Arnold Nelson came to Jesus in a new-ground cornfield, freshly hacked from the brush, in 1922 when he was eleven years old.
MANSFIELD — Arnold Nelson came to Jesus in a new-ground cornfield, freshly hacked from the brush, in 1922 when he was eleven years old.
Along with his cousin, Nelson felt the Lord leading them to pray even there.
“I hurt my foot and said to my cousin, ‘I was just about to curse,’” Nelson remembered. “[Then] I said, ‘No, I’m not going to say it.’” When the cousin wanted to know more about that change of heart, Nelson obliged. “I said I knew it was wrong, and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. We sat down and talked about how wrong we were.”
After praying and giving their lives to the Lord, the two boys made professions of faith at a church revival service that very night.
“I was baptized in a pool at the foot of a hill dug out just below a spring,” Nelson said.
“My mother was a widow as long as I can remember,” he continued. She had four other children, a set of twin girls older than he, as well as another boy and another girl both younger than he.
A teacher, Mrs. Nelson moved around a good deal, and the result was that her oldest son was “broken in by rough living,” he said.
“My cousins and their friends really put me through the mill,” he added. “I was sort of a little, fat, city slicker. I didn’t have to learn how to swim. They picked me up and threw me in the water. Of course, they were prepared to save my life if I didn’t. I appreciate the way they treated me because they made me toughen up, and it wasn’t too long before I could out-do any of them.”
That toughening up led to a football scholarship at the University of Mississippi, he said.
Though he’d been called to preach when he was 14 while teaching a group of younger boys in a country church, Nelson didn’t surrender until many years later, he said.
After college, Nelson taught school for 10 years, and then joined the Army, he said. Stationed at Camp Shelby, Miss., it wasn’t long before he was shipped to the Far East to fight in World War II.
“I knew going into the Army that I was going to surrender [to preach] when I came out,” Nelson said.
Sure enough, on the Monday after arriving home from the war on a weekend, Nelson enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he majored in Greek New Testament and minored in religious education and counseling. He asked his home church in Mississippi to license him to preach, and, at age 36, began preaching immediately, he said.
After seminary, Nelson pastored First Baptist Thibodaux for almost 10 years, he said. In that area of Louisiana at that time, only about 7 percent of the people were evangelicals, he said.
“There were missions all over the country down there,” he added. Nelson joined in evangelizing the area by buying a tent and a pump organ, then recruiting people to play the organ and have mission services, he said.
From Thibodaux, Nelson went to pastor Calvary Baptist in Slidell. He was there when he was called to be the first director of missions in District Eight as well as the first LBC-paid director of missions in the state, he said. Employment of DOMs began to revert to the associations in 2002.
While at Thibodaux, Nelson served not only as chairman of the state missions committee, he also served as chairman of a special committee to research and make recommendations to the Louisiana Baptist Convention about the director of missions program, he said.
According to a 2002 Message article by Lacy Thompson, there were 52 local associations in the state grouped into 13 districts in the late 1950s.
Districts, staffed by field workers, were funded, in part, by a state convention supplement. In addition, some associations had called their own directors of missions.
Overall, the situation was “very troublesome,” Nelson told the Message in 2002. Conflict arose about who had authority over the missionaries and the lack of a uniform system governing how missionaries should operate, he continued. “The need for a new plan was evident.”
After a study committee proposed a plan that was rejected in the 1950s, a second study committee, chaired by Nelson, brought a proposal to the 1961LBC annual meeting that provided several options for associations:
• An association could allow a director of missions to be employed and paid by the state convention.
• An association could employ its own director of missions, funded with a supplement from the state.
• An association could choose not to employ a director of missions and use special missions workers instead.
An implicit fourth option allowed an association to hire its own director.
Nelson’s committee said the plan was designed to provide associations the option of deciding what type of director of missions program they desired.
The convention approved the Nelson plan, and associations were asked to decide on an option within the year, according to the article.
Nelson, very happy at the fast-growing Calvary in Slidell, he said, at first rejected an invitation from convention leadership to serve as the first director of missions in District Eight.
But convention leaders kept after him for three months, telling him the Lord had led them to him, he said.
When he realized the duties of the job, he felt convinced he should accept and did, he said. That was in 1963. Nelson retired from the position in 1978.
District Eight, now comprised of five associations—DeSoto, Red River, Natchitoches, Sabine, and North Sabine—borders Texas to the West, and boasts the fifth largest man-made reservoir in the nation: Toledo Bend.
When Nelson arrived in 1963, the reservoir was under construction, he said.
“As soon as the water got up and people began to establish marinas, I began visiting and working to establish a witnessing program at the lake,” he said. One eager helper attached a loudspeaker to her car and used it to announce the gospel as she drove around.
That ministry came to be the Toledo Bend Baptist Ministries. A history of the ministry, written by Nelson, is available in the state convention archives, he said.
Under Nelson’s leadership, the first co-sponsoring churches for missions— Harmon Baptist in Red River Association and First Baptist Logansport in DeSoto Association — arose out of District Eight, he said.
One reason he decided to take the DOM position was to get people outside South Louisiana to become involved in the mission effort there, he said. While most missions had sponsoring churches, the idea of having co-sponsoring churches was new. It meant that churches outside the mission’s area would join with the sponsoring church to help finance, pray for, and exchange pulpit service with the mission itself.
Nelson, along with his now-deceased wife, Donnie C. — “she liked that ‘C,’ so people wouldn’t think she was a boy,” Nelson said — joined the Southern Baptist’s Mission Service Corps, and served God even when they were on vacation, he said.
The couple traveled to California, Nevada, South Dakota, and Maine, Nelson added.
“We met wherever we could and held services with an effort to establish missions,” he said.
In Kingston Village, Nev., the couple conducted services in a fire station and had such a good response they went back the next summer and put up a log building, he said.
In Vermillion, S.D., they had services in a daycare center, moving the children’s furniture out and then putting it back on Sunday nights.
“We had eleven conversions there. They have a strong church there now with about 150 people in attendance,” Nelson said. “A nice [church] plant with two major buildings.”
Nelson, who lives in Mansfield with his daughter, attends First Baptist where Thumper Miller is pastor. Nelson continues to fill pulpits, serve as interim pastor, spend time with other men in a coffee group, and visit the ill.
“His commitment to the Lord and the preaching of God’s Word is just as strong today as it was years ago,” Miller said.