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Revival on Chokoloskee Island 1933

The history of revival and the spread of the Gospel of Christ are filled with numerous stories of relatively unknown pioneers. This is the story of how one family left everything to travel to a small island at the direct leading of the Holy Spirit and how God moved upon the people of that community to receive the Gospel.

On July 7, 1904, James A. Ridgeway and Daisy (Bailey) Ridgeway were the proud parents of a fine baby boy, Noah Columbus Ridgeway. This was the second child born in this family–the second of two boys–five other children were born later.

W. Lane Thompson and Alice (Carlisle) Thompson became the proud parents of a baby girl,Willa Elzora, just eleven months and nineteen days later (June 26, 1905). She was the second child and the only girl in this home. A difficult life lay ahead of her. Her mother died when she was only nine years old. After living with her grandparents two years, she had to assume the duties of housekeeper for her dad and two brothers, Willie and Dewey.

Around the age of seventeen and eighteen, this couple, Willa and Noah, began courting. They were married in the home of Rev. Lawson, a Baptist minister, January 24, 1925. They began living in a modest home in Buford, Georgia. they were eventually blessed with four children–Glyndon, Roy, Evelyn, and Naomi.

Willa, my mom, was converted in a Baptist church at an early age. She had a very real experience with God. Those who were present at the meeting remarked that she “looked like an angel.”

Noah, my dad, was also saved when he was young. He was all alone in the woods praying when God saved him. Having no one to encourage him, he did not continue to serve God.

Mom spent much time in prayer for him after their marriage. When he would come in drunk at night, she would kneel by his cot and pray for him. He would turn over and pretend to be asleep; but the prayers were really having an effect on him. She begged him to have family prayer. After about a year, he finally began to kneel and pray with her and the children.

They continued this for about a year before he was ever really brought back to the Lord again. They would take turn about reading the Scripture and leading in prayer. When it was his turn to lead prayer, he would refuse to go with the “fellows” to drink.

Being Baptist, they were against the little Church of God tent that had been set up across the rail

road tracks from their home. There was a longing in their hearts for something; but they had not had anyone to show them a deeper experience with God was possible.

When Rev. L. P. Shaw began this tent service, they went one or two nights just out of curiosity. But this was a totally new doctrine to them so they were not in favor of it.

On January 12, 1933, my dad, against my mother’s wishes, decided to go to a men’s chicken supper. She knew he would be in the wrong company–with drinking companions. As the old song goes, she went back to the tent meeting that night “for spite” in the company of her Aunt Nella; but Something got hold” of her. That was the night she knelt at the altar and was sanctified.

When Dad returned home from the supper, he had to go to the tent meeting to find her. When he saw her up front shouting and rejoicing in the Lord, he sent Glyndon after her. But Glyndon, only six years old, could not get her to come.

After a while she went home shouting. Dad told her, “You’d better shut up now. I’ve got to get to sleep so I can go to work in the morning.” This did not hinder her in the least.

The next morning she was up and had his breakfast cooked before he ever woke up. She was singing in the kitchen! After he left for work, she went out to share in detail with her neighbors what the Lord had done for her. One, Clara Brogden, watched in bewilderment as she tried to describe how wonderfully God had blessed her. Neither she nor my mother’s aunts ever accepted the full gospel. Aunt May, in later years, did accept the full gospel. Mom r

eturned to the tent that same night and received the Holy Ghost Baptism.

The following Sunday afternoon Dad went with her to the tent meeting and knelt at the altar when the invitation was given. About nightfall he felt like he was saved. As he testified and praised God, Bro. Shaw said, “Another Church of God preacher!”

A few months later Mom joined the Church of God. Although she had pondered this step for a long time, she felt awful after she had joined. She asked herself, “What have I done?” After all she was departing from a life time of tradition. Only a few Sunday nights later Dad joined, too. He attended every service and cottage prayer meeting they had and would seek to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit at every altar service. He was rewarded by receiving Sanctification and a little later the Holy Ghost.

