“I’m from a Coal Mining Camp heading for the Streets of Gold”
(Testimony of Chuck Peters - A Coal Miner's Son)
I would like to share my testimony in terms of
physical upbringing and eventual spiritual upbringing. I was born
in a Fayette County, West Virginia coal mining camp. I have people
to give me a funny look when I tell them I’m from Cliftop! They
really look strange when I say I even lived up Smokeless Hollow!
Understand up front that I have absolutely no regrets in that I was
raised in a poor family. The poverty pertained to areas of less
significance. The poverty was only physical in nature. I’m actually
proud of my heritage! We had wealth in the things that really
mattered. I’m talking about loving and caring parents who instilled
in us kids life principles which would later be invaluable.
I remember the days of the company stores. My
dad worked in the mines as well as all the dads of the kids that I
went to school with. In those mining camps, you rented your house
from the mining company and bought your clothes from the company
store. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song applied well to my family. “You
load 16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in
debt.” That was our life! My dad many times wrote his paycheck over
to the local company store where we bought groceries on credit.
We had no inside plumbing in our house and
depended on the spring water from the surrounding mountains for our
water. We drew water from these springs and usually dipped water
while watching crawdads and lizards scurrying for cover under the
rocks in the spring. We were told that they
purified the water.
In those days discipline was practiced. Parents
were known to sit down on their kids! Children were to be seen but
not heard. Respect was demanded and not an option. Parents
interpreted “improving the self image” as wearing the hides of the
kids out when they sassed and did wrong. My generation didn’t
understand the expression “time out” or “you are grounded!”
Punishment was not, “go to your room,” but rather, “get out of the
house!” I can still feel the pain of the keen hickory switch and
my brother can still taste sausage from the time that mom stuffed
his mouth with sausage when he sassed her. Discipline seemed to
work, for crime was down in those days and character was up. We
learned early on to respect our parents and bad behavior was not
tolerated. My parents would have had jail time for whipping us kids
in today’s culture. My parents not only didn’t mince words in
expressing themselves but they also didn’t hold back on giving us a
good paddling if we needed it.
We had no video games and did not even have a
TV until I was nearly a teenager. We got one channel and it was
snowy. I thought for a while that we were picking up a city in
Alaska! Our antenna consisted of a nail driven into a tree outside
our two story house bedroom. I would occasionally climb out the
window, shimmy out on a limb, and reposition the wire on the nail
for better reception. We later stepped up in style for we installed
an antenna on the top of a ridge. We ran cable up the side of a
ridge to an antenna on the top of the ridge. The wind would often
blow the antenna around and we had to make adjustments. Several of
us kids would station ourselves at various intervals up the ridge
and holler to each other up the ridge, “turn it to the right, left,
etc.” That sounded kind of neat the way our voices echoed up the
We were poor and didn’t have many toys. We
usually made our own. We made spoke guns, stilts, tractors out of
thread spools, and rolled tires. We swam in strip mining ponds and
swung on grapevines. We usually got toys only at Christmas. We
opened our gifts on Christmas Eve night. I remember my brother
extracting the criers out of my sister’s dolls. We thought for a
while that he might eventually go to med school! It seemed to
fascinate him to operate on the toy dolls.
We didn’t eat fancy foods. We ate often pinto
beans, fried potatoes and many times only lard gravy and biscuits
for breakfast. Imagine telling your family doctor today that you had
“lard gravy” for breakfast! Speaking of lard, I actually ate lard on
occasions on ears of corn. We ran out of butter. We did get baked
chicken occasionally on Sunday. I’m like my brother, however. He
used to joke that he was 16 before he knew that a chicken had
anything but a neck or a back! Children, in those days, usually ate
after guests were served.
We didn’t eat out. I don’t remember eating a
restaurant hamburger until I was in junior high. I remember my first
store bought cupcake. I went to Charleston with my mother to visit a
sister in the hospital. Mom bought me a cupcake and I took a bite of
the paper coating on the cupcake thinking it was a part of the
Everyone in those days, had outdoor plumbing.
