Acts 2:37-39 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
“There is but one trumpet in a symphony orchestra, yet its melody is heard by all.”
On February 9, 1920, God, the conductor of this grand orchestration of life enhanced the beauty of the song of life with the melody – the birth – of one Lester Smith. Born of humble beginnings by the divine providence of God, Lester Smith entered this life in Pitt County, Town of Farmville, NC to Mr. Eddie and Mrs. Rosa (Gay) Smith. As the third of nine (9) children Lester began a life beneath a shadow of difficult economic and social times – a shadow that God had predestined to use to forge the life of this child into the profound force it was destined to become.
At the early age of eight Smith, due to economic reasons, was forced to prematurely cease his formal education so that he could enter the workforce. He had attained, to this point, only a third grade education and had not yet become a proficient reader. These apparent unfortunate circumstances however, were simply a part of the melody that was Smith’s life, that God himself was orchestrating to bring Himself glory and to bless those who would later find themselves in the presence of a man who’s life was conducted by God.
Years of hard work, patience and God-inspired humility accompanied Smith into manhood. Having been forged into his character by God – through life’s experiences – these virtues became founding elements of the man Smith was to become. These same characteristics were also qualities that helped him to win the heart of the love of his life – a girl by the name of Esther Robinson. After a five (5) year courtship the two married and Esther (Robinson) Smith became the life-long companion of Lester Smith.
In 1944, during the Second World War, Smith was called upon to serve his country. He was stationed in Hawaii for two years and it was during this time Lester and Esther Smith had their first child. There was no happier man to be found than Lester Smith the day that he received his discharge and was able to rejoin his family in Farmville, NC.
In 1950 the plan that God had ordained for Smith’s life began to resonate within him as he began to see what God saw for his life. This was the year that Smith was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and had received the gift of the Holy Ghost at the Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Farmville, NC. God was bringing the melody of Smith’s life into harmony with his Divine plan. Soon thereafter God, solidifying the oneness between Lester and his wife, and making himself the core of their union, redeemed Esther and brought her life into harmony with His Divine will as well. God had made them truly one. By this time their family had grown and they were now the proud parents of eight (8) children. Smith recalled that through it all his wife continued to be her usual self, “very, very sweet.”
In 1955, a greater revelation of the will of God was made clear in Smith’s life. Reminiscent of the prophet Samuel’s encounter with the voice of God, Smith testified that he heard the voice of God telling him to, “Preach My Word.” Thus the intricate melody of Smith’s life began to resonate with greater force conducted under the skillful hand of his God as a wonderful ministry began to unfold.
The now Minister Smith worked faithfully and boldly – ethics he learned early in life which were spiritually enhanced, and now redirected toward God – helping his Pastor the now Bishop R. Lane. As he grew in his ministry and in his relationship with God Minister Smith received a vision from the Lord of many highways stacked one upon the other; yet he knew not where they were located. The vision was for an appointed time. He remained patient, being led of God as he allowed God to rule and to continually shape his ministry.
Unknown to Minister Smith, in the small city of Waterbury, CT many miles from his home, God had many years earlier begun orchestrating events that would set the tone and tempo of Minister Smith’s life forever. In 1947, the Refuge Church of Christ was established, comprised of just six (6) members, in a small storefront on North Elm St. Elder McDuffy from New Haven was originally sent to shepard this congregation but in September of the same year, 1947, he was sent back.
Following Elder McDuffy’s brief tenure Elder Solomon Powell from Virginia was assigned to pastor Refuge. During this time four more souls were added to the membership. The first choir was formed which consisted of five (5) members. The church was moved to 154 Bishop Street, a two family dwelling, the same year. The first floor of this new edifice was renovated to serve as a church. The Lord blessed in that souls were saved and many children were added which allowed for the creation of a children’s Choir – The Little Sunbeam Choir.
Elder Powell was later removed and Minister Hunt from Refuge Temple was sent to minister to the flock until a permanent pastor was sent. Elder William Allen of Chester, PA, a dynamic preacher, teacher and healer received this charge. Under his administration many souls were saved and the church truly began to flourish. Elder Allen served Refuge for nine (9) years before the organizational split which resulted in many saints leaving to fellowship elsewhere. Shortly thereafter this pastor was removed. Finally the stage was set.
In 1960, Minister Lester Smith was sent to Waterbury, CT to pastor the Refuge Church of Christ. Thus the melody of Minister Lester Smith’s life, conducted by the hand of God, was brought into harmony with the orchestrated work of the Lord God Almighty at the Refuge Church of Christ in Waterbury, CT. A symphony of spiritual growth as only God could compose was the result.
Minister Smith was not alone in his ministry. Mother Esther Smith, who had now become the First Lady of the Refuge Church of Christ, was a faithful servant to God and a supportive companion to her husband. The Lord used her in many ways to bless the church and her husband. She was a prayer warrior who believed in the power of prayer. She was the president of the Ministers and Deacons Wives Guild. She was instrumental in establishing the Usher Board for the church for which she served as president, and she established a Monday Night Women’s Prayer.
