Living Out Their Faith For a Lifetime
For a combined total of 82 years three Carthage men have been faithfully living out their deeply held religious convictions through membership in an organization that means the world to them. Herb Hudson, Dennis Smith, and Louis Bramblett are still highly involved and venerated members of the Carthage Camp of Gideons International, an organization of approximately 275,000 committed to a twofold purpose: Christian witness through personal testimony and the massive distribution of Bibles throughout the world.
The local Carthage Gideon Camp has a membership of about 55 men, and an Auxiliary, comprised of the wives of Gideons, of about 25 women. The Gideons meet every Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. for a prayer breakfast, and the second Monday of each month for a business meeting and fellowship dinner. They also visit churches in Panola County once a year to share a report on what the Gideons are doing throughout the world, as well as inviting people to donate money to purchase Bibles for the Gideons to distribute. Often the Bibles are purchased in honor or memory of loved ones.
Dennis explains, “The Gideons distribute Bibles internationally to any place that will allow us to. We make sure that all hotel, motel, and hospital rooms, jails, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and some other businesses who want them, have regular-size copies of entire Bibles with both Old and New Testament scripture. We also have our small Personal Workers Testament that includes scripture from the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, which we distribute to individuals, schools, nurses, policemen, firemen, military inductees—anyone who wants one! ” He adds that many Gideons keep a Testament in their pockets to give away, leave one with the tip for their restaurant waiter when they’re out to eat, or even ask the workers at fast food drive-throughs if they would like one.
Dennis is especially pleased with the memorial program. “It reminds me” he says, “of the passage in Hebrews 11:4, ‘He being dead, yet speaketh,’ and what better way to memorialize someone because of his witness and his testimony than to provide a Bible to someone in his memory?” Each of the regular Bibles costs $5, and the organization provides a memorial card to be sent to the deceased’s family.
He is also very impressed with some of the statistics about the hotel Bibles. “That hotel Bible has a life expectancy of six years,” he says, “and approximately 2,300 people will pick up that Bible and read from it during that six years. That’s amazing to me. We hear lots of stories about people considering suicide who open a Gideon Bible in a hotel room and change their minds, regaining their lost hope through the comfort and power of the Word of God.”
Dennis tells a story about a Gideon distributing Bibles in a large prison. He walked by a cell where a very large, very dirty, very rough-looking prisoner was standing gripping the bars of his cell. He asked the prisoner if he would like a Bible. The prisoner replied, “No, I don’t want a Bible. I want you to get out of here!” As the man turned to leave, he heard a timid voice ask him to wait. He turned and finally saw a very small man also in the cell, hidden by the huge form of the other prisoner. The little man said he would love to have the Bible, so he gave it to him. A few weeks later he returned to the prison and went to see how the little man was doing with his new Bible, but he was gone. The big prisoner was still there, though now clean and shaved, with neatly combed hair, and said the little man had been released. He had left the Bible in the cell, but the big man said, “He didn’t need it anyway because he couldn’t read. He asked me to read it to him, and I did, and I was saved by the power of God’s word.”
Each Gideon Camp has a “Rally Day,” during which they invite speakers from other camps to come to speak to any church who will permit them to come, about the Gideons and their witness and Bible distribution. The Carthage Camp’s Rally Day is on or near the last Sunday in February, and the camp sends speakers to about 65 churches each year. In return, the Carthage Camp has about 45 speakers who travel at their own expense to other camps’ Rally Days. Occasionally a local Gideon will speak at a local church, but that is not the norm. Dennis says, “Of course not every Gideon does the public speaking in churches. It is certainly not a requirement, and some are not gifted in that way. Some are great at passing out Bibles; some are great at sharing their testimonies in more private situations; everyone is gifted at something!”
He adds, “I want to stress that ANY success we have in leading people to the Lord is all because of God and not because of us. We can’t accomplish anything without Him!”
Local Gideon Louis Bramblett still has the Gideon Testament given to him in the fifth grade. “They didn’t have a Gideon camp in Carthage at the time,” he says. “Gideons from Longview brought them to us. You can look at it and tell how much it has meant to me. It’s falling apart because I kept it in my pocket for so many years.”
Louis tells of going to New York City twice as a Gideon for Blitz, an event held in large cities periodically in order to have a massive distribution of Bibles in a short time. One of his visits was simply to help all the other visiting Gideons with the distribution, but he was invited to speak at a church during the second visit. He has also spoken and distributed Bibles in Dallas and Houston several times and has distributed Bibles on the Tyler Junior College, Stephen F. Austin, Panola College, and Texas A&M campuses. “I like to hand them directly to people, not just set them out somewhere,” he says. “It’s a real high for me to witness and hand out Bibles. It may look like I’m giving a service, but really I am receiving a much bigger service than I am giving.”
He tells about asking a woman at Panola College if she would like a Bible, and she said, “No, I already have one of my own. My son was killed in a car accident last year, and I really didn’t know for sure whether he was saved. When I went through his things, I found a Gideon Testament, and he had written in it the date he had accepted Christ and signed it. I may lose a lot of things, but I will never lose this Bible. It showed me that I can know for sure where my son is today!”
Herb Hudson, a local Gideon for 34 years, says, “It gives me a chance to share my testimony and lead a man to the Lord, and to see that everyone has a Bible, and that’s why I joined. It’s an arm of the church. Not a church, just an arm of the church, sharing God’s Word.”
He says he never passes up an opportunity to give away a Bible, especially to children. “I say, ‘You want a Bible?’ and their faces light up. It may be the first and maybe even the only Bible they ever see, and they might not even be able to read yet, but it’s in God’s hands what happens with it. I was converted because of that Book many many years ago, and many friends of mine have said, ‘My son or my daughter came to faith because of that Book. Of course there have also been so many young people who have died unexpectedly that we know were saved before they died through reading the message of salvation in one of those Bibles, and what a comfort to know they are with the Lord!”
Herb says, “I’ve been a speaker for 25 years and have been to lot of churches, and I have had lots of experiences I wouldn’t take anything for. One of my favorite memories is of going to a church near Lake Stryker. There were about 12 people there, and we were meeting in the kitchen because the auditorium wasn’t warm. Most of them were older people, and I shared the story of the widow’s mite. Two ladies gave a donation, and one of them could only give a nickel and said, ‘This is my widow’s mite.’ I was so touched by her understanding that it’s not how much you give, but the spirit with which you give it. I put a different nickel in for the donation and have kept her widow’s mite nickel all these years to remind me of what she did.”
Herb also tells of a man who showed him the ragged old Gideon Bible he received as a young military inductee and said, “Son, I wouldn’t take a million dollars for this Bible. I carried it all through World War II with me and have carried it every day since and will carry it the rest of my life.”
All three Gideons say that the average age of men in Gideons is around 60, with many around retirement when they join. Being a Gideon requires time, and many younger men, between their professional and family commitments, just do not have the time. However, Herb says, “People who join today even in their 60s and 70s still have a lot to offer, and a lot of good years left.”
These three men share the Gideon goal of winning the lost to Christ. Herb says, “Our purpose is not to give away Bibles but to be a witness, but giving away the Bibles is such a great tool for that. People are going to remember the Bibles and the wonderful message in them longer than they’re going to remember any of us!”