funeral.”
It was as if this building was a personal friend and the anchor of our community. Yes, a funeral for a Grand Old Lady might have been appropriate. Last week when I stopped by the ruins of the White House, someone had placed a vase of colorful flowers on each end of its steps.
It was someone’s sweet action that a beloved object was gone.
I never attended Dry Creek High School, beginning first grade the year after it closed. Even though the “new school,” East Beauregard, was nice, I was still envious of the older students who told stories of the “old school.” They bragged about climbing the stile during recess and walking to Elliott’s Grocery across the highway. Other stories included tales of sliding down the banisters and how many of the classes were combined because of its small enrollment. If my memory is correct, a total of fewer than four hundred students graduated from 1921–1962. That’s an average of about ten per year. It was a small rural school, and they don’t make them like that anymore.
Don’t discount for a minute the quality of education these students received. Dry Creek graduates thrived/excelled at every level of society.
My Dad always pointed out his first-grade classroom, which eventually became the large conference room: “I was in first grade in that corner.” He recalled, “The second graders were across the room over there. The teacher tag-teamed both grades.” Daddy said that he listened in on the second-grade lessons while doing seatwork. “The next year when I moved across the room to second grade, I’d already heard it all,” he said.
Certain people are tied to my mind when I think about the White House. Here are several of their stories.
My mentor on the history of the old school building was Mr. Frank Miller. Mr. Frank, as we called him, had a unique distinction. He’d been a student, teacher, and principal at Dry Creek High. He loved the old building like the Grand Old Lady it was.
Mr. Frank showed me every inch of the Old School and seemingly had a story for each step. I’ll share my favorite in his own words:
“I was in elementary school as they finished the school. The four hollow columns were hauled in by oxen-drawn wagons from the sawmill at Longville. They were laid down in front of the school and quickly became a recess favorite as the younger boys would crawl through the tunnel of the columns. As this went on for weeks, some high school students played a prank. While several first-grade Dry Creek boys were in the tunnel, the older boys nailed planks over each end of the column. The trapped boys were not discovered and freed until their teacher came outside after recess and heard their crying and yelling.”
As I said, Mr. Frank always had a story for every square foot of the Old School. I still miss him but am glad he wasn’t here to see it burn to the ground.
A second person with a long history of the White House was Mrs. Eleanor Andrews. She faithfully taught elementary there for two decades. Later, she was my fifth-grade teacher at East Beauregard. She became my favorite teacher, and we maintained a close friendship until her death.
Mrs. Eleanor lived by herself not far from the old school. When she turned eighty, she begrudgingly gave permission to plan a birthday party. I insisted we have it at the White House. She scoffed as she flicked ashes off her latest cigarette. “There won’t be anybody come to see an old woman like me.”
In the coming weeks, we planned the party despite her skepticism. I’ll never forget the sunny April Saturday when we held her party. She sat in a chair as a steady procession of former students, friends, and lifetime neighbors paraded by with their well wishes. I’ll always remember her smile as dozens kissed her, hugged her, and left gifts.
When the party finally ended, she turned to me, pointing a bony finger and her stern teacher voice, “You know I’m still mad at you for having this.” Then she broke into the smile I loved so dearly, “But I so enjoyed this. Thank you.”
That smile of this grand old lady who meant so much to all of us is forever etched in my mind. No fire or ashes can erase it. It’ll always be my heart-snapshot-memory when I think of the White House. In spite of the losses, I still smile recalling that day.
Speaking of memories, so many photos, decorations, and mementos burned up. As I heard someone say, “Lots of pictures burned up when the White House burned down. Often I think of items lost that cannot be replaced. Does anyone have another photo of Dry Creek’s famous 1931 state champion basketball team? How will we ever find another Dry Creek Hawks uniform top?
So many things are lost and gone forever.
