Autobiography of Wagner A. Reese
Kentucky Baptist Pastor, Evangelist and Editor
I was born at Reese, Watauga County, North Carolina, August 12, 1897, the son of John Joseph Thaddeus Reese and Margaret Naomi Wagner Reese. I was the youngest of six children, four boys and two girls, one boy having died at the age of two years. Both my parents were born and reared in eastern Tennessee, father near Mountain City and mother near Shouns, Tennessee.
My grandfather, Asa Reese, had given my father a rather large tract of land located just across the state line in what is now Watauga County, North Carolina, hence my parents made this their home and were among the pioneer settlers of that beautiful mountain area. One of my father's brothers also lived nearby, and when a post office was later established, it was named "Reese" in their honor.
My childhood years were, I suppose, about that of the ordinary child. I thank God that my parents were both devoted Christians and strict disciplinarians. They loved and faithfully cared for their children, but they used whatever means necessary to make us know we had to obey them. I would to God that all parents were such today.
Among my earliest recollections was the day I had to start school at the age of six. I cried and did all the pleading I could to get to stay home, but of course my parents' word prevailed. Soon I adapted to school life and enjoyed it. Also very early in life I was fascinated with the art of printing. I had never seen a printing office and knew not why I was thus inclined, but years later I understood.
At first I carved crude letters on the end of bottle corks and printed them one at a time. Later I ordered a small outfit that had a small amount of rubber type which I could set in a holder and print a few words at a time.
My father, noticing my interest in printing, a few years later found a small printing press somewhere in his travels and bought it together with the type and other things that went with it. With that five by eight inch hand press, which I still have, I did much printing for many customers in the following years.
In the Fall of 1912, at the age of fifteen I was permitted to go to Boone, North Carolina, and work several months in the office of the Watauga Democrat, which was the only paper published in our county. At that time all the type was set by hand, and the paper was printed on an old Washington hand-operated press.
Here I received valuable training in the fundamentals of printing. I mention these experiences because I believe God was working out His purpose for my life in future years.
I was wonderfully saved at the early age of eleven and one half years. Several months before by a few words of my Sunday School teacher the Holy Spirit had convicted me of my sinful and lost condition. But I went with that burdened heart until there was a revival at the home church, during which I earnestly sought the Lord. When I had truly repented and given up every other dependence, casting myself by faith wholly upon Jesus, instantly my burden of sin and guilt was taken away, and my heart was filled with love and joy beyond expression and with a peace that passeth all understanding. Only those who have been born again can really know how happy I was. On February 20, 1909, I was approved for baptism, and on the 24th I was baptized in the icy waters of Beaver Dam Creek into the fellowship of Beaver Dam Baptist Church, Reese, North Carolina.
My first eight grades of schooling were obtained in a rural school of my home community. Those teachers were dedicated to their task of teaching, and for a practical, useable education I believe the eighth grade graduate would compare favorably with a high school graduate of today. During the school years I worked most of the time on the farm when school was not in session. Before I say more about my school years I would like to relate another marvelous experience in my life.
When I was about sixteen years of age, during a revival at my home church I became tremendously interested in the salvation of my chums and schoolmates. One dark night on my way home after service I knelt by the side of the road to seek the Lord's help in winning my lost friends. While praying there came to my heart as unmistakably as if it had been shouted in my ears, "You must preach the gospel." Immediately I began to make excuses and to argue with the Lord that I couldn't do that. I determined I would not tell anyone of this experience, and I would eventually "wear it out" and get rid of it. So for about two years, I believe, I wrestled with it all alone, but I gained no relief. Finally I said, "Lord, by your help I will do the best I can." Then sweet peace again filled my heart.
At that time I was away from home in a boarding school. I wrote to my father and told him I was going to have to preach the gospel. In reply, referring to what I had told him, he said, "I have been expecting to hear that." I didn't understand what he meant at that time, but after I had been preaching several years and father had passed on to be with the Lord I read one of my father's old diaries I had never seen before. In it he wrote that shortly after I was born he went to a secret place of prayer, and there in communion with God he gave me to the Lord to be used in His service.
