A Pastor to the Mountain People

by | Jul 27, 2023 | Caring, God's Hands, Great Commission, Love, Witnessing

Life in the Blue Ridge mountains in pioneer days was far from easy.

The first European immigrants to North American began arriving in the 1700s, with settlers claiming lands from the coast westard into the Appalachian Mountains. Many of the newcomers who moved deep into the mountains were Scotch-Irish and German, bringing the traditions of their native countries with them. At that time, there were many native American towns and settlements in the area, primarily from the Cherokee people; but with the need for land for immigrants ever increasing, there were countless bloody battles with the native people. Eventually treaties were signed, but these treaties moved all of the Cherokee and other native groups out of the region.

Being so far away from civilization, it was a breeding ground for every kind of corruption. Whisky stills abounded, and with them was plenty of drunken rivalry. The people were all poor, and each worked hard to eek out a minimal existence in the numerous mountain valleys through lumbering, milling or growing meagre crops. There were few schools and fewer churches.

It was into this environment in 1890 that a baby was born to a poor Appalachian family. His name was Bob Childress, and he claims that his earliest memories were of his mother nursing him back to health by holding a whisky-soaked rag to his mouth. He grew up without the opportunity to attend school, and even in his childhood he was known for his violence and heavy drinking.

It was a massacre at a court house that turned his life around. He vowed to quit drinking, and he decided to join law enforcement. It was soon apparent, however, that the law enforcement officers were as corrupt as those they were serving, with the police often taking for themselves the whisky they confiscated. It wasn’t until Bob was married and had kids of his own that he met the Lord in a chance visit to a church. That was when the call God had on his life became apparent: He was to become a minister. Having no education, however, the beginning of this road that would lead him through the rest of his life lie in getting an education. It is said that he ended up, at age 30, attending the same one-room school as his 6-year-old son.

Childress went on to be admitted to the Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1926. Although his warm and personal preaching style endeared all and was sought by many established churches throughout the eastern United States, his heart was for his homeland in the Appalachia. He eventually returned to the mountains of Virginia with the idea that he could do something to help eradicate the violence and ignorance that prevailed.

This wasn’t an easy goal. Even though he was from this area and knew the culture well, the message he brought wasn’t readily accepted. Fortunately, Pastor Childress believed in a Jesus-style of ministry: Feed the hungry, clothe the cold, visit the prisoners, pray for the sick, etc. It is said that during the week, he would drive along bumpy dirt trails to introduce himself to local families and invite them to a Sunday service. The excuses he heard were numerous, but he rose to each challenge. If a family said they were ashamed to come to church because of their tattered clothes, he would show up the next day with second-hand suites and dresses. If he learned of a widow, he would ride out to her cabin and chop her firewood. If a family was sick, he would take food from his own table and feed them. When the moonshiners were arrested and thrown in jail, he would plead with the judge for their release. During one visit, it is said that the excuse he received for not going to church was that churches are full of hypocrites. Childress responded with, “There’s always room for one more!”

Bob Childress’ efforts eventually paid off. The women and girls came first. The mountain was filled with uncertain dangers for women, and Childress’ church was a safe place to socialize and simply escape the harsh realities of mountain life for a while. The men needed more convincing, but they, too, eventually began to come. And so it was that throughout the next 30 years, Bob built and led the congregations of what are now called the six “Rock churches”. Five of these still remain.

Pastor Childress died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 66. It is said that this one man’s efforts, coupled by the power of God, are responsible for a lot of the positive change that happened over the next decades in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

In this story of this mountain man turned man of God, we can clearly see the root of evangelism: Love! Love your neighbour as yourself was the guideline that Bob Childress’ followed in his ministry, and the genuine love of God, shining through this simple mountain man, not only won many for the Lord, but resulted in bettering an entire subculture of American people.

The prophet Isaiah’s words are poignant: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yokeIs it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 NIV). This was the Lord Jesus’ ministry model, and since it worked for Jesus as well as for Bob Childress, we can be assured that it will also work for us as well!

Let’s all vow to spend a bit more time loving our neighbours as ourselves! For if we all would unselfishly show the love of God to those around us, we will not only be working to make the world a better place, but we will be taking great strides towards bringing the world to Christ!

In His love,
Rob Chaffart
Director, Answers2Prayer Ministries

P.S. This devotional was inspired by a book I recently read on Bob Childress’ life entitled, “The Man Who Moved A Mountain” by Richard C. Davids. Other information for this devotional was taken from Wikipedia and from the following article: https://juicyecumenism.com/2016/04/29/minister-moved-mountain/


A Pastor to the Mountain People