As I inventory these losses, I think of another woman with a strong connection to the White House. Doris Pate Hennington attended school there, graduating with the last senior class. She met her husband, Roger, in high school, and when they returned to Dry Creek after retirement, she and Roger worked at the Camp.
Mrs. Doris was in charge of cleaning the White House. She took pride in caring for the Grand Old Lady. It was her building, and if anything was amiss, she would immediately report and correct it. Her life was tied up in this building, and her work was a labor of love.
Doris Hennington is one of the first people I thought of when the fire occurred.
When she retired from the Camp, we presented Doris with a plaque commemorating her years of service. It hung in the old school’s former principal’s office among photographs, class lists, and newspaper clippings adorning the wall.
It all burned up when the White House burned down on that cold February afternoon. No source for the fire has been clearly identified. Electricity and water were cut off to the building. We may never know what started the fire.
As I visited with manager Todd Burnaman a month after the fire, I expressed relief that in spite of the great loss, no one was in the building when the fire happened. One of my nightmares as manager was the fear of the building burning while guests were present. We all knew that the rich lighter pine would burn like a torch if a fire ever started.
And that’s exactly how it happened when the White House burned down. Nothing was left except the steps and school bell.
I’ve chosen to celebrate how God used this Grand Old Lady in both of her careers. Over forty years as the community school and then after being abandoned for two decades, she received a facelift and a second career, as a place where people enjoyed comfortable lodging, good food, and fellowship within her walls. The halls of my mind will always echo laughing pajama-clad ladies on Friday nights at women’s retreats. I’ll hold the sound of my Aunt Margie Nell playing the piano there to the delight of numerous guests. She’s chewing gum, tickling the ivories, and catching my eye with a wink and a smile.
In God’s economy, the White House/Old School served its purpose well. It’s gone now. Dry Creek Camp will, in the future, build another adult facility. Someone said they should “build it just like the White House.” My reply is, “You couldn’t build another White House even if you tried. And besides, the new building will be unique and modern, serving others.”
I have one final story.
Each year we hosted a couples’ retreat at the White House. The private rooms with double beds and privacy were perfect for these marriage-enrichment events.
Just before a Fall couples’ event, a woman called wanting to reserve two rooms for the Friday-Saturday event. I carefully inquired, “You and your husband want separate rooms?”
She shared how they’d been separated for most of a year, the result of marital infidelity on his part. What she didn’t say was something I picked up: this was a last-ditch effort to save a faltering marriage.
The couple arrived separately, and to say it was awkward would be an understatement. However, as I observed through the weekend, I detected a thawing in their body language and communication. It was an excellent marriage enrichment led by a fine pastor and wife who taught and showed by example how to make a good marriage even better.
I’m not sure the others knew about the separated couple. I sure didn’t tell, but I prayed. When the couple left on Saturday afternoon, they had hope that maybe, just maybe, their marriage could be rebuilt. The wife later sent a note that they had reconciled, and as I checked in the intervening years, they were still together.
That story illustrates one of a multitude of lives changed by God at the Dry Creek White House.
They are all memories now. I’ll always miss this special building. Like Mr. Frank Miller, Mrs. Eleanor Andrews, and Mrs. Doris Hennington, it played an outsized part in my life. I’m glad God let me in on what He was doing at Dry Creek.
Especially at a Grand Old Lady we called The White House.
As long as I’m alive, the story of Sgt. Leroy Johnson will be remembered.
It’s a story worth telling, worth passing on.
We need reminding that our freedom is never free. It’s important to remember stories of heroes who paid for our American freedom with their lives.
It’s important to remember stories of heroes who paid for our American freedom with their lives.
There is no better example of this than Sgt. Leroy Johnson of Oakdale, Louisiana.
Sergeant Leroy Johnson
U.S. Army 1941-1944
A Soldier’s Story
This is the story of Sgt. Leroy Johnson, United States Army.
