‘Introduced to Jesus’: 71 year old recalls experiencing God’s love at Shocco Springs

(L to r) Billy Klinner, Larry Ferguson, and Russell Klinner return to Shocco Springs.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Mullinax

‘Introduced to Jesus’: 71 year old recalls experiencing God’s love at Shocco Springs

“Shocco Springs will always hold a place in my heart because it was there I was introduced to Jesus Christ through love.” —Larry Ferguson

Larry Ferguson has no memory of his biological mom or dad being a part of his life. He does, however, have special memories of being raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, already 60 years old when Larry was born, was devastated when Larry’s grandmother died, leaving him alone to care for their 5-year-old grandson.

Dirt poor, Larry and his grandfather lived in a small sharecropper shack at the back edge of a farm in the Talladega area. Although he had little to no formal education, Grandfather Ferguson had a great deal of practical knowledge and knew how to live off the land. Larry recalls his grandfather using what he calls “old-timer tricks” to observe the habits of bees in order to estimate the location of their hives. According to Larry, “He was right every time and we were always able to find the hives and collect honey.”

Grandfather Ferguson and Larry often walked down to the creek bank where they cut small white oak trees, removed the limbs, and dragged them home. The elderly man split the wood into ¼” thick x 1-1/2” wide strips which he used to cane chairs and make baskets to sell in order to help support the two of them.

Example of prayer

Larry followed his grandfather’s example of praying every day, but there was no other mention of God in the home. A little Baptist church was down the road around 500 yards from where they lived, and the 9-year-old boy felt drawn to it.  Refusing to attend church himself, Grandfather Ferguson didn’t stand in the way of his grandson attending. Since the older man never had a driver’s license nor did he learn to drive, Larry walked the distance every Sunday for years.

Larry recalls that neither he nor his grandfather had anything other than one or two pairs of overalls or worn jeans to wear. Embarrassed about his lack of what was then considered proper church attire, young Larry found a place in the back of the building.

Week after week, the little boy sat on that back row, gripping the seat in terror as the pastor enthusiastically preached that “we were all sinners and going to be destroyed in hell if we didn’t respond to the altar call,” as Larry remembers. “I was scared to death and thought all week about dying and going to hell.” But the young boy continued to go back to church and eventually joined the Royal Ambassador group.

When he was in the 6th grade, Larry learned that the RA boys were planning to attend RA camp at Shocco Springs in the summer. Knowing his grandfather had no money to pay the fee, Larry didn’t allow himself to even hope to join the group.

But God intervened.

Compassion from a believer

An adult within the church had noticed Larry and felt compassion toward him. After obtaining his grandfather’s permission, this person arranged for the fee to be paid, and for the first time ever, Larry was going to camp at Shocco.

As soon as he arrived on campus, Larry was met by the RA camp counselor, Steve. This soft-spoken, college-age man smiled at the 12-year-old boy and told Larry how happy he was to have him there. Steve presented the gospel to the boys in a very different way than anything Larry had ever heard — through love.

“Steve shared the love of Christ with me,” Larry said, “and he told me that God loved me so much that He gave His Son so that I could go to heaven.” Over and over throughout the week of camp, Steve carefully explained that God is a loving God.

For years, Larry had felt that God was mean and wanted to throw people into hell. He was so terrified in the church services he attended that he was frightened to walk down the aisle of the tiny church in response to the pastor’s altar calls.

‘The love of God’

“But that summer at Shocco, I was shown the love of God,” Larry fondly remembers, “and I was encouraged to give my life to the Lord.”

Larry rejected the tactic of being scared out of hell but easily responded to being loved into heaven. Counselor Steve lovingly taught the boys about a holy fear of God, not wanting to disappoint their Father God, much in the same way a child from a loving family wouldn’t want to disappoint their earthly father.

Now 71 years old, Larry Ferguson has been trusting the Lord for many years. Currently a member of First Baptist Church in Childersburg, he serves as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Earlier this year, Larry returned to Shocco along with his friend, Billy Klinner. Both men joined other construction volunteers who were helping with the remodeling of one of the campus hotels. It brought back a lot of good memories.

“I remember Shocco as being the geographical location where I made the smartest decision of my entire life.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Laurie Mullinax and originally published in the Shocco Springs newsletter.