One Sunday night in March after they returned from church, Mom asked him, “Well what did you receive tonight?” ( The devil had told him, “Why you’re not even saved, and you’re up there seeking for the Holy Ghost!”) So he replied to my mother, “I don’t know what I received, but I am going to find out before I go to bed.” With an intense hunger and strong determination, they both began to seek God. Around 12:30 or 1:00 in the morning, he began laughing in the Spirit and speaking in a heavenly language. The devil had to leave because he received a satisfying experience that night that he could not doubt again!

Pastor Noah C Ridgeway

Pastor Noah C Ridgeway

A short time after this, Mom became very ill. Someone summoned the doctor and he said she had kidney stones and if she were not better by morning, she would have to come to the hospital for an operation. Although they knew very little about the Bible, Mom remembered hearing about the verse in James 5:14, 15, “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

On the basis of this verse, they called in some of the church folk and asked for prayer. By now the pain was very intense. Following the instructions given in James, the people anointed her with oil and prayed. There was no great emotional stirring, but she knew she was healed because she had followed the Word of God! The pain ceased. After most of the folk had gone, Sis. Lena McGinnis helped her out of bed and they began to walk around the room together. The only effects she felt of the sickness was weakness. The next day (Sunday) instead of entering a hospital for an operation, she attended the homecoming service at the church. She found the Word of God was true!

On another occasion she became so sick, it was feared she would not live. Much prayer had gone up to God in her behalf. Dad went out to our storage house and sought God again very earnestly. While in prayer, he saw a vision of Jesus hanging on the cross; but he did not realize the meaning of the vision. After awhile he went back into the house. Mom, lying on the bed, asked him, “Do you see that little picture on the wall?” That really scared Dad because he thought she was surely dying. He said, “No, what picture?” She said, “That one right up there.” Then she showed him how big it was and where she saw it. He asked, “What does it say?” She replied, “It says, ‘Jesus’ blood heals,’ and it has blood streaming down over it.”

Suddenly, realizing the meaning of it all, my dad exclaimed, “God is going to heal you!” Immediately she came up out of the bed shouting. She was completely delivered by the power of God.

Shortly after this, the doctor walked in. Some of the neighbors decided she was going to die and that they had to call him. When he saw what was taking place, he called Dad off to one side and inquired how long she had been this way. He left some pills and said she could take them if she needed to. Of course she never needed them because the Great Physician had already visited her.

Many amazing miracles were performed by God for our family. Shortly before my dad’s conversion, one of the boys almost choked to death with the croup. Dad wanted Mom to get a doctor or give him some medicine, but she got down on her knees instead and prayed for him. He was instantly healed. On many occasions they called on God in their hour of need and He heard their prayers. Evelyn was healed of a back-set of diphtheria when she was very young. Time and time again God proved to be a “present help in time of need.”

Dad would lead the testimony service every opportunity he had. He tried to stay “prayed up” and ready at a moment’s notice to witness for the Lord. Once he had been asked to lead the prayer meeting service and prepared his talk and scripture reading from the family Bible. Unknown to him, all Bibles were not alike. His included the Book of Maccabees. Of course this is not found in the usual Bibles. He left the family Bible home that night and decided to read from the pastor’s Bible. You can imagine the frustration he felt as he searched frantically for his “Scripture reading” that night!

Bro. Scott, their pastor, asked my mom, “How would you like to be a Church of God preacher’s wife?” Like most people then (and many even now), she thought a preacher and his wife had an easy life. So she replied, “I would really like it.” In the years ahead she was to remember that statement because Dad had felt a call to preach even when he was a small boy. He remembers being in the field working and feeling the call upon him. When he got in the house later, he said he looked in the mirror and thought to himself he would make a sorry looking preacher. After he received the Holy Ghost, he knew definitely that God had called him to the ministry.

They spent much time in prayer seeking God’s will and direction as to where He would have them minister. God showed Mom a vision of them going South with Brother X (name withheld), another young minister at their local church. They obeyed God as Abraham did. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”

After Dad talked with Brother X, they both quit their jobs at the shoe factory. The boss remarked of Dad, “That boy’s crazy!” The neighbors shared the same opinion of the whole project. But they were not listening to man. They knew God had called, so they packed up their clothes and with 80 cents in their pocket, they began driving South in March of 1933. You have to realize this would be equivalent of a person starting off for some foreign country today. The Evangelistic team consisted of two young, inexperienced preachers, a young wife, and three children–Glyndon, Roy, and Evelyn (a nine month old baby). Their method of transportation was a 1929 A Model car.