Since 1965, a bronze plaque has stood on the median of Louisiana Highway 10 in the town of Oakdale. This plaque briefly tells the story of Sergeant Leroy Johnson. The inscription on the plaque ends with the wonderful words of Jesus from John 15:13,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Leroy Johnson was born on December 6, 1920 near Caney Creek, Louisiana. His father was a carpenter and his mother was busy rearing a large family of children.
Growing up, Johnson knew what was like to work hard and do the best he could with what he had.
Men like Leroy Johnson, who later fought in our greatest war grew up in our nation’s hardest time – the Great Depression.I’ve often thought that these difficult years prepared many of these future soldiers for being part of the victorious American armies that fought throughout Europe and the Pacific.
Many young men of this generation found work with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The “C.C.C. Camps” as they were called, gave these men jobs, some income (much of which had to be sent home to their families) and most importantly, a sense of self-respect and work skills.
Additionally they learned to live and work together, a trait that came in handy during the next decade’s war years. Leroy Johnson worked in just such a camp in the Kisatchie Forest of central Louisiana.
Lawrence Lacy, a Dry Creek area resident described his friendship with Johnson, “He was a good man to work with, and he liked to fight. We went at it more than once, but he was also a good friend to have.”
In 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of war, Leroy Johnson joined the Army.
When he was sent to boot camp, it was the last time he would ever be home in Allen Parish and see his family.
Evidently, the Army agreed with him. From his letters home and comments from the men he served with, he was born to be a soldier.
He was placed in the 32nd Infantry Division. Most of the men in this Division were from the northern states of Wisconsin and Michigan.
This division was involved in the large-scale maneuvers then being held in the forests of Louisiana.
New southern enlistees like Johnson were plugged into these units.
From reading his service letters and the history of this division, we can track his travels over the next few years of the war.
He was part of the campaign to take the eastern portion of New Guinea from the Japanese. This invasion was to stop the Japanese advance toward Australia. General MacArthur stated his strategy when he said, “We will protect Australia from New Guinea.”
Reading the official division history, it is learned that the fighting on this large island was difficult, slow, and deadly. The Japanese troops were experienced jungle fighters. The 32nd Division, which would later spend more days in actual combat than any other division in the war, was green and untried.
During this campaign was when Leroy Johnson first showed his prowess as a soldier.
He was awarded the Purple Heart as well as the Silver Star for gallantry.
Author’s note: Johnson won two Silver Stars. Here is a citation in the 32nd Infantry database.
Sgt. Johnson spent part of the next year recuperating in Australia from his wounds in New Guinea.
The 32nd Division, or Red Arrow Brigade as its men called it, were part of the 1944 invasion of the Philippines. The fighting with the Japanese on the many islands of this country was tough and deadly.
Company K, in which Sergeant Leroy Johnson served, landed on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte. As they fought their way inland they reached an area near the Filipino city of Limon.
The commanding officer of Company K was Johney B. Wax.
Captain Wax, also a Louisianan, had been Johnson’s commanding officer for several months.
The brave act for which Leroy Johnson won the Congressional Medal of Honor is best described in the following two documents. The first is the official Army citation of his heroism on December 15, 1944.
The second is a transcript of a personal letter written by Captain Wax to Sgt. Johnson’s parents shortly after the end of the war in 1945.
Official Citation: Congressional Medal of Honor
On 12/15, 1944 Sgt. Johnson was the squad leader of a 9 man patrol sent to scout a ridge held by a well-entrenched enemy force. Seeing an enemy machine gun position, he ordered his men to remain behind while he crawled within six yards of the gun. One of the enemy crew jumped up and prepared to man the weapon.
Quickly withdrawing, Sgt. Johnson rejoined his patrol and reported the situation to his commanding officer. Ordered to destroy the gun, which covered the approaches to several other enemy positions, he chose three men, armed them with hand grenades, and led them to a point near the objective.
After taking partial cover behind a log, the men had knocked out the gun and began an assault when hostile troops on the flank hurled several grenades. As he started for cover, Sgt. Johnson saw 2 unexploded grenades that had fallen near his men.
