WILLIE BRYSON: THE TRAVELLING EVANGELIST
Willie was born handicapped. He is somewhat hump-backed with both of his arms deformed. His right arm ends at the elbow with three partially-webbed fingers and a thumb. Protruding from his left shoulder is a small portion of a hand which is only visible when his shirt is removed. He has described himself as little more than a "head on a fat stomach."
At birth some counselled his mother to let him die. She refused, but at the beginning of the depression in 1929, Willie was placed with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the care of "Fat Fanny" (the fattest woman in the world). After a couple of years, he attended Dasher Bible School and later David Lipscomb College. Willie has spent most of his life working in small mission churches throughout the United States and Canada.
From his earliest years, Willie travelled by hitchhiking. Whether it was hitching to California, or finding a ride to reach a preaching appointment, Willie learned the fruitful possibilities of spontaneous conversations about the Jesus Christ with his travelling companions. Willie comments that "the opportunities are there; what we need to do is take advantage of them." His example can serve as a model for us: God can use incidental conversations about Jesus to draw people to himself.
While attending Dasher Bible School, Willie hitched a ride to Tampa, FL with a salesman. Their conversation turned toward the Bible, and after a period of time the salesman said, "When I get to Tampa, I am going to start going to church, and I am going to be baptized?" Willie responded, "Why wait until you get to Tampa?" The salesman pulled the car over to the side of the road. They stripped, and Willie baptized him. With a letter of introduction, the salesman placed membership in a local congregation. The last Willie heard he was still faithfully serving Jesus.
Because of the kindnesses shown to him as a hitchhiker, Willie was disposed to help others by providing transportation when he could. On one occasion, Willie picked up a black man thumbing his way home in south Georgia. He soon discovered that the black man had just been released from prison where he had served time for killing his wife. Willie turned the conversation toward the work of Christ who died to bring forgiveness to everyone. After a period of discussion, the black man declared that he was going to be baptized the first opportunity he had. Willie told him he would have his opportunity in about ten minutes when they arrived at the church building where he was to hold a meeting. That same hour, Willie immersed the ex-convict into Jesus Christ.
Another hitchhiker turned out to be an atheist. He and Willie argued for several miles. Finally the hitchhiker said, "Mister, you were kind enough to give me a ride and I do not want to be unkind. But just to prove to you that there is a God, I would like for you to answer just one question." Willie said, "Ask it." The stranger responded: "If the God you believe in exists, and I do not believe in him at all, why did he make you with your handicap but gave me a perfect body?" Willie laughed and said, "God knew you could not stand it."
Willie has been an example to our family for many years. His selfless devotion to ministry; his ceaseless use of opportunities; his incredible joy in the midst of personal tragedies have strengthened us. Willie has served his God well.
Mark N. Hicks
John Mark Hicks