The most influential man I never met
by Dennis Culbreth
Jan 25, 2014 | 1623 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dennis Culbreth
Dennis Culbreth
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I was speaking for a chapel service at one of our Southern Baptist mission agencies a number of years back and started my message with the following statement: “Perhaps the man who has influenced my life for the best was a man I never met and who is buried just south of my back yard.” I definitely got some strange stares that morning but I did have their interest.

That man, Alexander Travis, was a native of Edgefield District, South Carolina, who, as an adult, came to Conecuh County, Ala., in 1818, the year before Alabama was admitted as a state. He carved a farm out of the wilderness that soon proved to be successful. He came from a great family, and he and other members of his family truly had an impact on the state of Alabama and beyond. His nephew, William Barrett Travis, also a Conecuh County native, was the commanding officer of the Alamo. Alexander Travis’s farm soon grew to become a large plantation in Conecuh County that provided for his financial needs, but more importantly, freed him up to became a pioneer church planter for southwestern Alabama and Florida.

He was the only Baptist preacher in that county and set about starting new churches and impacting people’s lives with the life changing message of the gospel. He started churches throughout Conecuh County and in the surrounding counties. He even founded First Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla. Interestingly, he did most of his traveling to the churches by walking many miles on foot. He used his horse for plowing during the week and felt he must give the horse a break. He founded churches with colorful names such as Murder Creek Baptist Church. He helped in founding the towns of Sparta and Evergreen. He took the lead in encouraging the start of local schools in the areas where he planted churches and was instrumental in founding the Alabama Baptist Convention and Howard College (Samford University). He worked with fellow Alabama Baptists in the founding of the Domestic and Indian Mission Board, a Southern Baptist mission institution originally located in Marion, Ala., and is now known as The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and is located in metro Atlanta, Ga.

NAMB, as it is known in Southern Baptist circles, is one of the largest missionary sending agencies in the world.

He planted Evergreen Baptist Church. That is the church where my parents were members and the church where I was trained in Sunday School, where I heard God’s Word proclaimed and where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord and was baptized. I was called into the ministry under the ministry of Dr. Sam Granade and Reverend Jack Williamson, both long-time pastors of that church. I was ordained to the ministry through that church. I received my undergraduate degree from Samford University, which was formerly Howard College, many years removed from Marion and now located in Birmingham.

It is amazing how the life of one man who died at the age of 62 in 1850 while serving Beulah Baptist Church, a church he had planted, still impacts other’s lives. He was buried in the Beulah Church cemetery, and a beautiful marble monument was erected by the people whose lives were changed by the gospel of Christ. That monument is still standing in the abandoned cemetery today (The church was destroyed by a tornado long ago), and is located in the woods behind my childhood home.

One man affected for good, individual families, whole towns, a region of the state and a whole denomination. Have you ever thought what will be your legacy? How can you be used to make a difference in this world? For what will you be remembered?

There are a couple of lessons we can learn from this man and many other pioneers like him:

1. He put God first in his life. He accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord and because of that changed life, he served our Lord.

2. He was not afraid of hard work. He used the living he made with his plantation to support the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ across the southern part of the state and beyond. He died in the saddle serving Jesus.

3. He invested in the future knowing that he would never reap the benefit of his work.

4. He was faithful to the end.

That brings me to ask you what difference you have made with your life.

1. Is the world a better place because of the life you have lived?

2. Have you experienced the life-changing new birth that Jesus describes in John Chapter 3? The reason that Alexander Travis could have such an impact is because of that change.

3. Are you willing to sacrifice so that others can hear the life changing message of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ?

You can do that by your willingness to serve and sacrifice so that others may hear.

One of the greatest dangers in our churches in America today is the consumer driven attitude by many in our congregations. They ask, “What can the church do for me?” Perhaps a better question to ask would be, “What can I do to serve God and my local congregation?” Let us remember as believers that we are not on a cruise ship to heaven, but we are fellow servants serving God through our lives and ministries until Jesus takes us home to heaven. To tweak the words of a former United States President, “Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your Lord.”

People like Alexander Travis have made Alabama a better place to live, but more than that, he helped change lives forever.

Yes, though I never met him personally, his life and ministry changed my life forever and for the better. Because of the foundation he laid throughout his ministry, I found Jesus Christ. Have you?

Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth is senior pastor at Jasper’s First Baptist Church www.jaspersfbc.org