A Legacy of Grace

It has been said that truth is often stranger than fiction. This is especially true when God is working out His plan in the lives of His children.

The month is September, the year is 1918, and a war is raging across Europe and other parts of the world. World War I is often described by many as “The War to End All Wars.” Although this was often associated with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, it was the title of a book written by H.G. Wells. Those who used this phrase would soon learn that it was not the last war and led to the more devastating war, World War II.
As the United States was drawn into WWI in defense of our allies, Great Britain and France, a young southern boy, Henry Pritchett, was called into military service. Following training, he was sent to Europe to fight against the German led central powers in a war that ultimately saw millions of military and civilian casualties.

On Friday, September 20, 1918, Henry’s division was told his unit would be advancing toward the enemy line the following day. Having prepared their equipment, he and his comrades tried to sleep as much as possible in the midst of continual artillery bombardment. The sights, the smells, and the cries of death were all around them. Death could be found not only on the battlefield, but also through devastating diseases such as the Spanish Flu, which were actually responsible for over half of the casualties of all Americans who died in this war.

After a night of fretful sleep, the sound of a bugle awakened his unit, and they joined thousands of allied troops moving out onto the killing fields that lay between them and the enemy. Although he had prepared for a long battle, sadly Henry’s day was cut short after taking three rounds from an enemy machine gun. To add insult to injury (so to speak), he was bayonetted by an enemy soldier whose job was to make sure fallen soldiers were actually dead, but God had a plan for a legacy of grace.

Later on, as the battle of the day ended, the Red Cross wagons would be allowed to go out and collect the bodies of the fallen soldiers. Henry was placed on the Killed in Action list and his body was placed on the death wagon. Henry Pritchett died on a battlefield in Europe on Saturday, September 21, 1918, just 51 days before the war ending Armistice was signed.
A similar scene was described by Siegfried Sassoon in his WWI poem The Death Bed (excerpt)
Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
 Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
 Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
 He's young; he hated war; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?

    But death replied: “I choose him.” So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
And then the rest of the story…

This sounds like the end of the story, but in His divine sovereignty, God had other plans for Henry. For, down the road, as the wagon moved away from the battlefield, a very strange thing happened. A slight movement… perhaps a groan… alerted those drivers that something was most unusual about this cargo they were carrying. Henry was alive! Indeed alive! Gravely wounded, but alive. God certainly intervened and allowed Henry to survive his awful ordeal. God always has a reason for what He does, and He definitely had plans for Henry’s life. Plans that would impact His kingdom. Later, Henry would spend weeks and months recovering from his wounds in crowded, poorly supplied medical facilities in Europe.  Eventually, when physically able, he would be transported back home to the United States.

As Henry was healing overseas, the people back home, unaware of his survival, mourned his passing after receiving notification of his death on the battlefield. His family welcomed condolences from friends and family and even had a lovely obituary card printed. And even though they were suffering this great loss, everyday life, for them, moved forward.

Why had Henry’s family not been notified of his survival? Perhaps due to the massive effort of pulling our people out of Europe, Henry’s name had not been changed from the “Killed in Action” status to the “Wounded but Survived” list. Henry, for some reason, had not contacted his family during his difficult recuperation and subsequent transport back to the States. Maybe he was unaware that he had been reported as being deceased. What he did do, however, was to scare his mother half to death when he walked up on her porch unannounced. Her beloved son was back from the dead. To say that there was rejoicing in the Pritchett family would be a great understatement.
Henry had stared death in the face, or as some would say, he had dangled his feet in the Jordan River. God wasn’t finished with him, because God had a plan. Henry later married a girl named Esther, who would give birth to a daughter named Jo, who would marry a man named Buck Walls, and they would have a son named Jerry. He lived an ordinary life, married and raised a family, but God had very special, even extraordinary plans for Henry’s prodigy. You see, he was the grandfather of Pastor Jerry Walls, a man who would be greatly used of God as a preacher, church builder, and winner of souls. Remember…God had plans for Henry’s life. Plans that would impact His kingdom.

