(April 3, 1933 - October 1, 1998)
Bobby R. Holmes
Sister Lela, as everyone called her with affection, was not rich in this world's goods and modern ways of thinking. She cleaned houses when she could to help pay the bills. Though she was poor by the worlds standards she was wealthy in God's eyes for she was a faithful child of the King.
I first met sister Lela McCarter in about 1985 when I was invited by brother Mike Hurst to hold a meeting for the small black church of Christ in the rural community of Sturgis Mississippi. Mike was a young white man studying at Mississippi State University in Starkville. He had noticed the meeting place of this group of saints while driving through the country one day and as it looked like people were meeting there he started asking questions and found they indeed met, but had no one to preach for them. He volunteered to do so and they gladly accepted. Mike soon found out through sister Lela that the church there was under the "oversight" (control) of the large white Lee Blvd. Church in Starkville.
Mike asked if I would come and hold a meeting for them and speak on Bible authority, the organization, work and worship of the local church. The Dallas Avenue church in Lancaster Texas where I was preaching at the time agreed to pay my expenses to go. It was in February and it was cold the first Sunday morning of the meeting. In fact, the temperature had dropped into the low teens during Saturday night and when I arrived at the building I found the propane gas that was used to heat the building had ran out during the night and the temperature inside the building was some 25 degrees! When sister Lela and the other few (mostly women) came to the building I suggested to them that they might want to consider canceling services that morning and have propane gas delivered in the afternoon and have services that night. Sister Lela looked at me and said, "No sir, we came to hear the Word preached and we want to hear it." I felt ashamed at my suggestion and went ahead with services. It was so cold I had to keep one hand in my pocket to keep it warm and then swap every so often with the other hand. I thought I would freeze but, those precious saints who were sitting in the seats not moving were, I'm sure, much colder than I who was at least able to move around some to help keep warm.
Sister Lela was a leader among the saints there. Don't get me wrong. She knew her place, and never stepped beyond what the Book taught regarding a woman's place in the church. She encouraged each of the saints there both young and old. She set a godly example of faithfulness and trust in God. When the meeting was drawing to a close sister Lela asked if I would help them get out from under the control of the Lee Blvd. Church and become the autonomous church the Bible taught them to be.
I suggested they open their own bank account and ask to have their monies placed in their own account. (They had even been required to send their Sunday contributions to Lee Blvd. who then put it into a special account and took care of paying their bills, etc.) I helped them write a letter asking for this to be done and for the deed to their property. Lee Blvd. was even holding the deed to the property in their name!
After I arrived home sister Lela called me and said Lee Blvd. had placed some money in their account but refused to surrender the deed to the property. She gave me a phone number of one of the elders at Lee Blvd. and I called him to see what the problem was. He told me they still owed $800.00 on the note for their building. I told him I would get the money together and send it if they would then give the deed up. He said they would not do that as the men at Lee Blvd. had "worked on the construction of the building." I asked what difference did that make and was told, "Actually, that isn't a church there in Sturgis. It is only a 'mission' and the Lee Blvd. church was only helping them along." I asked for scripture concerning a 'mission' and was then told bluntly they were not giving up the deed. They then sent a letter to the Sturgis church offering to sell them their own property for $35,000.00. I called them back and told them I was going to contact the NAACP and the local newspaper and give them the news story of a "large white church that stole the property from a small black church." They became frightened and transferred the deed to another small black church they also had control over. This church (known as the Hwy. 82 church then) offered to sell the property to Sturgis for (if my memory serves me correctly) $35,000.00.
Brother Ron Halbrook and I worked together to get the word out to concerned Christians across the country asking for donations to help with monies to buy their property back. It is almost unthinkable that anyone could be so callused to do such a thing. I had contacted brother Thomas Keenum, an elder in the church in Booneville Mississippi, who was also an attorney, and he graciously not only took care of negotiating with this church to buy back the property but, he also put his office and staff at the disposal of receiving contributions and keeping records for us. He also spent many hours, driving many miles to take care of all legal work at no charge at all. Brother Keenum made a verbal contract with this church to buy the property and told them it would be May before we had all the monies. It was March at this time. Before we could get the money, they sold the property to a denomination. Sister Lela called me shortly after this and said, "Brother Holmes, all is lost. We have been served with an eviction notice and must vacate the building." I told her that all was not lost. For them to try to rent a temporary place to meet and that brother Halbrook and I would drive up and see if we could find a way through this.
Ron and I made the trip, and with sister Lela's help, found a man who was willing to sell two acres just up the road from the original property. We made a deal with him and brother Keenum took care of the legal work on the title. As monies continued to come in we finally had enough to have a slab foundation poured with the plumbing installed and set a date to build them a new building. We sent out word through the then "Guardian of Truth" (now "Truth") magazine that we would start construction on a Monday morning. We had lumber delivered on the Saturday before and on that Monday morning we had brethren (and some of their wives) come from all over the country to help with this. Some as far as the Chicago area, some from along the Texas-Mexico border, Alabama and a number from the Dallas, Texas area. We had electricians and A/C and heating people as specialist but mostly, good hard workers.
By Wednesday night the building was enough along the way that we held services in it and I preached that night as well as Thursday and Friday night. When we left on Friday evening, the building was 98% completed. A church from Alabama supplied pews and delivered them as well. Sister Lela broke down and cried openly. People from the community stopped on several occasions and commented they had never seen such love for one another displayed. It was a dream come true. Each of these precious souls gave thanks to God for His care for them. Of course, the dream could never have come true were it not for the love of brethren across the country in sending their monies to make it happen. Some of you reading this tribute were a part of this and your kindness and sacrifice lives on in this church. They had no preacher at the time and only numbered about eight or ten. Now they have brother Alexander Caldwell and his wife Kristy working with them and have grown to close to thirty. This would never be as it is today were it not for the unwavering faith of sister Lela McCarter.
When she died of a heart attack October 1, 1998, her last words was a request to be buried near the church building where children of God met to worship Him from whom all blessings flow. Brother Caldwell called me while I was preaching in Oregon at the time and asked how it could be done. I discussed it with brother Halbrook and others and we suggested that the family buy a small plot of land from the church for a small cemetery which they did. Sister Lela's grave is located behind the building.
My purpose of writing this article? Several have suggested that a memorial stone be erected in memory of sister Lela and I heartily agree. She is worthy of it. She was a wonderful encouragement to everyone who knew her. I was privileged to baptize her husband into Christ in a meeting I held for them the year before she died. He remains faithful yet. Three were baptized that year and one in the meeting I held in October 2000.
There needs to be a chain link fence installed around the small plot as well in order to separate it from the church property. The cost of the fence and the memorial stone together will be $2,741.34. I have opened up a Memorial Fund at the Bank One in Duncanville Texas. If you would like to be a part of this effort in remembering this faithful saint of God, send your contributions to:
The Lela McCarter Memorial Fund
Account number 1595442482
303 South Main Street
Duncanville, Texas 75116
I have personally started it with a $100.00 contribution. Thank God for faithful Christians who leave us examples and thank each of you who will become a part of this effort as well.
219 Timothy Trail
Duncanville, Texas 75137