Lewis Stubbs, my maternal grandfather, left a legacy of mission in my life and in the lives of countless others. The testimony of his life demonstrates how everyday believers can make disciples and plant churches. He is remembered not for his theological education (he had none) or material resources (he had few), but as one who walked deeply with God.
During World War II, Grandpa joined the United States Merchant Marines and traveled the world on military support ships as a chief purser and medic. He wasn’t a Christian when he went to war, but after surviving several harrowing experiences, he came to believe that God was protecting him. In gratitude, he committed his life to serving the Lord.
After the war, he settled in Washington, DC, where he met a young woman named Virginia Ashton. Virginia was a Seventh-day Adventist, and Grandpa was attracted to both her beautiful smile and her faith. He was baptized shortly before they were married.
Grandpa became a pharmacist and for a while worked at Adventist hospitals in Stoneham, Massachusetts, and Orlando, Florida. But he had a dream of owning his own drugstore and using his profession to witness for God. In 1959 he built Stubbs Pharmacy on the outskirts of Orlando. His faith in God led him to be the first business to openly serve African-Americans in that city.
Grandpa enjoyed his time in Florida. He had five healthy children, served as an elder at the Forest Lake Church, and had many witnessing opportunities through his business. He had no intention of leaving.
But the Lord was about to disrupt Grandpa’s life. When he turned 50, the Holy Spirit filled his heart with a passion to plant a church in a “dark county,” an old term referring to a county with no Adventist church. Grandpa and Virginia prayed for guidance, and God lead them to Westminster, South Carolina.
In Westminster, Grandpa and Grandma nurtured relationships with the people who frequented their store. They opened a “We Care Center,” providing food, clothing, and basic medical screening to the community. They offered Bible studies to anyone interested in learning about God’s Word. It took time, much prayer, and a consistent loving presence, but eventually several families requested baptism.
Grandpa and Grandma then rented a store in which to start a church. To attract visitors, they placed directional signs around town in addition to inviting those they had already formed relationships with. It worked, and soon a company of new believers was organized! In 1982, the congregation built a church, and Grandpa served as their volunteer pastor.
Grandpa and Grandma praised God for blessing their ministry in Westminster, but Grandpa wasn’t sure his church planting days were over. “If the Lord fills this church, we’re going to do this again and plant another one,” he said.
Fast-forward 20 years. My grandparents are now in their 70s, the Westminster church is filled, and once again God calls Grandpa to plant a church.
This time they moved to Clemson University in South Carolina, where there was no Adventist presence. Determined to reach young people, Grandpa and Grandma braved the thick humidity of a hot summer day and went to Clemson University, where students were lined up to register for classes. They brought a cooler stuffed with ice-cold juice bottles wrapped in personalized printed invitations to a small group meeting in their living room. Most young people probably didn’t think it was desirable to visit seniors they’d never met to talk about God. But God blessed Grandpa and Grandma’s efforts, and today there is a church in that area as well.
Someone once asked Grandpa what advice he would give to those wanting to plant a church. “If you want to start a church, you’ve got to pray your way through and find the Lord’s will,” he replied. “Then be outgoing and friendly, and faithfully visit your new interests,” he said with great emphasis. “There’s a great joy for all who step out by faith in the work of the Lord.”
Around their 65th wedding anniversary, I spent a special day at my grandparents’ home, joining them in their daily schedule. After waking up, I accompanied them on their long walk around the neighborhood. Winding their way along a forested path, they stopped halfway across a wooden bridge. As their custom was, they sang the doxology, prayed together, and kissed.
Grandpa and Grandma loved God, each other, and people. In an interview with my grandfather when he was 90, I asked him about the challenges and breakthroughs in his church-planting ministry. His closing reflections reflect the heart of a missionary.
Talking about his current church plant, he said, “We have single moms, ex-cons, professionals, burnt-out Christians, super conservatives, and those who are quite liberal, but praise the Lord, by God’s grace, all are working happily together. May God bless you, Anthony, as you seek to follow Him in your life and ministry. Don’t go for the formulas. Go for God!”
I will never forget the sound of a squeaky-hinged door opening and closing early in the morning at my grandparents’ house when I was 12 years old. Rising to see what was going on, I walked outside at dawn to discover my grandfather sitting on a log next to a small crackling fire with his brown leather-bound Bible in hand. Placing his hand on me, he said simple but confident words that still echo today: “Anthony, no matter how difficult things get in my life, I will always worship God.”
In 2016, I spoke at Grandpa’s funeral. As his coffin was lowered in the church cemetery adjacent to one of the churches he planted, it was clear to all that this 91-year-old man of God had left a rich legacy that would inspire our family and others for years to come. Not a set of rituals to be replicated or methods to be multiplied, but a deep faith expressed in loving service to humanity and God.