There was not a lot of preparation they could make for the trip since they did not know where they were going nor how long they would be on the road. This was in the days before convenience pre-packaged foods and ready-mixed milk formulas for babies. Even if these foods had been available, they would not have had sufficient money to stock supplies for the entire trip. They just started out with their trust in the God Who had called them, depending on Him to fulfill His Word and direct them and supply their needs.

They did not always eat “king’s fare” but God did meet their needs in various ways. The baby had to have milk even if the rest had to do without a few things. On one occasion they stopped at a black person’s home and were given enough milk for the baby. When they did not have milk for her, she would have to drink sweetened water for a while.

In South Georgia they stopped at a common looking house where some people by the name of Poore lived. Finding the folk friendly and hospitable, they asked if they could spend the night there. Mom and the baby slept on the bed with the boys beside her on a pallet. Dad and Bro. X were also given a place to sleep. Before retiring, the men went outside to have their nightly prayers. As a result of this prayer, they had an opportunity to witness to the family the next morning at breakfast.

They were now feeling like the Lord was leading them to Miami, Florida. Not knowing definitely where they should go, they would stop and pray at various crossroads. The Holy Ghost would witness and give the interpretation through Mama as to the route they were to take. Truly they were guided by the Unseen Hand.

They did not always have someone to let them spend the night in their homes. They often had to sleep by the road side. On one particular occasion they stopped beside the road just a short distance from a herd of cattle. Mom, Dad, and Evelyn were trying to sleep in the front seat. Bro. X and the boys were lying in the back seat. When Mama heard Bro. X mumbling something, she asked, “What did you say?” He replied, “I was just talking to the devil. The devil asked me wouldn’t I like to have some of these cattle and I said, ‘Yes I would!’” It was a trying time for all of them.

The next morning they started off again without any breakfast. Coming to a cabbage patch, they asked the owner for some of them. Their breakfast that day was a very fresh vegetable–raw cabbage. Mom could not stop her hunger pangs even with this due to one of her frequent toothaches. Later that same day they stopped by a little shack beside the road and were given some big biscuits full of stewed meat and plenty of milk for Evelyn. This little feast tasted like manna from Heaven to the whole group.

After choosing the poorer looking homes to stop and ask for food or lodging, they decided to try some of the better looking ones now. They saw a fine-looking house set up on a hill in a grove of trees. So they stopped and asked for food and a place to sleep. They were given some food but the folk said they did not have room enough to let them sleep there. As an extra bonus the lady of the house gave them some home-baked bread and orange marmalade.

Encouraged, they stopped farther down the road at another nice-looking house. An elderly couple, thought to be foreigners, invited them in and shared their lodging with them. Mom and the children slept on the screened-in porch. Dad and Bro. X were given sleeping quarters in the couples’ storage house. They heard the couple drive off after they all had retired for the night. When they returned, it was discovered they had been to the store to purchase some ice cream. The lady shared it with Mom. This indeed was a rare delicacy.

The man heard Daddy and Bro. X praying during the night and came outside and called them. Wondering, and a little fearfully, they joined him outside. He said he wanted them to see the moon rising. But what he really wanted was revealed shortly when he asked, “What kind of people are you all?” He then mentioned that he had heard them praying. They used this opportunity to witness to him about the Lord; and, at his request, had prayer with him.

The next morning they continued their journey–still not knowing for certain what their destination would be but sure that the Lord was leading and providing for them.

The lack of gasoline proved to be one of their constant sources of trials. Sometimes they would flag down a car when they would run out of gas. One man is remembered for having given them a dime to purchase gas. Not everyone was even that free-hearted.

One night they ran out of gas when no cars nor houses were in sight. So they began to pray. They believed God could, if necessary, put gas in their tank. Eventually a car came along and stopped. They told the driver their plight, and she gave them some gallons out of her tank. They were able to move on down the road again praising God for supplying their needs another time. They knew Sis. McGinnis and others back home were holding them up in prayer.