Knowing that his comrades would be wounded or killed by the explosion, he deliberately threw himself on the grenades and received the full charge in his body.
Fatally wounded by the blast, he died soon afterward. Through his outstanding gallantry in sacrificing his life for his comrades, Sgt. Johnson provided a shining example of the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
This following letter was sent to Johnson’s family by his commanding officer, Captain Johney Wax:
October 16, 1945
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,
Several times during the last few months I have received good news, but none made me any happier than when I picked up last Monday’s Times-Picayune and learned that your son had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
He was a fine boy and every inch a soldier.
I was closely associated with him for several months and always found him cooperative and helpful in every way.
I witnessed the incident for which he received our country’s highest award.
After receiving his fatal wound, he managed to get up, take about three staggering steps and reach about three of us who were rushing up the hilltop to help him. We lowered him rapidly down the hill and he died within a few minutes.
Nothing can bring back his life but I am sincerely glad that a grateful nation could in some way, even though small, show their appreciation for what he did. His name hand the sacrifice he made will always stand out in a Division that has been outstanding throughout this war.
Johney B. Wax, Captain
Formerly C.O. Company K
(Captain Wax later served as long-time principal at Live Oak High School where he touched many lives through the same leadership, concern, and discipline he exhibited as a company commander. He was present at the dedication of the Oakdale plaque on February 13, 1965. After a full life of investing in young people and bringing out the best in others, Johney Wax died in 1991.)
In addition, the New Orleans army base was renamed in his honor and memory as Camp Leroy Johnson. Although the base later closed, a bronze portrait of Sgt. Johnson once displayed at the base can now be seen in the Allen Parish Courthouse in Oberlin.
Thinking about Leroy Johnson’s selfless act on that day over seventy-five years ago, two questions come to mind:
First of all, when did he decide to fall on those hand grenades? Was it a split-second decision where everything happened so quickly that all action was instinctive?
Then maybe Sgt. Leroy Johnson’s act of laying down his life to protect his three fellow soldiers was not spontaneous. Could it have been a decision, or better yet, a commitment, he’d made days, even weeks, maybe months ago of what he would do in a situation like this?
Maybe he had sat around a battlefield campfire one night – the men of his company eating cold C rations, covered with mud. At that moment, he decided that he would gladly lay down his life for any of these men.
Did he look around at these men gathered in a circle and think, “If I need to, I’m willing to die to save these men?”
Then my second question is maybe even more thought-provoking: What causes a man to throw himself, knowing sudden certain death awaits, on a hand grenade?
In Sgt. Johnson’s case, he outranked the three men with him on this patrol.
Why was he, their leader, willing to die to save them?
My humble belief is that he did it because of love. Probably soldiers of Johnson’s group would have been embarrassed at that term: I did it because I love you.
But I go back to the words of the plaque in Oakdale. They are the words of Jesus, who also knew what He was talking about when discussing self-sacrifice:
“Greater love has no man than this- that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I can think of no better way to say it and I will not attempt to put it differently. Jesus’ words, as well as His actions, speak for themselves.
I guess one of the reasons I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Leroy Johnson is due to how his actions in the Philippines is a reminder of what Jesus did on the cross for us.
Once again the leader, the “ranking soldier” in this unit saw that quick and decisive action was required. He did not appoint a lesser soldier to take action.
He had been assigned this job by his commanding officer who watched from a short distance.
He would finish this assignment – no matter what it took.
Freely, and willingly, he took on the full brunt of the enemy’s device.
No one made him do it.
He did it on his own.
Jesus freely sacrificed His life. Although there is no need for it, He would gladly do it again to save your soul.
And a soul, the part of a human that lives on when this physical body dies and decays, is invaluable…and priceless… and worth whatever it takes.
