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When God Calls

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464 Views

By Ruth Ann Ruiz

The Post Features Editor

“I was coming from Brownwood, Texas from a summer camp. There was about 60 of us on the bus. We were all playing around making noise having a good time. The Lord sent His spirit and it felt eerie. The way it was, I started hearing eerie sounds in my head. The sounds died down and I heard an inner voice telling me to preach and I knew it was God. 

“All around me on the bus were the other kids having fun, and so I went to the back seat of the bus and sat down. God told me again he wanted me to preach. At the time, I really didn’t know what preaching was. I was troubled. Then the eerie sound came back. Then the voice told me again, ‘Preach. ‘This voice was with me all the ride home to Vernon,” shared Reverend Darius Nathanial Benford. 

He was just 14 years old and came from a religious family. The voice stayed with him once he got home, and he couldn’t run from it or hide from it. “Everything was the same in Vernon except this voice wanting me to preach,” said Reverend Benford. 

“My family was a traditional Black family, and my mama and grandmother were very religious. But I really didn’t know what preaching was, and I was resistant,” the Reverend continued.

“The voice kept going on every day, ‘I want you to preach.’ It went on till I realized I had to do something about it. So, I started reading the Bible. My grandmother noticed I wasn’t going out with the other kids; I was reading the Bible. 

“I couldn’t shake it off, I couldn’t get away from it. I finally had to accept I was called to be a preacher. But I was devastated because I wanted to be a prize fighter. I wanted to be like Joe Louis. It was about all a black person could look forward to or maybe become a schoolteacher,” said Reverend Benford. 

As he remembers his inner battle to leave behind his own dreams, Reverend Benford names all the great Black athletes of that era. He remembers the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany and he speaks with pride of Jesse Owens’ accomplishments.

“It made things better for Black people when Jesse Owens went to the Olympics,” said Reverend Benford. “He showed the world that Blacks are human beings,”

On December 25, 1944, at the tender age of 14, Darius Nathanial Benford preached his first sermon. He was ordained as a minister at The Westview Baptist Church at age 15 and moved out of his family home to attend seminary in Conroe.

After seminary training, he was given two churches to pastor over. “They were small country churches, so we only had services twice a month at each one of them,” he explained. 

The Reverend enjoyed his county churches, as he thought that was where God wanted him to be. But God called him again, this time it was through an invitation to speak at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Texas City. 

“The congregation had heard me preach when I was in college, and they started looking for me. They found me when I was 20 years old,” said Reverend Benford. They didn’t know my name, so they were calling me ‘Vincent.’ I came and spoke for them, and I didn’t know they wanted me to be their preacher.”

They asked him to come back and speak again. It was his second sermon for the congregation in Texas City when Reverend Benford learned they were looking for a new preacher. 

“They had me three times and I said, ‘that’s enough. If they want me, they know me by now,’” Again, Benford was resistant. The congregation wanted him for a fourth time, and he did not want to go. “I laid down to sleep and the Lord came to me and said, ‘I want you to get up and go to Texas City.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to go.’ But God told me ‘You have to go,’” said Reverend Benford.

He packed his footlocker and set out on foot to get to the next town so he could catch the train to Houston. A stranger in a shiny new Chevrolet pulled up, asked him where he was heading and offered him a ride. His ride dropped him off at the depot just in time to catch the train and that got into Houston in time for him to get the train to Texas City.

He fell asleep and didn’t pull the string to get off in Texas City and woke up in Galveston. “I knew a preacher friend in Galveston, and I went to his door at 2:00 in the morning. He knew they wanted me at Rising Star, and he knew they needed me.  God opened the path for me even though I resisted,” said Reverend Benford. 

Reverend Benford remembers that fourth Sunday sermon. The church was filled with standing room only on the inside with even more people listening in from outside of the building. 

“I preached from Acts 21,” said Reverend Benford. 

He returned home to his two country churches and when the call came in from Rising Star that he had been selected to be their preacher he wasn’t at all surprised. “I knew already because God had told me,” said Reverend Benford. 

Seventy-two years later and Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church on Oak St in Texas City continues to listen to the word of God preached by Reverend Benford.

 The congregation prepares for his preaching with multiple soloists singing out hymns such as “Glory to His Name” and “It is Well with My Soul.” The choir blends their voices filling the sanctuary with praise and reverence. Congregants applaud, shout out “amen” and “alright.”

The music moves into a body swinging, tapping your feet and raising your hands tempo as the voice of another female soloist rises and leads the worship. Excitement is filling the church and another female steps in leading with her praise of Jesus’ Saving power. 

She continues and the congregation joins in with her. There is an anticipation of something, as if someone is about to enter the room. With assistance, 92-year-old Reverend Benford makes his way to the pulpit. After climbing up the stairs, he rests in a chair and joins in the singing of praises. 

He rises to his position at the pulpit, but you can’t really see him, because he isn’t standing so straight and tall anymore, but his flock hears his voice and he begins his work leading the congregation, praying for his people by name and by need happens early in the service. 

More singing, more soloists providing their talents so that those less talented may appreciate the glory of God and draw closer to him and the congregation shares their appreciation with shouts of affirmation. 

Singing stops and the sermon begins. Throughout his sermon, his people support him with their voices, sometimes as if in full unison. Their voices give the feeling of a gently swaying boat, “alright, yes sir, ahha, amen, go ahead now”. 

As the Reverend begins to recite a passage from the Bible, his congregation quickly joins in reciting from memory finishing off the passage.

He doesn’t spend much time filling the sermon with his own words, he pulls passage after passage from the Bible, and he tells his people, “The neglect of the word of God will put you out of business.”

The congregation rises for reading Mathew 6:29 and then more preaching from the pulpit continues. He came in at 10:45am and at 12:17pm he is still leading the congregation. At one point he pulls himself up as straight as the spirit allows him and his face is radiating.

He begins to sing out his sermon, the mood begins to change. He is finished at the pulpit, comes down to the front and welcomes in a new member.

Offering is taken and a sacred, solemn, intimate feeling begins to climb into the building and the people are moving rearranging themselves. Everyone knows where they are supposed to be.

Women are handed hand-made, white fabric circles to place on their heads (only the woman who have been baptized). Men in white gloves stand in front of the church. Heads are bowed and the voices of the people become quieter.

“Just a little Talk with Jesus tell him all our troubles…” and then the Lord’s Supper is presided over by Reverend Benford, his voice leads the people in singing the story of the Lord’s Supper. Then “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” is quietly sung and in unison with no one leading an ethereal amen, just above a whisper closes the service.

In his 72 years serving as pastor at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Texas City, Reverend Benford has led his people both spiritually and through troubled times. Many civil rights meetings were held at the church. He was the voice of his people to city and county leaders and his memory of Galveston County history is as razor sharp as his 20-year-old-self. 

His work is not done, not as a preacher of God’s word nor as an advocate for social justice. He will continue till God calls him to his heavenly home. 

1 Comments

  1. What a phenomenal story of a young man following the will of God! I would have loved to meet him in person to shake his hand.

    Sherrie Kostura

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