Authors: Robert Sadler,Marie Chapian
Tags: #REL012040, #BIO018000, #Sadler, #Robert, #1911–1986, #Slaves—United States—Biography, #Christian biography—United States
Â© 1975, 2012 by Marie Chapian and Robert Sadler
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâelectronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwiseâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
The story of Robert Sadler is true. A few names and certain incidents have been altered slightly to protect the privacy of individuals involved, but the authors have striven to maintain authenticity and accuracy in documenting this book.
Cover design by Charles Brock/Faceout Studio
Come and dine,” the Master calleth,
“Come and dine”â
You can feast at Jesus' table
All the tiâime,
He who fed the multitude,
Turned the water into wine,
To the hungry He calleth now,
“Come and dine!”
âCharles B. Widmeyer & S. H. Bolton
Robert Sadler knew little or nothing of politics, literature, science, education, or the arts. His life and legacy prove that human greatness does not necessarily mean outstanding feats of brawn or brain, wealth, or worldly acumen. This is the story of a great man. Though he was little known in his lifetime, those whose lives he touched will never forget him. His story proves that a broken life can rise up out of the jaws of cruel injustice and suffering and go on to help, heal, and love others (including enemies) with peace and joy. Sadler was a humble man and a man of supernatural love and presence. He had endless compassion and mercy for all souls, no matter who or what they were.
Sadler was in his sixties when he felt ready to tell his life story in a book. He was not a big man, probably around five foot five or six in shoes; his head was bald with white tufts at the ears. His early life was painful for him to recall and talk about. I spent a year working on the book. I traveled with Sadler, along with my two toddlers; I photographed and interviewed dozens of peopleâasking questions, corroborating facts and detailsâand in the end, wrote well over a thousand pages, which I had to trim to its present size. We had no expectations for the book other than to tell a story that had to be told.
It's been several years since I traveled the roads of the South, the Appalachians, and on up to Detroit and Canada researching and recording this story. I've never met anyone who exuded so much acceptance and kindheartedness as Robert Sadler, a man who walked a miracle life, a man without guile, a man who truly knew God. He taught me as a young writer more by his life than a million well-intended sermons ever could.
For this republication I have edited somewhat and included material and details left out of the first edition. A huge thanks to editors Kyle Duncan, Julie Smith, and Ellen Chalifoux for their vision and faith, and also to our first editorial team, Gary and Carol Johnson, Jeannie Mikkleson, and Kent Garborg. A grateful hug to my daughters, Christa and Liza, for encouragement and their loving memories of Robert Sadler and our travels with him.
Most of all, we are thankful for the generous and helpful assistance of those whose lives touched these pages: Janette Patterson, John and Lillian Sadler, Buck Moore, Connie and Alice Lee, Eugene and Josephine Mattison, Marilyn Rolf, Tennessee and John Henry Turner, Mary Webb, and Jacqueline Sadler.
I want to remind the reader that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed in 1863 and Robert Sadler was born in 1911. The story begins in 1916, when he was five years old.
San Diego, CA
I had a big ache inside me as I walked down the street toward the mission and saw the men still asleep in corners and doorways. It was hot and still and flies buzzed around their faces. Soon they would be lined up against the walls of the buildingsâstinking, sweating, worn, and broken, looking for a bottle, a fix, money for something to eat. I thanked the Lord that I wasn't lying there with them. I could have been, you know.
We were gathering that morning for our Sunday service. I watched the little congregation file into the small mission, one by one. Young children sat quietly on folding chairs, dressed in their Sunday best, holding Bibles and paper fans. We greeted one another with smiles and hugs and then sat waiting for the service to begin. There was a feeling of excitement in all of usânot that this was any special meeting, but we always expected the Lord to touch and bless us when we met together, and He never let us down.
I went to my place at the portable organ in the front of the room. As I looked out at their faces, there was a rush of gladness and love in my heart for each of them. As we began to praise the Lord together, tears rolled down some of their cheeks. In spite of the heat they were comfortable with God, who had saved them and given them hope and new lives.
Sister Patterson, God bless her, lifted her face as she sang in her soft voice. This large, strong woman shook with emotion. She had grown up in Anderson, right near this mission. Since she was old enough to talk, she had worked in white people's homes. Now she also helped out in the mission, besides raising her five children.