It is just before bedtime on the night before Hurricane Rita slams into Southwest Louisiana. A crowd of fifty anxious faces stares into mine as they await words of wisdom from the camp director. The faces are each so different and individual. Some faces are black; others are brown, while others are white. Their ages, language, and dress vary greatly. But there is a commonality they all share as they sit gathered at Dry Creek Camp’s adult facility, “The White House”—a fear of the unknown of what the next thirty-six hours hold.
Several ladies are crying softly. Many are Katrina evacuees who have been with us for nearly a month. How ironic it is that these folks who left New Orleans to miss a hurricane are now in the very teeth of another. For them, there is nowhere to go. They cannot return to their homes that many have lost. There is no refuge open to the north. It will be better to be here than stranded along some road north of here when the storm hits.
Other evacuees have newly arrived from the coast of Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas. They have watched as the track of Rita turned ever so slowly toward their homes. They know that Cameron, Johnson Bayou, and Port Arthur will never be quite the same.
Todd Burnaman has just done a masterful job of welcoming these new evacuees and going over the fine points of living together in a twenty-six-room building with inside hallways. A few weeks ago he and I were here and had to referee a spat between two ladies over kids talking too loud near the telephone. There has never been a dull moment at “The City of Hope” shelter!
Now it is my turn to talk with them about our plans for the coming storm. Our Office of Emergency Preparedness has recommended we remain here with our evacuees. The roads are jammed and shelter space is nonexistent to the north, especially for a group of over 300 folks.
So we’ve made the decision to “hunker down” and ride out the storm in Dry Creek, Louisiana. It’s my job to assure them that this is the correct decision. I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent sure this was the best decision. The horrible weight of leading a vast group of people falls heavily on my shoulders. The rightness or wrongness of this decision will be played out over the next two days.
As I steady myself to speak, a vision goes through my mind. It is the faded sepia-colored black-and-white picture of a group of carpenters standing with saw and hammers in their hands. They are posing in front of The White House. This crew of Dry Creek men built this building over a six-year period from 1912–1918. The thought of building a schoolhouse this large with hand tools is something. The fact that it took the men of the community that long to finish the school has nothing to do with their lack of labor or ineptitude. It just took time. These men had other jobs in addition to building the community’s big school.
As I thought about the picture, I remembered who Bill Lindsey was. He was the head carpenter on this project for the entire building period. In the picture, he stands on the far right with his tools at his side. There is a serious but proud look on his face that seems to say, “It took us a while but we built it right.”
As I stand before the evacuees who will ride out the hurricane in the building Bill Lindsey built, I think about the construction of this schoolhouse. It was built from longleaf pine cut at the Long Bel sawmill in nearby Longville. The huge hollow columns are cypress and were brought in by oxen-pulled wagon.
I share with the evacuees about the huge attic that sits above the second floor. The attic is laced and supported with huge beams that give it a solid framework. They are in a safe place for the storm. Maybe the safest place around.
The year this school was finished, 1918, was when a great hurricane struck SW Louisiana. This unnamed storm came ashore on August 6, 1918. Because of the lack of weather forecasting in the early 20th century, Cameron, Calcasieu, and the other area parishes were surprised. Over 30 people died and much of Lake Charles was destroyed.
Long-time Dry Creek resident Frank Miller told me about the 1918 hurricane. He said thousands of large pines were broken off or uprooted. Just as we experienced in Rita, Mr. Frank said the fallen trees all laid facing the northwest.
I’m sure the residents of Dry Creek in 1918 wondered how their new school would hold up to the hurricane. It did just fine as it has throughout ninety more years of storms and severe weather.
Bill Lindsey and his crew built it right and they built it to last. I’m not a carpenter but I’ve heard enough craftsmen marvel at the design, quality of work, and solidness of this old building to know that Bill Lindsey and his men did not cut any corners. They were building a school for their children and that type of building deserved only one’s best.