In the fall of 1913 I enrolled in the Appalachian Training School, a state supported school in the town of Boone, North Carolina. This school is now known as Appalachian State University and is one of the major educational institutions of the state.
Part of the time while studying in this school I boarded in a private home, at other times I roomed in the boy's dormitory and ate in the school lunch room.
This school had a small printing department, and in addition to carrying the regular curriculum I also had charge of this department, teaching one or two classes a day in printing and doing at least part of the school printing. This was for only part of the time I was in school. I completed my work here and graduated with the class in summer term of 1920.
Certain circumstances, which I now believe were God's providences, brought about my decision to locate in Kentucky. In 1918 my older brother and near neighbor bought farms and moved to this state, locating near Somerset. In the summer of 1919 I came to visit my brother, and while here I purchased a small farm of about twenty five acres, on which there was a new residence and a new barn. This property I rented to a family for one year while I completed my final year's school work in North Carolina.
The year, 1920, was for me a time of many notable events. In it I finished my school work, and on July 3rd of that year I was ordained to the full work of the Gospel ministry by the Beaver Dam Baptist Church of Reese, North Carolina. Soon thereafter I made another trip to Kentucky to do a little work about the new home I had purchased, and while there I was invited to preach a weekend for Valley Oak Baptist Church, which at the time was without a pastor. I greatly enjoyed my visit with the fine people of that church. Several days later I returned to North Carolina.
One of the most important events in the lives of most people is that of marriage. I believe the Bible teaches that a minister should be "the husband of one wife." (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6) For about five years I had known and dated a lovely young lady by the name of Lossie Ann Eller, daughter of James M. and Delia Fletcher Eller. She also attended the Appalachian Training School and had taught school for two terms. Of course I needed someone to help me take care of that little home in Kentucky, and I succeeded in getting her consent to go with me. On September 15, 1920, we were joined in holy matrimony by Elder J. H. Farthing, the beloved pastor of my home church, where I was saved, baptized and ordained to the Gospel ministry.
Our days were now occupied in making preparations to move to our new home in Kentucky. We shipped our quilts, blankets, pillows, bed linen, etc. by freight. From the renter who had lived in our house the previous year I bought the entire house furnishings except bedding, and thus the house was already furnished. I also purchased the renter's cow, hog and a few garden products, and we were established in our Kentucky home by the last of September.
Within a few days after arriving in Kentucky I received word that I had been called as pastor of Valley Oak Baptist Church. This was a surprise to me, for the church had had only brief acquaintance with me. However the Lord knew how much we needed a people to give us some support, for we had spent all our money.
I will always love Valley Oak Church because they took me under their wing and gave me encouragement and support when I was so young in God's service. I preached for them nine years and resigned. After a few years they called me again, and I served them about twenty two years, if my memory is correct.
On September 11, 1921, just four days before our first wedding anniversary, a fine baby girl arrived to bless our home. As all loving parents know this added a lot of sunshine to our lives as well as much extra responsibility. And I confess it made much of my evangelistic work more trying, for I would at times have to be away for one or two weeks in revivals with but little or no communication with home. Naturally I was deeply concerned for the welfare of my young wife and baby. But I committed them to the Lord's care, and she, like a brave soldier, stayed alone and "kept the home fires burning."
Three other daughters were born to us in the following ten years. All four of them now have homes near enough that they can visit us often, which is a great blessing in our old age. We now have nine grand-children and five great grand-children who are also a great joy and blessing.
God has been so gracious, merciful and good to us in that there has never been a death and but little illness in our immediate family. For this and all His faithfulness and care through the years we give Him our unbounded thanks and praise.