Early one morning they held a street meeting in Cairo, Georgia. The congregation consisted mostly of black folk. Dad preached on this occasion. As he preached under the Anointing of the Spirit, one old sister began hollering, “He’s got it! He’s got it!” At the conclusion of the service Mama and one of the men in the crowd began to take up an offering. She was praising the Lord as she received it. The offering that morning came to a grand total of eleven cents! Yet the Lord provided for them. A white man had come over during the service and had asked one of the group if they had had breakfast. When they replied they hadn’t, he told them to come on over to the hotel and he would have their breakfast ready for them. At the conclusion of the service, they went over and ate all they wanted free of charge.

In Palatka, Florida the Lord led them to some Church of God people’s home. Their last name was Lazarus. They corresponded for many years afterwards with this family. They visited in one of the Lazarus girl’s homes twenty-five or thirty years later in Covington, Louisiana. She had grown up and married a minister, Rev. Miller.

They spent one or two nights with the Lazarus family and washed out all their clothes. They washed clothes and bathed any chance they had. Often the diapers would have to be hung in the car to dry. While in this home, Mom made herself a dress–without even a pattern–from some material given her by Sis. McGinnis. One habit of the Lazarus family still remains in Mama’s memory. Sis. Lazarus had prayer with her little girls before they left for school each morning. Bro. And Sis. Lazarus begged the group to stay on with them and conduct a revival in their church or even to come back later. Feeling they had not yet reached the place where God was leading them, they continued their journey encouraged by the hospitality of these children of God.

As is always true, there were times of discouragement. During one of these depressing times, Daddy remembers parking the car and walking up in a field and kneeling under a large pine tree. He stayed there, too, until he received encouragement from God.

One night they ran out of gas during a downpour of rain. A black man driving a truck came by. They flagged him down and told of their situation. The man let Daddy and Bro. X ride with him to the nearest service station. Mom, left alone with the three children, pushed thoughts of fear from her mind by prayer. Some time later the men returned with the gas–they had had to walk back to the car!  Another time, a black minister bought them gas once in return for letting him ride to the next town where he had to go preach.

Finally, they reached Miami, Fla. They discovered the church was in a bad condition spiritually when they attended their first service there. Daddy and Bro. X both testified that night. Following the service, several members came around and asked them to conduct a revival there. They said that was the first time there had been any shouting in that church in a long time. The pastor, however, did not want them for a revival.

Mama and the children stayed in the home of the church clerk. They lived near the church. Daddy and Bro. X stayed with the pastor. He told them of a little church on Chokoloskee Island. He related how the people on the island were very mean and rough, but said the church needed help. The District Pastor visited the church occasionally until the folk got too rough. One older brother would go about once a month and hold services there, but that was the extent of the concern shown to the little group of members.

Literally, it looked very gloomy–the church was dead. At the same time, it presented a challenge. Revival means “new life” and where else could they find a better opportunity to work for God. In spite of this dismal report they received, they felt that it was God’s will for them to go on to the church. They had the call of God on their lives and were not looking at circumstances but to the power of God. The clerk said he would give them the money to go on to the island and also enough to buy milk for the baby if they wanted to go. Daddy told Mama this was a chance for them to preach. Of course, she was ready to go wherever he felt they should.

While in Miami, the pastor’s wife gave Mama a pair of old light beige shoes–two sizes too big–but she was glad to get them. Her others were worn so badly that her feet were literally on the ground!

Eagerly the next day they left Miami and drove to Everglades, Fla. There they had to leave their car–the faithful old A Model–to finish the rest of their journey by boat. They unloaded their things on the dock and waited. They talked with the sheriff at Everglades and told him where they were going. He was not very encouraging either. He said, “Those people are mean. They will kill you!” But like the Apostle Paul, “…none of these things moved them.”

There was a man at the dock, Robert Thompson, who lived on the island. He said he would take them where they were wanting to go. So loading their pitifully few belongings, they got on his boat and traveled the last seven miles of their journey.

Mr. Thompson walked with them on down to the parsonage and church. The parsonage was a two-room lean-to built onto the church. The furnishings consisted of a bed, one cot, and a little gas stove that had to be pumped to make it work. Yet they did not look on it as meager, but they felt happy and satisfied that the Lord had furnished this place just for them.