How strange that there are only a few people left in Dry Creek that ever knew Bill Lindsey. Mr. Leonard Spears, who is over 90, knew him and said he was a hard worker. His wife, the legendary Mary Jane Lindsey, called him “Bill M” Lindsey. She pronounced it sharply, especially when she was upset with him, as “Billum.”
As Todd and I prepare to leave the White House, I tell our evacuees about Billum Lindsey and his crew of workers. I describe the workmanship and the extra care they put into this building. I tell them about the huge beams and how this schoolhouse has survived numerous hurricanes and storms in 1918, Audrey in 1957, and Carla in 1961. April 1993’s straight-line storm tore the roof off the camp office and felled dozens of trees, but did no damage to the White House. Tomorrow will be simply one more test of its solid construction.
How strange would it be for Billum Lindsey who lived most of his life in the nineteenth century to see a group of over fifty folks from all over our region riding out a storm together in 2005.
P.S. The Dry Creek White House came through the storm with flying colors. There was some minor shingle damage, but its exterior and interior once again proved to be solid and up to the challenge. All present agreed that if they had to ride out another hurricane in Dry Creek, that is where they’d want to be.
2021 postscript: As many of you are aware, the Dry Creek White House burned to the ground during the deep freeze of February 2021. It has been a great loss for our community, the Camp, and SW Louisiana.
I’m currently working on a short story entitled, “Saying Goodbye to a Grand Old Lady.” It is my homage to a special building that served as the heart and soul of our community.
What a good word: encouragement. I could list various definitions.
Instead, I’ll do what I do (and love) best. I’ll tell a story:
The 1936 Berlin Olympics are among the most famous Olympiads of the 20th century.
Its location was Germany
Its time: Europe was building toward another war, less than twenty years since the last one.
There wouldn’t be another Olympics until after the worst war in history ended.
Then, there’s the setting: Hitler wanted to use the backdrop of this event to showcase his Nazi party and the country of Germany.
My story is not well-known, but it’s worth telling.
The most famous athlete of the Berlin games was a black American named Jesse Owens. He won gold medals in three running events.
But our story is about what happened in the long jump semifinals.
Owens had fouled on his first attempts at the jump. His approach steps were off, causing him to overstep the foul line at the beginning of the jump pit.
As a frustrated Jesse Owens pondered his final attempt, a fellow competitor approached him.
His name was Luz Long, a German long jumper. Long talked to Owens about adjusting his steps and jump-off point to avoid fouling again.
Using this information, Jesse Owens made a clean final jump and advanced to the finals where he won the gold medal. Luz Long finished second, winning the silver medal. His advice to Owens probably cost him first place. He expressed no regret over helping a rival.
Jesse Owens remains one of the most famous Olympians of all time.
Luz Long is largely forgotten. He later died fighting in World War II.
But 85 years after his act of encouragement, Luz Long lives on in this story.
Reas Weeks was a Dry Creek legend who lived and died before my time. He was a bachelor who lived in a remote area along Bundick Creek. He never owned a vehicle or held a regular job. He supported himself by fishing, hunting, and farming.
He was known as the best creek fisherman in our area. My dad told the story from his childhood of the school bus picking Reas Weeks up. Mr. Reas flopped a forty-pound catfish on the bench by my dad. He was going to the general store to sell it.
Mr. Jay Miller was a neighbor to Reas Weeks, and shared this story,
“I was always amazed at how Reas caught the largest catfish in Bundick Creek. No one else came close in size or quantity. One day I asked him how he did this.
“He led me to his barn and pulled out a large bucket with his hooks and lines carefully wrapped around it. He took a whet rock out of his overalls and began sharpening a hook. ‘Jay, if you’re gonna catch the big ones, you’ve gotta keep your hooks sharp. Those big catfish have tough mouths. A dull hook won’t set, but a sharp one will.’ ”
It’s a good story with a spiritual message:
Jesus has called us to be “fishers of men.” If we are going to effectively reach others, our hook had better be sharp.