The name of the mission is Compassion House. It is located on Church Street in Anderson, South Carolina. I was born in Anderson. It was also in Anderson that I was sold into slavery. Yes, slavery.
But I was telling you about Compassion House. When I first opened its doors in 1970, I asked the Lord to help me to live up to that name. Often it wasn't easy. When you're dealing with drunks, alcoholics, prostitutes, pimps, and drug addicts, you get used to being conned, propositioned, and robbed.
There was a pink curtain separating the front meeting room and the back room where I cooked and slept. In the back room now was a young man with one lung and sclerosis, sleeping off a drunk. He told me he wouldn't take another drink as long as he lived if I'd let him stay with me, but he had promised me the same thing a dozen times. We could hear him coughing while we sang. I went back to the cot, where he lay crumpled up in a ball.
“You in bad pain, son?”
“Naw. I'm jes fine.”
“Mebbe we oughter get you to a hospital.”
“I ain't goin to no hospital!”
“All right, if that's what you wantâ”
“If I die, man, I ain't dyin in no hospital ward. Uh uh! I'm dying with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a woman in the other, and God help what's in between!”
“You don't have to die, Evans. You can live if you want to.”
The young man looked up at me. “Preacher,” he said, “godda hell.”
I sat on the edge of the cot and began to pray. His young, tough face was thin, worn like an old man's. His body was emaciated. When I had finished praying I noticed a photograph on the floor beside him. It must have fallen out of his pocket. I picked it up and held it in my hands.
“Who's this little child, son?”
“Hit's my daughter.”
I stared at the photograph of the smiling, round-cheeked girl. I was startled for a moment. It looked just like my baby sister, Ella. Lord, it was almost sixty years ago.Â .Â .Â .
I could see little Ella sitting on Mama's lap. Mama was singing to her. I was curled up alongside them, and in the quiet, hot shadows of our cabin that summer afternoon, it seemed as if the whole world was singing. Lord, Mama had a way of making things like that.
“Isn't that something? You being the daddy of this fine child!”
The boy grunted.
“You know something, Evans? It look just like my own baby sister. It's her likeness sure enough.” Sixty years agoÂ .Â .Â . Lord, Lord.
Evans grunted again and cursed. I handed him the photograph. “Yusuh, a fine little child. You can be mighty proud.”
“Godda hell, preacher.”
The meeting was longer than usual that morning. I preached about forgiveness; what joy and power there was in it. I knew what I was talking about. After the last song had been sung and we had a time of fellowship with one another, it was early afternoon.
When the people were gone, I sat alone in the empty room with only the sound of Evans's heavy breathing coming from the cot in the back. I would have to take him to the hospital.
I went to the back room and stood beside him. “Come on, Evans, we're going to the hospital.”
“I ain't goin' to no hospital!”
I said nothing. I just stood there next to him. He looked at me and then suddenly he seemed startled. He quivered a little and sat up quickly. “OK, Sadler, OK.”
I got Evans to the emergency room and they admitted him at once. He was pretty well known around there. “The preacher carried me here,” he told the doctor. “They ain't nothin wrong with me. Preacher got a way of making a man do jes what he don't wanna do, specially with that big old shiny light of his.”
“What light are you talking about, Evans?”
Evans's eyes narrowed. “Well, when you look at me with a great big ole shiny ball bright nuff to blind a man all around you like that, what am I supposed to do?”
“If you saw something bright and shiny, Evans, you was seein the Lord and not me.” I gave his arm a squeeze. “I don't want to see you dyin for the devil. I want to see you alive. Alive and livin for God.”
I walked to my car that afternoon praying God would touch Evans and keep him alive. It burdened me to see a man wasting himself when he could have a rich and fulfilling life as a child of God. I thanked the Lord for getting him to the hospital.
Back at the mission I sat quietly thinking. That photograph of Evans's daughter, who looked so much like my little sister, stuck with me. So many thoughts twirled in my head, I didn't know how to sort them out. I wanted to remember little Ella's voice, hear her laugh. I tried to think back as far as I could rememberâthink on things I had long ago buried and let stay buried. There were things I had never told anyone. Things I didn't want to remember. Maybe now was the time for remembering, for telling. That picture sure looked like Ella. I thought I had forgotten, but no, I hadn't.
Help me remember it, Lord, so I can tell it just the way it was.
Lord, help me rememberÂ .Â .Â .