Over 77 years ago, on a Thursday, June 1, 1933, there was a lot going on: the Great Depression was in full swing; the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair opened in Chicago; Charlie Chaplin married Paulette Goddard; Alan “The Horse” Ameche, a famous NFL fullback for the Baltimore Colts was born—and Josephine “Jodie” Berry was born again.
Who was Jodie Berry? The correct question is who is Jodie Berry? You see, she is still alive, at 94 years young, and we know her as Mrs. Minnix. She is our neighbor, friend and my family’s “adopted” grandmother.
We first met Mrs. Minnix in November of 1998 when we bought our house in Roanoke, Va., directly across the street from her. We soon learned that she was a widow and lived alone, very alone. You see, Mrs. Minnix has no known living relatives.
She was born in August of 1916. She was born to the Berry family the youngest of three daughters. Her parents had lost several children to influenza and unknown diseases before she was born. By the time we got to know Mrs. Minnix, both of her sisters had passed away. None of the three girls ever had children. We became Mrs. Minnix’s family and she joined ours.
We have had countless hours of sitting together, hearing her stories. Mrs. Minnix always remembers fondly her years at Jefferson High School in Roanoke. That was certainly a different time from what happens in public schools today.
On June 1 of 1933, she was just about to finish her sophomore year. On that day, something very special happened. Josephine Berry signed her name in a little green New Testament, given to her compliments of Jefferson High School, saying that she had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and had accepted him as her Savior. Did you catch that? She was given a New Testament from a public high school.
My, how times have changed…
We recently found the little green New Testament while cleaning Mrs. Minnix’s home. What a treasure. I was excited to sit down with Mrs. Minnix to learn more about it and her memories of how Christ and the Bible were intertwined with her education. I took that opportunity recently and recorded our conversation. This is what Mrs. Minnix had to say:
Q: What do you remember about religious matters in school? Did you have prayer in school?
A: Oh yes!
Q: Tell me about it. Did you have prayers every day?
A: Yes. The teacher before we began our classes for the day would say, “We will now have a word of prayer.” We expected it. We prayed every day before beginning our classes.
Q: When you received your little green New Testament from the school, did they give them to all students?
A: I feel certain that they did. We always loved receiving things like that.
Q: What about in the lunch room? Was there a corporate prayer said before the meal, or was that something that students did themselves?
A: As a general rule, we had a prayer. A teacher or the principal would say a prayer.
Q: Tell me about the students. Were the students obedient and respectful to the teachers?
A: Oh yes! If you weren’t, you would pay for it.
Q: What do you mean? How did they discipline you?
A: Well, you were kept after school, or made to sit in front of the class. I remember that my teacher made me to put my nose in a circle drawn on the chalkboard for eating a pickle in class. She could smell it.
Q: How did that make you feel?
A: Well, of course I didn’t like it, but I never ate a pickle in class again (Mrs. Minnix said, while laughing). For some of those that acted really badly, they were paddled or suspended from school.
Q: Well, as you know, I work for RENEWANATION. We want children to be able to have an education like you had that incorporates God and the Bible. Did you know that most schools today cannot hand out Bibles or have corporate prayers?
A: Yes, and we were really upset when it was stopped.
Q: Why do you think it was stopped?
A: Ignorance, I reckon. I never heard any of the students complain about it. I really think my class enjoyed stopping for prayer.
My, how times have changed…
After my conversation with Mrs. Minnix, I remember feeling sad that our country has changed so much that students are not given the same opportunities that earlier generations had to learn about Jesus Christ. However, I left the conversation feeling energized and renewed in my role with RENEWANATION. Our vision to offer every child a Christian worldview education is not only possible, it is crucial to the future of our country.