In my life I’ve found that this is only done by spending time with Jesus. As we study His word, the Bible, and fellowship with God in prayer, our lives will be sharpened for His use.
Yes, I never knew Reas Weeks . . . but one of his legacies is this story that I’ve shared dozens of times.
Wise words on sharp hooks from an old country fisherman.
There’s a fine stand of young slash pine at Dead Man’s curve on the Longville Road. I’ve watched the growth of this forest since it was clear cut, then replanted in straight rows.
The following year, the pines began to poke their heads above the grass. They’ve emerged above the surrounding bushes and scrub trees. In the coming years, they’ll link canopies, drop their pine straw, and completely wipe out the other growth in this field.
If a woods fire doesn’t kill them first.
I’ve been inspecting the fire lane plowed around these pines. With the approach of winter and its accompanying grass-killing frosts, having good fire lines.
Woods fires break out when a cold front and its accompanying north wind dry out the ground and grass. There is a long tradition of burning the woods among the folks here in western Louisiana’s “No Man’s Land.’’ It began with the early cattleman and sheepherders burning off the dead grass, believing that new fresh grass was better for their livestock.
Our native longleaf pines can survive most woods fires, but due to their slow growth, they’ve been replaced by newer species. The reforestation of Louisiana in the last eighty years has been with faster-growing loblolly and slash pines.
The trade off is that these species cannot survive a hot woods fire. There’s nothing sadder than a field of burnt dead pines, meant loss of trees and habitat from fire.
For years, Southwestern Louisiana led the entire state in woods arson. The old settlers still believed it was their right to burn the woods.
Feuds over hunting leases or grudges led to “revenge fires.” Sometimes the fires were accidentally set and spread by a strong wind and low humidity. Regardless of the source, our two most common species of pines are exceptionally vulnerable to fire.
I always worry over fields like the slash pines on the Longville Road. Once tall enough, they can withstand most fires. For the first five years or more, a hot fire will often destroy an entire stand.
That’s why wise forest owners will plow a second inner “hundred-foot line.”
This is insurance against the arsonist who tosses matches across the outer fire lane. This can stop the fire before it spreads to the entire pine plantation.
It provides insurance for the larger part of the field.
I see a spiritual and mental component to the hundred-foot line. In our busy lives, we need this guardrail of space and protection for our minds and souls. This fire lane, or margin, gives us boundaries and space to breathe.
It allows us to control the raging fires that can burn in our lives. I know all about that—I’ve had some hot fires in my own heart—usually self-inflicted.
How do we plow those hundred-foot lines?
Here are two ideas:
Be still… I love the words of the shepherd David in Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” It’s both a promise and commandment. Taking time to be still, get quiet, pray, and meditate help us as well as protect us. We must build solitude and silence into our lives and guard a time and place for them.
Get outdoors. Wendell Berry made this statement, “The Bible was written to be read outdoors.” There is something about being in nature: a clear blue sky, the wind in the pines, an owl’s call, and a star-filled winter sky with a fingernail moon.
Get outdoors. There’s something about being outside that is good for the inside of a man.
Be sure your hundred-foot fire lanes are in order. It’s a lot easier to plow lines than replant pines.
We’re walking you through the week after Christmas. I call it “Bah Humbug Week.” It’s a time of recovery from Christmas. It’s often a difficult week.
I believe it’s an essential week.
A time to slow down.
A time to take inventory of the past week.
An opportunity to look toward the coming new year.
A man can have many dogs in his life, but normally there is one that occupies a special place in your heart.
For me, that dog was Ivory. A yellow lab with intelligent eyes and a perpetual smile, she graced our home for nearly fourteen years.
Ivory actually belonged to my son Clint but when he left for college, she stayed. She became my dog, or rather, she chose me as her master.
A few years later, Clint and I walked out of the camp office together. Ivory, grinning her silly smile, expectantly thumped her big tail against the wall.
