Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”*
I knew that poor widow.
Her name was Mrs. Thurston. You may have known her by other names.
Mrs. Thurston was a tiny, serene person. As I pondered on Planned Poverty. I recalled her example of all that leads to generosity. Then I remembered one fellow had already told her story quite well. All I will add is that when I met her eighteen years after Dr. Kingsley did, Mrs. Thurston still presented Sunday School and "raw rubber chicken".
Remembering Mrs. Thurston
By Gordon Kingsley, President, William Jewell College
Mrs. Hollis H. Thurston. We called her – well, we called her “Mrs. Thurston.” I guess this widow-woman had her very own first name, but I never knew it. She was, they all said, a good Christian woman. But that phrase does not begin to capture for me the Godliness in her fact and eyes and demeanor and manner of life. To me she was a Jesus come to earth in the frail body of a woman who was seventy, or ninety, or maybe a thousand years old.
I was her pastor, but there was no question about which of us was the Christian…. It was at Bethlehem Baptist Church, out from Columbia…. Bethlehem has a great history: she celebrated her 150th anniversary just two days ago…. By the time I got there, though, in 1955, lots of folks had moved away from the countryside into the towns and cities, and Bethlehem had a small congregation—twenty-one persons or so on a good Sunday, and that counted dear old Jess Trimble who went to sleep during every sermon I ever preached, sitting comfortably in winter near the old stove that kept us all sort of warm. I finally got up courage to ask Jess why he went to sleep during my sermons, and he told me, “Gordon, I got a lot of confidence in you, and I need the rest.” So twenty persons and Jess were there on a good Sunday.
But still the witness was there, on that old Boone County hilltop, and Mrs. Thurston and the Burks and the Hills and a few others were determined to keep it there. And all of us relied on, counted on, depended on, Mrs. Thurston. She would drive her old Ford car to church over rutted gravel roads, … her little white head hunched and peering through the steering wheel…. She taught a Sunday school class for years—at the back of the church, on the left side, last three pews. And she kept the church minute book in an immaculate hand, preserving records which go all the way back in a complete set to 1835; she was proud of those records, and she saw that the originals were protected in the Missouri Baptist Historical Collection at William Jewell…. She had made a list of all the pastors who had ever served the church, all the way back to 1835, and she had it on the wall at the front of the church…. And she hosted the preachers, giving me a stark, austere little room in her stark, austere old farm house on many a Sunday afternoon between morning service and night service….
Not that she was perfect. She had her faults. She was, for example, the worst cook I ever knew, and when she served a meal prepared, sort of, on her old wood stove, you knew it was going to be horrible. It was always chicken—all of us preacher boys always asked each other, “what did you have for chicken yesterday.” But Mrs. Thurston served rubber chicken—raw rubber chicken, seasoned with motor oil and pond scum. It was awful.
Yet how I love her memory…. How many country churches accept joyfully the ministry of making preachers out of the wretched raw materials that come to them in the form of us preacher boys—bad as Mrs. Thurston’s chicken, we were—and what a beautiful ministry it is. Once Mrs. Thurston helped a preacher boy stay in school—maybe more than once she did that; I suspect so—by paying $100 on his tuition…. Mrs. Thurston found out about it somehow, and somehow came up with the money, as a gift, which no one was to know about. I of course was the preacher boy…. How many Mrs. Thurstons are there.... They are, just as Jesus meant it, “the salt of the earth.” They are also, just as Jesus meant it, “the light of the world.” They are God’s good and faithful servants. They are here, among us, everywhere.
Presented at the Missouri Baptist Convention, Oct 28-30, 1985, (page 90)