In 1920 and for many years thereafter most rural churches in this area were one-fourth time. That is they had preaching only one weekend a month. Therefore it was possible for a preacher to serve as pastor of four churches at the same time. It was not long until I was serving as pastor of four churches at the same time, and part of the time I served six churches at the same time. Some of my pastorates were rather lengthy, the last one being for thirty years and seven months.
I have before stated that my decision to locate in Kentucky was perhaps providential. Here I give briefly why I am of this opinion. From youth I was a firm believer in the Bible plan of direct church faith mission work. But most of the churches of my native country had come under the influence of the Southern Baptist Convention. I did not know of church conditions in Kentucky, hence my decision was not influenced by these things. But after I had located there I found a rather large group of good, old fashioned Baptist churches, sound in The Faith, who did not believe in using man-made organizations to carry on the Lord's work.
This was evidently my appointed field of labor. Here I could encourage churches in direct mission work and have the wonderful fellowship of this fine group of Baptists. I therefore believe this was God's chosen field for my labors. From these churches several missionaries have been sent out, and through the years they have contributed much to the spread of the gospel. This also seemed to be a God-prepared location for establishment of the printing office to publish the direct mission paper, The Forerunner, and the thousands of free tracts that were sent out during the years.
In the first part of this article I mentioned my early interest in the art of printing. Perhaps the Lord was at that early period of my life preparing me for another service in His cause.
The Baptist China Direct Mission, begun in 1893, was in years of 1920 to 1930 having severe trials due in large measure to opposition and persecution. Some of the workers had deserted the cause, but the Lord had given about eight new mission recruits. However the mission paper, so essential to keeping the constituency informed, was about to fail for lack of someone to serve as editor and publisher. Sister C. E. Kerr, the previous editor, was forced to give up because of age and failing health. No one else could be found to undertake the job, so the missionaries and others pleaded with me to accept the responsibility. To me it looked like a colossal task to erect a building, install sufficient equipment and publish a paper every month with hand set type. And all this added to full time ministerial work and the many other duties incident to home life. But for the sake of the Lord's cause I decided to undertake it.
The supporters of the work assisted me in erecting a frame building and furnished me with an old "Country Campbell" cylinder printing press. We bought enough type to set sufficient articles to fill the paper, and I sent forth my first issue of the Forerunner in May, 1926. Then I understood why I had such a love for printing in my early years. God was preparing me beforehand to do this needed work for His cause.
For about eighteen years we printed the paper from hand-set type. Then friends of the work purchased a used Linotype. I knew nothing about this machine, so I had to start from scratch. With what little instruction I could get and the Lord's care and help I did the type composition for the paper with the Linotype machine for about five years.
After about twenty-three years, during which time I had carried a work load for two men, I felt that I could no longer continue to publish the paper, so I resigned as editor. However by that time a Communist regime had closed all mission work in China.
My pastoral work has been in Pulaski, Casey and Russell Counties of Kentucky, where I have served as pastor to some twelve to fourteen churches. My evangelistic work has been in many churches of the above counties and in North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Indiana.
In addition to my service as pastor and evangelist I have also taught a great many courses of Bible study, These courses were usually for about two weeks and were mostly in Kentucky, but a number were in other states.
I regret that I have not kept a record of the number of professions of faith I have witnessed, the number of baptisms, funerals, weddings, etc., or the dates and time I have served each church, the number of churches I have helped to organize and the new church buildings I have seen constructed in my ministry. I would advise young preachers to keep a record of all these.
As I now approach my fourscore years and look back over life's pilgrimage I am thankful for my dear companion, who through all these years has courageously kept the home fires burning while I would be gone for long periods of time. Without her faithful support I would never have been able to carry on.
Also I will ever be deeply appreciative and grateful for the great number of noble people of God who have been such a blessing and help to me. Most of all and above all I give thanks and praise and honor and glory to our Great God and Savior, for if I have done anything worthwhile, it is only through His grace and help. All honor and glory and praise be unto Him forever and ever.
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