Nothing But Coals by Marilyn Mitchem


The Ebenezer Mission church/school circa 1909. From the collection of Emma Wood Hoskins.

During 2013 my column will be based upon corresponding monthly articles from The Soul Winner, the official publication of the Soul Winners Society. Founded in 1897 by Dr. Edward O. Guerrant, by 1910 the Society owned and operated fifty missions in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Subscriptions to their eight-page newspaper cost twenty-five cents yearly. Each issue contained news from various missions, poems, letters from missionaries, and comments from donors to the Soul Winners Society.

In 1910 Ebenezer Mission, seven miles southwest of Del Rio, was one of two Soul Winners Society missions located in Cocke County, Tennessee. Leonora Whitaker and John Wood served as missionaries at Ebenezer from 1909-12. The couple married in May 1910; their experiences at Ebenezer Mission form the historical background of their daughter Catherine Marshall’s novel, Christy.

Dr. Guerrant’s January 1910 article, “Encouraging Notes from the Field,” states:

“In spite of the severest weather for years, our work has gone on and flourished, by God’s blessing. Through snow a foot deep, and frozen rivers and roads, and the cold in the mountains fourteen degrees below zero, our schools have actually prospered beyond all expectations.

“Ebenezer and the Seminary of the Great Smoky Mountains are flourishing. The enlargement and improvement of the Ebenezer Mission has made it a beautiful and delightful place for God’s work.

“We thank all who helped. No wonder John Watson wrote, ‘Some one with the love of God in his heart had built the auld schule-house, and chose a site for the bairns in the sweet pine woods.'”

Opal Corn Myers, whose son Larry now lives on the Christy Mission property, reminisced about mountain winters in her memoir, Letters to Lori. “I slept against the wall in a feather bed and Maggie slept on the other side of me. Our bed had a big long bolster pillow that went all the way across the top. I’d put that pillow under the quilts, lengthwise down between the cold wall and me. That extra insulation made it warmer, like sleeping with someone between me and the outside. Then I would pull the quilts up over my head, leaving just a little tunnel so I could breathe fresh air.

“By the time we woke up in the morning, the fire had died down to nothing but coals, and the inside of the house would be freezing. When it snowed during the night, the snow would blow right in through those cracks in the walls and in the morning there would be a blanket of snow on the beds and floor.”

A second January 1910 Soul Winner’s article, “New Buildings and Workers,” begins with recent missionary placements and ends with pleas for support: “The new chapel at the Ebenezer Mission in the Great Smokies, adds greatly to the convenience and appearance of the plant. It is a nice, two story building, fitted up for a school room below, as well as for preaching services. The old school room became too small for the pupils. Miss Annie Laurie Williams from Lander College, who has taught so faithfully and efficiently since last Spring, returned home for a rest. Her place has been well filled by Miss Whitaker of North Carolina. Miss Marjorie Bishop has been secured to assist Miss Margaret Allison in the care of Mission. She needed and deserved a rest after a strenuous life in caring for a large family, and assisting in the school. Mr. John A. Wood has been an invaluable helper also in that mission.

“But time would fail to mention all our faithful workers who are doing noble service, even through the rigors of this severe winter.

“We beg your prayers and help for them all. They are worthy. Their Lord condescends to accept your gifts to them as if given to Himself. He once was as poor and dependent as they are, but now in glory, rejoices to honor them and bless all who help them.”

For further information about Letters to Lori, written by Barbara League–

photo courtesy of

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