Roadside messages inspired from above

By TIM BEELAND,

Lifelong residents of this area will remember a man of God by the name of Rev. John Hayes Jones. Rev. Jones was probably famous for a lot of things, but in my mind two stand out — catfish and letters to Jesus.

Catfish because Rev. Jones had catfish ponds and raised catfish to sell to the public up on Highway 21 long before Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta became famous for the same. Many a day we’d head down the highway from Sebastopol and buy us a mess of catfish and have a big fish fry up on our hill. Fresh fried catfish, hushpuppies, French fries, cabbage slaw — mighty fine eating.

But more importantly, Rev. Jones was known for his little signs around the area. They were like miniature billboards on the roadsides with religious messages. Letters to, or I suppose  from, Jesus.

Rev. Jones died in 1997 and most of the signs have long since fallen at the hands of mother nature, but at least one still remains on the side of Hwy. 21 between Forest and Sebastopol, in the Steele Community. It reads “watch ye and pray that ye enter not into temptation.”

I pass it every day and think back to the days when those signs first started appearing.

I think the one on Hwy. 487 coming into Sebastopol quoted John 3:16 For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son. We passed that sign many times because it was just up the road from my in-laws house and wife, Danny, and I lived up in north and north central Mississippi for the first dozen or so years of our marriage. That was our route home for the holidays.

Back in those days most country churches did not have marquees out front where the pastor or a member of the church staff posted messages to passersby. Today those marquees are common and travelers find all kinds of inspirational or even damning messages along the roadsides.

I think I remember one back in the hottest part of last summer that read “it’s too hot to change the sign, come on inside so you don’t spend eternity like this,” or something to that nature.

All this came back vividly to my mind early last Wednesday morning as I was driving in to the office. There had been a vicious thunderstorm the night before and just as I topped the hill and came around the curve in the Steele Community I could see red flashing emergency lights.

It was still raining and I thought “oh Lord there has been a terrible accident,”  but then I saw the flames, and actually whispered out loud, “oh no, Steele Baptist Church is on fire.”

I pass that church twice a day, or more, every day and I’ve come accustomed to watching to see what the message is on the marquee. Last week it read, “The way to God begins with a broken heart.” Monday the words “God is on the move, come join us” were posted on the little sign outside the damaged church.

I was amused by Rev. Jones’ signs back in the ‘80s and ‘90s but find myself these days looking for the next church up the road and wondering if a witty pastor came up with the clever saying on the sign or if perhaps there is a book one can buy or an Internet site where a bunch of options are listed.

One I saw this weekend read “Need Home Improvement? Bring your family to church.” Another read “Worship Service is at 11:00 a.m. and God is always on time!”

I enjoy reading the roadside messages whether they come from a catalog, the Internet, or the preacher in the pulpit on Sunday morning — or, I suppose, inspired from up in Heaven above. Whichever one it is, I’m betting Rev. John Hayes Jones would approve of his legacy being carried on in a more modern way.

He probably wouldn’t, however, approve of me betting for, or against, him just now!