You were in style if you had a “double-seater!” We kept the famous
“Sears Catalogue” handy. It served a better purpose in the outhouse
than its real purpose in coaxing people to order. We certainly were
too poor to do much ordering out of it.
We didn’t do “texting” in those days primarily
because there were no cell phones and we, in fact, didn’t even have
a “wall phone” until I was a teenager. We couldn’t even hog the
phone then because we were on a party line. I would add that this
system did allow for one form of entertainment. We could listen in
to party line gossip! We knew who had arthritis on our street!
I remember the first car my dad bought. It
didn’t have a motor. My dad bought it at Lookout, West Virginia and
simply drifted it down to Winona. It was mostly a downhill grade
from the car dealer and our house. I don’t remember ever getting a
motor for the car. I did enjoy sitting in it pretending that I was
going somewhere. I think I even packed a lunch on occasions.
We were a poor family in terms of money and
things but we were a rich family in terms of things that really
matter. We children were privileged to have loving, hardworking
parents. We grew up knowing the value of family cohesion. We were
taught that honesty pays and work is commendable. We were taught
that character means something and that joy and happiness can
prosper in spite of the lack of abundance of things.
I believe that the Lord used my poor background
to shape my character and condition my thinking to an understanding
of my unworthiness and need of the Saviour. I found that not only do
the “poor have the Gospel preached unto them” but the poor are
blessed to not have material crutches to rest upon. It appears that
bankrupt prodigals are the most likely to head home to the Father!
Sometimes material poverty serves as a good illustration of
spiritual poverty. The poor in society are the most likely
candidates of the offer of the unsearchable riches of salvation in
I was an extremely backward person and
especially frightened to give oral book reports in high school. I
remember having a major upcoming oral report and was so frightened
that I quit school and later joined the Marines.
The turning point in my life occurred in 1968. I
was a reckless and miserable sinner that heard the Gospel preached
in a little country church in Amherst, Virginia. My dad had moved
our family to Virginia in search of work. I was saved on that
eventful night and God turned my life around. I was called to preach
shortly thereafter. I found myself doing the very thing that I
feared the most, standing before people! I also found myself
disciplined in a way that was foreign to my pre-salvation life. I
can say that God brought me all the way from a “dropout” to spend
decades of my life in College and Graduate Schools. Before I got
saved, I didn’t want to learn and after I got saved, I found I
couldn’t learn enough. It is amazing that when the focus is upon
knowing “Him and the power of His resurrection,” you become obsessed
with the desire to learn!
My testimony is a reflection of what only God
can do. He found me in a sinful gutter of depravity, saved me by His
grace, called me into the ministry, blessed me with a wonderful,
supportive wife and son, and then mercifully allowed me to serve Him
in the capacity of Pastor, Teacher, and Army Chaplain!
My life’s story is that of a coal miner’s son
being translated from rags to riches. I came from the rags of
spiritual poverty to the unsearchable riches of my Saviour’s
salvation! By the Grace of God, I’m simply an old West Virginia
country boy who was adopted into the royal family of the King! I
have enjoyed the journey and the glorious truth is that the journey
is going to get better!
My story, in conclusion, is that of a poor old
country boy coming out of the coal mining camps of West Virginia,
meeting the Lord in salvation and now heading for the streets of
gold. I’m thankful for Cliftop, West Virginia, where I was born the
first time and for Amherst, Virginia where I was born the second
time. I’m thankful for my dad the coal miner, but especially I’m
thankful for my Saviour, the King.
By the grace of God I have come all the way from
lard gravy to the manna from Heaven. Wow, what a journey and it’s
not over yet! Don’t feel sorry for my background; I wouldn’t want it
any other way. I lived without Christ and found that life was a
hopeless end. I was saved and now enjoy an endless hope. This is one
old coal miner’s son who is thankful for life. I am thankful for a
humble beginning and a glorious new beginning that will culminate in
one day my being glorified in my Saviour’s likeness.
Pastor Chuck Peters