I challenged Clint to a test, “Let’s find out who Ivory really loves the most. You go north toward the road and I’ll go east to the Tabernacle. We’ll see who is her master.”
He reluctantly agreed to my challenge. I was confident she would follow me because of how faithfully she always follows me each day.
We both agreed not to look back until we had reached our respective spots. As I walked the seventy-five feet to the Tabernacle, I expected at any time to hear her steps behind me.
Reaching the sidewalk I stopped and looked at Clint. He stood on his spot, the same distance from our starting point.
Ivory was sitting right where we’d left her, anxiously looking back and forth. She wagged her tail, grinning at both of us. She seemed to be saying, “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe . . . .”
I walked to Clint. Ivory ran to us. I knelt and patted her head. “I’m sorry to do that to you. We won’t put you in a bind like that again. You love both of us.”
The words of Jesus came to me as I thought about Ivory’s allegiance. Jesus clearly stated that no man can serve two masters. In the Sermon on the Mount, he clearly spoke of allegiance and dedication, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The scariest part is this: many times, we stand and look back and forth at which master we will serve. The object drawing us away from God is often something good, but anything that blocks our commitment and dedication to God is harmful, no matter what it is. We must not settle for good when we can have the best—an intimate relationship with Jesus.
We cannot serve two masters. Just as Ivory whined at being unable to choose between her two masters, we are most unhappy when we are in the no man’s land of attempted dual allegiance.
# # #
One more thought on choosing a master.
We need a full understanding of what the word means.
I loved to hear T.J. Crosby pray. He used the endearing term “Master” throughout his prayers. It was his default address to God.
It’s a good term.
Master. It says a lot.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone else use the term in their praying.
Master. It means Boss.
It’s a subservient term, and we Westerners don’t like being servile.
A person who exercises authority… dominates.
Doesn’t sound like a sweet cooing baby.
It’s easier to keep Jesus in that manger than to think of one who “directs and controls.”
A victor who conquers.
It’s a first cousin to the more familiar ‘Lord.’
The finest example of the term master is in the gospels.
Let me set the stage. Simon Peter, a strong Galilean fisherman, has Jesus the carpenter in his boat. Jesus says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon answers, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net.”
The Jesus Film, based on the book of Luke, nails this scene. Burly bearded Simon looks confused, “But Master, we fished all night and didn’t catch a thing.” Then shrugs and smiles. “But if you say so, we’ll do it.”
There’s a principle here: If someone is master, we’ll obey him or her. We’ll even obey them when it doesn’t make sense. Sea of Galilean fishermen caught fish at night. Last night had been a waste. It didn’t make sense to try again.
Other than Jesus said it.
We remember the WWJD bracelets so popular in the 90s. “What Would Jesus Do?”
A lady made me a similar one.
DWJS. Do What Jesus Says.
Pretty simple. Pretty profound.
Secondly, when we know Jesus is our Master, we’ll worship him.
We’ll bow in admiration, respect, and love.
That’s hard for us Americans. It’s in our blood to be independent. That attitude of “I’m no better than anyone but no one’s better than me.” It permeates my culture in the piney woods of western Louisiana.
Our ancestors came here to be left alone. Not beholden to anyone.
But if we worship Jesus, we must bow to him.
He’s worthy of our worship.
Finally, if we recognize Jesus as Lord and Master, we’ll follow him.
Go where he leads.
Strive to walk closely with him.
Sometimes, the most miserable person in the world is not the person who has no room for God in their life. Yes, that person is unhappy and unfulfilled. However, there is probably no worse spot to be in than attempting to be both a follower of Jesus and the world. May we constantly be reminded of the love and grace of Jesus. Let us never forget His strong call for us to forsake this world and our own wants to wholeheartedly follow Him, this Amazing Jesus, the Son of the Living God.
Poor Ivory waffled back and forth between serving two masters. Often, I’m just like her, wanting to hang onto this old world yet reaching for higher things.
“Then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…
…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” -Joshua 24:15