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Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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Age 109

Earthly Shepherd Tells of Heavenly Visit While "Dead"


     Like the proverbial shepherd, Rev. J.F. Aker takes his people by the hand and leads them through the many time periods of the Bible -- gently prodding, subtly teaching.

     The little white-haired man in the second pew, his old-timey gallowses criss-crossing his checked shirt, leans forward so he won't miss a word. The mod suited middle-aged man across the aisle motionlessly listens, hardly blinking.

     Likewise, the young girl behind him and the withered silver-haired woman with the granny knot and combs in her hair sit staring, spellbound by the preaching of the 109 year old evangelist. Everyone in the little church was captivated.

     Actually, it's more like listening to a good friend relating a story than to preaching. And the words flow smoothly in a strong compelling voice that never falters and never cracks. An occasional slip in grammar or use of country slang only endears the speaker to his listeners and adds to the authenticity of the man.

     "Now look at Him. I want you to watch Jesus right here," Rev. Aker tells his congregation at one point. He is telling of the resurrection of Lazarus and paints a picture so vivid it is easy to see the miracle performed.

     At another point: "Watch Him as He looks down at His mother. Notice now the glory of God."

     The minister laces his sermons with Biblical quotes that verify what he is preaching. Although he quotes 10-12 chapters of verse at a time, he never looks at a note or the text and he never pauses.

     He says he likes to draw on references from all parts of the Bible when he discusses a particular subject. For instance, he preached Monday night on the four foundations of the church and from memory pulled together everything the Bible has to say on the four aspects.

     Rev. Aker has read and studied the Bible through 66, times. "I wanted God to give me the same spirit that He gave John, Matthew and others to write it. So I studied on my knees and read that Bible through nearly 20 times, praying for God to give me the correct interpretation," he said.

     Rev. Aker has a way of making oft-repeated scripture and events of the Bible come alive and become meaningful for his listeners. Perhaps that's why during his ministry he has seen over 295,OOO persons saved. And every name is written in a record book he has kept since he began preaching.

     "But, you know, that's not so many. Not in 89 years of preaching," Rev. Aker says sincerely.

     Born on Feb. 12, 1871, in Marion, Va., Rev. Aker began preaching at the age of 20. "When the Lord called me to preach, I didn't want to. I told Him I'd do anything but preach. But then I had to go to whale college," Rev. Aker said, chuckling, referring to the story of Jonah and the whale.

     "And let me tell you, after you've been to whale school, you'll do what the Lord tells you to do." In his sermons or general conversation, the cotton-top minister shows a delightful wit and sense of humor.

     A cornerstone of Rev. Aker's ministry is the teaching that Christ will return in his lifetime.

     "I've been promised that by the Lord," he said.

     Explaining, Rev. Aker said he was pronounced dead 48 years ago during surgery.

     "Forty-eight years ago, I had taken sick in Tennessee- and they took me to Bluefield to the hospital. My children were there. I was operated on four times. The last operation, I was pronounced dead. I wasn't dead, but in a vision. But my son done sent for the undertaker. I was gone for 45 minutes, I was in heaven. I saw my mother and father, but I couldn't get to them. I saw Jesus and I told the angel, 'Let me go to Him that died for me.' The angel left and, came back and told me, "Go on, back and do your work. Your work isn't done yet. And when He comes for the church, he will get you.

     "The nurse came back in the room to get some instruments she was sterilizing. She saw my eye move and sent for the doctor."

     Rev. Aker said while he was in heaven he saw chariots "going up and down the golden streets, angels singing, bells ringing, the crystal sea. I wanted to stay, but He said 'You can't. Go back and finish your work'. Since then, I've done more work than ever."

     At 109, Rev. Aker says he's busier now than he's ever been. He preaches three revivals a month (each a week long), year round. "I am going to take a little time off in December," he said. The preacher is booked into 1982.

     After the Ewing Chapel revival, he will be in Elkton, Md.; War, W. Va; Sweetwater, Tn., North Carolina, then back to Tennessee and Virginia.