In 1961, Minister Smith was ordained an Elder in the Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The now Elder Smith served his congregation through love in deed and not only in word. He was endowed by God with great wisdom in dealing with his people and expressed great humility in that he never asked of anyone else anything he himself was not willing to do. One of his favorite scriptural quotes in the words of Paul was, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Words he fervently lived by. He exhibited such a vast heart of compassion in that he sincerely believed every soul had a rightful place in the kingdom and he would leave the ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep that had gone astray. He had a passion for souls that would not allow him to give up on anybody. Above all God had incorporated into his being a supreme ability to teach and preach the gospel message – the message that brought many souls to Christ during his ministry.
Like Christ, Elder Smith was a man of the people. Though he had been highly exalted by God he never placed himself above the people. On the contrary his hobbies included eating at the homes of the saints, working on cars (primarily in service to the needs of the saints), and watching John Wayne movies. This humble character in Christ and his power and proficiency in the gospel made Elder Smith a supreme soul winner in the hands of God. Like a Pied Piper the melody of his life through Christ drew souls to hope in the Savior.
The church grew mightily under Elder Smith’s leadership and the Lord continued to add daily such as should be saved. The growth of the congregation necessitated a move from 154 Bishop St. to a basement owned by Pentecostal Assemblies of the World at 185 Bishop St. This new location served while the ministry flourished thus necessitating yet another move. Refuge under Elder Smiths leadership then purchased a church at 21 East Hawkins St. that was the former Zion Baptist Church. The church had grown such that it now had three (3) choirs, the Young Peoples Choir, Choir Number One (1) and Choir Number (2). God was still giving the increase.
God had given such increase under Elder Smiths leadership that Refuge eventually outgrew its 21 East Hawkins St. address. Elder Smith was presented with an opportunity to purchase a beautiful edifice that would accommodate the membership, however it was outside of the community that Refuge had served throughout the years. He declined that opportunity in light of the vision given him by God regarding an old factory building on 13-15 Hawkins St. right there within the community. Elder Smith’s heart for people, given him by God, compelled him to serve the community. Following the will of God, even in the face of opposition, he set his God-directed sights on the edifice that would allow the church continue to serve the community as part of the community. Having grown accustomed to following the will of God and seeing that which was not yet manifest, Elder Smith looked beyond the appearance of the factory and saw what God saw – a place of worship.
Elder Smith again exhibited his profound leadership qualities, humility and willingness to serve as he worked shoulder to shoulder with the brethren knocking out walls and pulling down wires and coils to transform 13-15 Hawkins St., an old factory, into a place of worship. He was a doer. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead.” In the hands of his God he was truly an inspirational force encouraging the hearts of others with the beauty of the spiritual melody that was his life. In 1982 the congregation of the Refuge Church of Christ led by Elder Smith marched through the community, in praise to God, from 21 East Hawkins St. to their new place of worship at 13-15 Hawkins St.
Through the course of his ministry Elder Smith saw the birth of a number of groups and choirs who edified the people and magnified God through song; the Refuge Senior Choir, the Refuge Youth and Adult Choir, the Refuge Ensemble, the Little Stars, the Lester Singers (bearing his namesake) and the Spiritual Souls. Elder Smith gave all of himself to God and to the church. One day while driving to perform pastoral duties he came upon interstate 84 and noticed how the highways crossed over one another, one going east the other west. The Holy Ghost had led him there and it was then that he realized the vision he had received from God those many years ago. God had given him a glimpse of his life and orchestrated his steps to this very time and place.
God composed in the life of Elder Smith, a masterful composition and played the melody out to his predestined tempo. All things worked to his good. God even used his lack of education to manifest his divine power. According the testimony of Elder Smith, a man unable to read, he one day picked up a newspaper and God miraculously enabled him to read it. He read from that day on. God’s hand was so richly upon his life that Elder Smith acquired in his life a number of degrees, namely a degree of Theology from the Universal Bible Institute in Tennessee, a Doctor of Divinity in 1974, both a bachelors and Masters in Bible Study in 1975, and a doctor of Philosophy in 1976. He also served in various capacities within the Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Inc. In 1983 Bishop Arthur Anderson appointed him to serve as District Elder of the Northern District. He also served as State Treasurer and in 1985 he was chairman of the state Grievance Committee.
In May of 1986 God’s will brought Mother Esther Smith from earth to glory. As flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones the loss of his wife was a great emotional blow to Elder Smith. He however never lost sight on the Lord nor of the Lords call on his life. He continued faithfully allowing the Lord to conduct the melody of his life through its predetermined course.
On February 9, 1987, the natural birthday of District Elder Lester Smith, the melody that was his life fell silent. His presence within this grand orchestration of life however was a blessing to all those who were touched by the life of a man whose life was conducted by God. Yet though his melody is ended, its echo can be heard through his legacy – his community, his family, his spiritual sons and daughters of the Refuge Church of Christ and his spiritual sons and grandsons in the ministry. Among the spiritual sons birthed through his ministry are Bishop Roland Johnson the current pastor of the Refuge Church of Christ, Pastor Leon Ellison the pastor of Little Zion Church in South Norwalk, Minister James Davis (deceased), Elder Elmond Gibbs pastor of the Mount Zion Church of Christ in Wtby, Minister Jacola Joyner, and Minister Louis Harper (deceased). Through twenty-seven years of faithful service God imparted much into the lives whom Elder Smith served.
As there is but one trumpet in a symphony orchestra, there was but one District Elder Lester Smith, and the melody of his life was masterfully played.
By Elder Jason L Ward
Assistant Pastor of the Refuge Church of Christ