A Tennessee Man After God’s Own Heart

by Ivy Scarborough | December 23rd, 2017

A very good friend and brother in faith, Rev. Roger Stacey, sent me a link (https://youtu.be/rgYAu8r5CuU) to a video about famed WWI hero Sgt. Alvin York. Roger knew of my writing about Sgt. York. By coincidence my wife Mona, daughter Cristin, and I had just returned from the Wolf River Valley, Alvin York’s home. We visited with the York family—there are three surviving children, all in their 80s or 90s—and attended church with two of them at the church Sgt. York established.


The timing must have been Divine. We learned on the way up that Ed York, eldest of the three surviving children, was gravely ill and not expected to live. But I visited with Ed, and I am skeptical. Though in his 90’s, Ed has defied death before, and any man who can eat several pieces of pecan pie for Sunday lunch does not seem to be a man on the verge of eternity.


Some years ago Andy, the son in the linked video, invited me to go to a target shoot with him—a target shoot in Sgt. York’s home valley! Andy loaned Sgt. York’s own rifle to me for the shoot!! That was an honor! Fortunately it was very accurate.


The Yorks are a wonderful family! They took our family in over twenty years ago when we first visited the valley and have repeatedly reminded us with such conviction of our adoption as members of the family; so much so that they include us in their family reunions.There is among them and many of the people in the valley a wonderful, simple and sincere faith coupled with an innocence and absence of the jadedness and materialism one might find most anywhere else in our nation. We love being there for this reason and more.


Entering the valley is a pilgrimage back in time to an earlier and much simpler era. Thankfully, it has never become commercialized or a tourist trap. Other outsiders and I have talked about this and other phenomena surrounding this special place. It is unlike any place I have ever been. In the manner of It’s A Wonderful Life, Alvin York’s influence is evident there to me even 53 years after his death.


I feel immense satisfaction when guiding people to one of my favorite places in God’s Creation—the mountain cliff with the spectacular view where Alvin York spent two days and a night in 1917 alone praying and reading his Bible in an earnest effort to learn God’s will about going to war. He came away on the second day convinced God was saying to him: “Go.” He told his family and friends that God had given him an assurance that not only should he go and fight, but he would not be hurt in the war, and indeed he never was! On that mountain cliff in 1917, he fought and won the spiritual struggle that led to his victory in the famous Argonne battle on October 8, 1918 later depicted in an Academy Award winning movie starring Gary Cooper.


As I discussed with Alvin’s grandson, Col. Gerald York, U.S.A. retired, most do not understand Alvin York. They see him as war hero, patriot, skilled marksman, and woodsman. But he would have regarded all of that as largely superficial. His faith was the center of his being. He often reminded me of what the Bible said about the shepherd boy, later king, David: he was “a man after God’s own heart” because he would obey. He wanted nothing more than to obey.


That was the point of those two days and a night on the mountain. He rejected anything—including the institutional church—that he believed led him away from that absolute obedience. He left the Wolf River Methodist Church where he made his commitment to Christ and established another church in the valley because he felt the former was not truly honoring all the commands of Christ fully and completely.


Since boyhood I have identified with Sgt. York. With Abraham Lincoln and Billy Graham, Alvin York was one of a heroic triumvirate I most admired and strove to emulate. With much gratification I learned that Alvin York and I shared the same birthday, December 13. I too have a deep and instinctual love of the outdoors, wild places, wild creatures, firearms and shooting, and a commitment to the freedom of supreme individualism that says: “I think, act and decide for myself; do not expect me to conform and certainly don’t dare try to make me!”


But I also very much identify with him spiritually. His rejection of anything not absolutely consistent with the life and teachings of Christ is exactly the posture Mona and I are in with most of the institutional church in America. Were I convinced of God’s leading and He led me to a few others (a faithful remnant) that felt the same, I too would establish another church—one committed to a rejection of all that is worldly, one completely surrendered to Christ and honoring all His teachings and example with no exceptions, no compromise and no fear.


Alvin York was a man of great courage, not simply physical courage but a form even more rare—moral courage. Unlike all but a few men I have studied in history, he possessed both forms of courage and lived them.


Where have you gone, Sgt. York!!??


Like so many that made America great, he is in Heaven. Now the nation he loved and so devotedly served careens down the highway of history toward another cliff—one leading to an abyss.

About Ivy Scarborough

Ivy Scarborough is a writer, commentator, former adjunct professor, television, radio and print commentator, radio program host, professional mediator, and lawyer.

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