Word got around that there would be service that night. So they had a pretty good crowd to gather in. Daddy preached that night and Bro. X testified. (They took it night about preaching). They learned that night that three older church sisters had been meeting at the church and praying that God would send someone to start the church back up. They were Sisters McKinley, Thompson, and Brown. One of the boat owners would hire some young boys to throw rocks and blow out the lights (probably lamps) while the women prayed. But they had continued seeking God. Sis. Thompson stood up the first night of the revival and testified that God had showed her in a vision that two young men were coming to run them a revival. She stated, “The minute I laid eyes on them, I knew they were the ones.” This and the good service they had was very encouraging to them.

After church one man known as one of the “mean” ones gave Daddy $5 and said, “Take this and go buy you something to eat.” Someone also supplied them with an ice box.

The next morning Sis. Thompson came in bringing a loaf of warm home made bread. She said the Lord told her to “get in a hurry.” A breakfast with warm bread was like more manna from Heaven.

Their water had to be carried from Sis. Thompson’s house. There was a shallow well next to the church which had pure sulphur water. It smelled very strongly, and they couldn’t drink it.

If this evangelistic group had been faint-hearted, they would never have come this far on their journey. Of course they were strong and corageous– and must have had a strong stomach. The cistern water–in a square wooden box 12×12–was full of wiggle tails! They would beat on the side of the cistern and make the wiggle tails go to the bottom so they could dip out the water from the top! .

The revival continued for five weeks. People came from the surrounding islands; some came from as far as the island of Marco. Indians also attended the revival. Many were saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost. Seventeen grown people prayed through and joined the church. This proved to be an island-wide revival. You could walk around on the island most any time and hear people praying.

Bro. Nobles brought fresh fish practically every day. Roy remembers Bro. Nobles taking them out in his boat to fish. He rocked the boat and scared them. Sis. Thompson gave them smoked fish.

Bro. Hancock, a Methodist minister, was almost blind. He was healed and called to preach in this revival. He became a Church of God minister.

Everything, however, was not all roses. They found the devil was just as real in Florida as he was in Georgia. In fact, praying was made very difficult by the swarms of mosquitoes. Daddy would have to get a piece of brush or a small tree limb to fight off mosquitoes as he walked and prayed.

Dry cow dung was burned in a can in the church at night to rid the building of mosquitoes. Evelyn was badly bitten by them. She also suffered from a badly upset stomach when she had to drink condensed mild. In fact, she became so sick she almost died; but God healed her.

Bro. X became very discouraged and wanted to return home before the revival was over. He and Roy went out walking one day looking for a boat to leave on. Roy wanted to go to Aunt Jane’s at Buford. The baby’s milk began to disappear, too. Bro. X was taking it and drinking it, saying he had stomach trouble.

What effect did this have on Mama and Daddy? Mama fasted and prayed one of those discouraging days. Daddy fasted and prayed three days. The day Bro. X wanted to go home so badly, Daddy prayed seven hours seeking the face of the Lord. That night as Daddy preached under the anointing of the Spirit, Bro. X rushed up to Dad and patted him on the back saying, “Preach it, Brother, preach it. God’s in this!” God rewarded their efforts with victorious services where people sought and found God real in their lives.

A story on the lighter side is Bro. X’s bath in the bay. He took a bar of Octogan soap with him and soaped down really well. Then he proceeded to rinse off from head to toe. His hair stood up stiff as a brush! Through this experience he learned that “salt water bathing” was worse than being dirty.

Several years later when Mama and Daddy were visiting Myles and Frances Little, who were pastoring in South Georgia, a man was at their church who had been called to preach in the Chokoloskee revival.

At the end of five weeks, the District pastor came and baptized the new converts as well as set the church in order again. He begged the small group to stay and pastor the church until the General Assembly, and many others wanted them to stay also. However, the small evangelistic band decided to return to Georgia. In the many years that followed, Brother and Sister Ridgeway pastored many churches and won many people to the Lord. But the work they did on Chokoloskee Island was the first fruits of a ministry that would eventually reap an abundant harvest for their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


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