I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO SUNDAY SCHOOL by Jimmy Breland, a Sunday School teacher from the Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia. Jimmy was a door-to-door salesman at the end of the Depression, and he sold Jewel Tea coffee. He had his wares spread out on my mother’s living room floor trying to sell her something when I walked in the room.
“Where do you go to Sunday School?”
“What is Sunday School?” I asked the enthusiastic salesman. He told me it was a place where they told stories, sang songs, colored pictures, and played on a sand table.
“What’s a sand table?” I asked innocently. Jimmy could see my interest in the sand table. Like a fish on the line, he reeled me in slowly.
“If you come to my Sunday School, we’ll make a sand mountain and I’ll show you how Jesus walked across the mountains.” That was the first time I remember hearing the name Jesus. Jimmy continued, “We’ll put a mirror in the sand, and it will become a lake; I’ll even show you how Jesus walked on water.”
“Like walking across Savannah River…” I exclaimed with wild enthusiasm. I looked up at my mother, “I want to go to Sunday School.”
“Not so fast.”
My mother and father spent their time in taverns, drinking and dancing. They were trying to avoid God and the church. My mother thought the enthusiastic coffee salesman might be part of a cult, so she asked, “What church?”
“Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church.”
Since my mother had been married in a small Presbyterian church in South Carolina, his answer silenced her first objection.
“Where is it located?”
When she found out the church was five miles away she said, “He’s too little to walk that far; he’d get lost.”
“See that big black truck out front?” Jimmy Breland asked me. I could see large gold letters spelling out Jewel Tea and Coffee on the shiny black panel truck. “Want to ride in my truck to Sunday School?”
“Oh, yes,” was all I could say.
“Wait a minute.”
My mother had another excuse. She knew the neighborhood around the church had gone bankrupt during the Depression, and a number of houses were unfinished shells with ditches running across the yard. She told Jimmy that she was afraid I would get hurt while playing there. Her final response was, “Wait till he goes to the first grade, then you can take him to Sunday School.”
A few months later, in September of 1938, I entered the first grade. The following Sunday morning I was waiting on the front porch. I had on starched white short pants, and my hair was slicked down with oil. A misty rain was falling when Jimmy Breland came driving slowly up the street in his truck, splashing through mud puddles. He took me to Sunday School and I didn’t miss another Sunday for the next 14 years.
Jimmy Breland was more than my taxi driver to Sunday School. He became my teacher. He taught me the Bible and Christian values. He became my Shepherd. One day, he happened to drive by the schoolyard and saw me fighting. After he saved me from a beating, he drove me home. On the way, he asked, “What would Jesus do?” He became my counselor, mentor—and because my father was an alcoholic—he became my substitute role model and father.
Jimmy Breland had only an eighth grade education, never became an officer in the church, never owned a home or car, and he always drove a truck because money was tight. Over the years, I went to Sunday School in a Jewel Tea truck, an Atlantic Richfield truck, and a linoleum truck. But I was not the only who rode in Jimmy’s truck. He picked up the four Aimar boys from the next block and the two Drigger children from five blocks away.
I was not the only child influenced by Jimmy Breland. Nineteen students in my class of twenty-five went into some form of full-time Christian service. And when I told the story of Jimmy Breland at the National Children’s Workers’ Conference in San Diego, California, a lady came hurrying down the aisle to tell me that she and others in her class were also influenced by Jimmy Breland—eight years after I was promoted from his class.
With little education, no church office, or public recognition Jimmy Breland made a difference in my life and the lives of others. You can do the same; you can influence a life.
Elmer L. Towns is dean of the School of Religion and vice president of Liberty University. Adapted by permission from What Every Sunday School Teacher Should Know, Gospel Light, 2002.
24 Secrets That Can Help You Change Lives
By Elmer L. Towns
This easy-to-read book will inspire Sunday School teachers to find joy in their important role of teaching children of all ages about God’s amazing love. Elmer Towns, one of the nation’s leading experts on Sunday School, provides a quick and easy guide to preparing for and teaching a dynamic Bible lesson, even on short notice.