Godly influence outlasts miles, generations

Godly influence outlasts miles, generations

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

The street address was 1108 and a half, and Therman Murphree said it might as well have been a tenth.

The one-room adobe house, which sat on the edge of a woman’s front yard in Del Rio, Texas, was tiny. But it looked pretty good to a newlywed just returned from serving in the Air Force overseas around the time of the Korean War.

“It was a shack, but I knew that would be the only one I had the opportunity to get,” he said. “There wasn’t much money at that time.”

But Murphree — a young Alabama boy assigned to a base far from home — and his new wife, Jean, were going to do the best they could. They settled into that little house with no money and no community and did the only thing they knew to do.

They sought out a church.

“I had made a profession of faith while I was overseas and had been counseled by the chaplains over there, but I had never been baptized,” Murphree said.

And the day he joined First Baptist Church, Del Rio, and came up from the waters, a new journey — and a new friendship started. Murphree hadn’t really learned what discipleship meant yet, but he was about to.

That lesson was going to come in the form of a couple named Fred and Martha Jean Sawyer.

“From that day forward, they were right by our side,” Murphree said.

The Sawyers invited the young couple to eat at Martha Jean’s parents’ house after church one day, and from that day on, they automatically set two extra places at the table.

“They were precious people, pillars of the church,” Murphree said of the Sawyers. “And they started getting us involved.”

Bedrock of family

They signed the Murphrees on to work with the youth and even sing in the choir, something neither of them ever thought they would be a part of. But that was just the Sawyers — they were always ready to involve them in whatever they were doing, whether it was a church activity or taking them to a park and buying them a meal or a milkshake when they didn’t have the money to do it themselves.

And through that life-on-life relationship, the Murphrees learned something that became the bedrock of their family — they learned what it looked like to be a caring couple who spent their lives following Jesus.

The Sawyers never had any children of their own, but they impacted the Murphrees’ future children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in ways they could’ve never imagined.

“They were compassionate and loving, and they supported the church in every respect,” Murphree said. “God blessed us in knowing them.”

‘Special people’

And even though the Murphrees only stayed in Del Rio for 20 months before moving back to Alabama, God planted the seeds in their hearts through the Sawyers of what they wanted to become. The Sawyers stayed in touch too, calling and visiting regularly up until just a few months ago when Fred Sawyer passed away at almost 97 years old, following his wife, who died more than a decade ago.

“They were special people. They loved us like family and set an example for us,” said Murphree, a member of First Baptist Church, Holly Pond. “If we could be that kind of example to people, I feel like the Lord would be pleased with us.”