Jerry Walls was born into a family with a Godly mother and an unsaved father. Jerry’s father was an alcoholic, and when alcohol has deep roots in a family, things often seem like a war zone.
At fourteen years of age, he committed his life to Jesus Christ and was born again. As often happens, he was on fire for Jesus at first, but the things of the world soon pulled him back into a weak spiritual life. The battle for his soul had been forever won at Calvary, but the battle for his daily walk was only beginning. God had plans for his life that Jerry knew nothing about.

Jerry was talented athletically, and was a state ranked wrestler in his junior year of high school. These efforts and talents earned him a college scholarship. One evening, after finishing a wrestling match, he and the wrestling team returned to school. Some of the team wanted to stay at school and attend a dance.  They needed a driver to do this.  Jerry had a car and offered to drive his friends home after the dance.

When they left the gymnasium, they piled into his small car and began the journey home. That journey was never completed as intended.  It was a winter night, and the VW Beetle they were in hit black ice and subsequently rolled over several times. Jerry was ejected from the car (these were the days of no seat belts) and the car came to a stop, resting on top of him. His fellow passengers were beat up, but not seriously hurt. Jerry, however, was crushed in the accident.

His injuries included:
•Pelvis fractured in five places
•Left leg compound fractures
•Left elbow crushed
•Right shoulder fractured
•Loss of blood (eight pints were required just to keep him alive)

After their arrival at the hospital, his parents spoke to the attending physician and asked if there was anything that they could do. The doctor told them to contact as many people as they could and ask them to pray, because their son’s life was hanging in the balance. Jerry’s dad, Buck Walls, had become a believer and had experienced a wonderful life change. What a privilege for both parents to come before the Lord on their son’s behalf. They called fellow believers, pastors, and their own family members. They prayed and knocked on heaven’s door asking God to spare Jerry’s life.

Psalm 27:5
For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
God answered those prayers because he had plans for Jerry Walls, just as he had had plans for Henry Pritchett so long ago. Jerry couldn’t sit up for three months and couldn’t walk for six months. He battled through the therapy, and recovered so well that he was able to continue with his plans to attend college on a wrestling scholarship. When he first started college he tried but could not get cleared by his doctor to return to wrestling, the sport he so dearly loved.

God’s plan for Henry Pritchett included surviving that muddy field in Europe and having a grandson named Jerry Walls. Although this critically wounded young man didn’t know it yet, God also had a plan for his life beyond that awful car wreck. Plans that would lead him to pastor a great church.

And my favorite part of the rest of the story…

In August, following his accident, God touched Jerry’s heart and told him He wanted him to submit his life to preaching the Gospel. He said “yes” to the call and soon realized that the physical battle he had won over personal injuries were only the beginning of a lifetime of spiritual and physical battles he would face and that he would help others to face.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Jerry soon left his wrestling scholarship and began his studies for ministry at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga. That is where he met a beautiful and godly young lady who was “all in” for Jesus. She had been praying for God’s guidance to a life partner, even at the time when Jerry was in such a critical condition. When Jerry realized that they both agreed about life and ministry, he didn’t waste much time. He asked Debby Spears to marry him, and the rest is history. The call to the ministry continues in the lives of their children and grandchildren.
Psalm 50:15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”

Pastor Jerry understands that God gets the glory for the wonderful things that were accomplished in his family, in his ministry, and in his entire lifetime. He is thankful that all the not so good things of his life were taken care of at Calvary. Do you know that God has a plan for your life? Have you experienced a relationship with Jesus and received His forgiveness? If you haven’t, you can. Just ask pastor Jerry Walls and he will tell you all about it.
Isn’t God’s grace a wonderful thing?

Roger Allen Cook

I love to write stories about God’s grace. If you have a story I should consider, please contact me at: Roger.Cook@Southside.church