Reflections on an Unforgettable American Hero: Junior Matthews

Junior Matthews  Some people that you meet are forgettable: unimpressionable and impersonal. Then there are others who are unforgettable. These are individuals that, no matter how long they are gone from your presence, leave an indelible impression upon your life. Junior Matthews was one of those unforgettable people. Junior Matthews was born near the Yadkin River in the foothills of North Carolina. Junior grew up in a simple time. He and his family had no electricity nor running water. Junior said that most the time for transportation his family would either walk or ride a horse and buggy to get where they needed to go.

Junior was drafted to the army in World War II. It was a miracle that he survived the war. According to his personal account, “We were instructed to go up a river to scout for the enemy. As we were walking up an embankment, we came under fire by the Nazis. I stepped backward and fell in a foxhole dug out by the Nazis. At that time, a fireball flew over my head. I was saved by the foxhole. Most of our guys did not make it back that day” (Junior Matthews, Interview). It was a miracle that Junior made it back home.

Junior did make it back home. He married his sweetheart Earlene. As a farmer and carpenter, Junior and Earlene raised their children and loved each other dearly until the Lord called Earlene home. Junior was a deacon at Friendship Baptist Church for an amazing 56 years and only resigned from the position when he was no longer able to physically continue with the task.

This past weekend, the community was rocked by the news that Junior had passed into eternity. Junior’s family and friends are mourning his passing while celebrating his life. I was one who was affected by Junior’s life. So, I would like to share a few impressions that Junior left upon my life.

Junior and Brian

1.     The Impression of Faith

 “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3:9).

Junior was a great man of faith. He trusted God for guidance and depended upon God for strength. Junior told of the moment he received Jesus as his Savior, “I know very well where it was when I got saved, but I cannot remember when it was that I received the Lord. I was probably about 12 or 14 years old when I accepted the Lord as my Savior. I grew up in Prospect United Methodist Church. It was in a revival at Prospect when I gave my heart and life to Jesus. R. L. Sharpe was the pastor at that time. I gave my heart to Christ that night. I very well remember that I was sitting up on the first bench of the church. I felt someone put their arm around me…and it was my momma. It was a blessing to know that she was there with me. We walked to church. And she said, ‘Now Junior, don’t you feel better?’ I sure enough did. I was the first of 9 children to give my heart and life to Jesus” (Junior Matthews, Interview). Junior steadfastly served the Lord faithfully from that moment onward for all of his 90 plus years on earth.

2.     The Impression of Forgiveness

 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).

Junior was quick to forgive. He did not hold grudges. He did not like trouble and discord. Junior relished in peace…especially the peace that God gives. To my knowledge, Junior did not say many, if any, bad things about other people. To my knowledge, I know of no one who would say anything negative about Junior Matthews. Junior demonstrated the forgiving nature that all of us Christians should hold.

3.     The Impression of Friendship

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Junior has a smile that is infectious. His kindness exudes from him as the heat from the summer sun. Junior was a friend to everyone he met. Even while Junior was not in the best of health, he made it a point to travel to the nursing home with his good friend Chuck Smith to visit those in worse shape than himself. When Junior entered a room, everyone lit up. Junior was and is a great example of a genuine friend. To this writer’s knowledge, Junior did not consider anyone an enemy.

4.     The Impression of Integrity

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly” (Proverbs 2:6-7).

I interviewed Junior for my internet radio show “Redeeming Truth” which can be found at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton. He said something that has haunted me since the first moment I heard his wise words. Junior told of a particular instance that surprised him, “A woman came to me a little while ago. She said to me, ‘Do you know what you were doing 72 years ago?’ I said, ‘No, I sure don’t.’ The woman said, ‘You and your wife Earlene were at Prospect (UMC). And do you know who was teaching the Sunday school class that day?’ I said, ‘ I don’t know. Who?’ She said, ‘You did!’ I said, ‘Well if I was teaching it, you must not have gotten any good out of it.’ But she said that after Sunday school, Earlene and I went with her to Earlene’s momma’s house and ate dinner with them that day. So that just goes to show you that people don’t forget the things you do…She said that she didn’t remember what I said in the Sunday school class, just that I taught it. I could have been doing anything that day. I am glad I was doing something good…People remember what you say. You can’t take it back. Be careful in what you say and be careful in what you do because people don’t forget.” (Junior Matthews, interview).

 

Junior’s example is also a challenge for those of us who remain. Junior has essentially passed the torch as it was passed on to him. It is up to us to become examples of individuals who serve the Lord faithfully, with a forgiving heart, with a heart of friendship, and a walk of integrity. Then maybe then when our souls are required of us, people will be able to say that we too were…unforgettable.

junior matthews 2

Junior’s full interview can be heard in its entirety at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2012/11/12/episode-9-changes-of-the-past-century-with-jr-matthews

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

 

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