     Less than a year ago at 108, Rev. Aker underwent two serious operations. While under the anesthetic, he preached the whole time, he said. "The doctors told me I'd never pull through," he added laughing, "but I'm here."

     And regaining strength. On Sunday night, he opened the revival at Ewing's Chapel. On Monday, he visited seven homes with pastor Billy Gillespie, returned to the home of his area hosts Mr. And Mrs. Robert Pendleton took a long walk up the hill near the house, walked back, got ready for church, walked to the chapel, preached the sermon (sitting for only a short time), walked back to the Pendleton house, then talked with this reporter for an hour and a half. All that with only one functioning lung and he didn't look a bit tired. The only regular medication he takes is an iron supplement.

     "Oh, I don't even have stiff joints in my body," he said, kicking up his heels as he sat on the sofa. He kicked up both legs and intertwined them to show the flexibility. "I can still chin a pole 20 times."

     Rev. Akers undoubtedly is the oldest person in the U. S. and probably the world, still preaching the gospel. And he has no plans to retire. He says he's going to keep working until Christ comes after him.

     The minister whose smooth, rosy skin and sparkling blue eyes belie his age lives with his much-younger wife, Louise in Radford, where still does his own gardening and yard work when he isn't in a revival somewhere.

     Louise, whom Rev. Aker praises as a "wonderful and loving person," is his second wife. He first married in 1904, and the couple had five sons and a daughter. All, except the oldest son, are still living. The second eldest child is now 73. His first wife died of a heart attack at age 69 in 1955. In 1960, he remarried. Rev. Aker came from a family of 12 children. He is the only one still living, although there is a history of longevity in his family.

     Then comes the question probably most often asked, "To what do you attribute your long and healthy life?"

     "Well, we are told in the Bible to have a clean, moral mind and a clean body I listen to scriptures. He said taste not the unclean things of the world and to watch least you fall into temptations.' If I see anything that looks like sin, I don't go near it. If I see anything that is lustful, I stay away If I've ever had a profanity in my mouth I don't know it.

     "I give Him all my body and my mind. I try to keep a clean body. I've never touched alcohol; I don't even know the taste. And I don't know the taste of tobacco. I've never touched anything I thought would hurt my body. I try to keep my life clean, never ran around at night ... And I always obeyed and honored my father and mother."

     A dominant characteristic in Rev. Aker's personality is his positive attitude and his ability to pass it on.

     "I don't get discouraged. If I have three people to preach to, I preach just as hard as I would to 3,000. There's no way to give up. The Bible says not to faint by the wayside. That doesn't mean we'd have to get out the smelling salts for you. It means not to give up along life's way. A little bit of poetry always helps."

     He recites one of his favorites:

"If you strike a thorn or rose, keep going.

If it hails or. if it snows, keep going.

If the winter kills your crop, ain't no use to flop

But plant and keep going.

If you're out of every dime, getting broke ain't any crime,

Tell the world you're feeling fine and keep going.

If the fish ain't on the line, bait your hook and keep on trying.

     Rev. Aker says he never worries about death. "When I go to the hospital and they don't think I;ll live, I never even think about dying. Jesus told me He was coming for me."

     Shepherd James Fell Aker has an extra long staff and, until the Lord comes, he plans to keep gently and lovingly pulling in the straying flock with it. After all, he got his commission straight from the Lord. Spend a couple of hours with him, and it's evident.

Rev. J. F. Aker Holding Revival at Ewing's Chapel Church

     He's been spreading the gospel for a few years 89, In fact. At 109, he's still going strong, and never expects to have to stop. He's seen some 295,000 persons accept Christ and can provide you with the name of everyone.

     He is writing a book about his life "leaf by leaf", but he will never write the final chapter If his prediction comes true. He says Christ will return In his lifetime. Rev. J. F. Aker Is conducting a revival through Friday at Ewing's Chapel Methodist Church Near Snowflake.


(Margin note: September 10, 1980)


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