One of the greatest privileges of my life was the time my husband and I spent with Bishop Hardy Lee Coleman, Sr and his wife, Ann.
He was in his nineties, and slowing down a bit, when we began visiting him in his home. And Bishop began to reminisce. At this time in his life, Bishop Coleman oversaw a large collection of churches throughout the area – and as far away as Memphis, Chicago and Atlanta. He was well-known throughout the country in his denomination, as he was often a featured speaker. He was also well-known throughout north Mississippi – even having the City of Ripley pronounce a special day honoring him and his accomplishments.
But it hadn’t always been that way.
In fact, when he was born in a small wooden shack, on a farm, on a dirt road – way back in the Mississippi countryside, nobody could have guessed the impact Hardy Coleman would make someday.
As we listened to him, my heart cried out. His story will inspire so many people and change so many lives. In fact, his story had already inspired many.
So I began writing a biography of his life. We spent hours sitting, listening, and taking notes. And more hours riding around the Mississippi countryside seeing where this and that occurred.
In the story of this remarkable man, there are many lessons. Lessons about hope and vision and determination and faithfulness to God.
Bishop was born to a sharecropper, and as such, at an early age learned to work with him in the fields. Hoeing rows by hand, picking cotton, and more. Backbreaking work.
Sharecroppers were those who would work the farms of owners, living on the farms, and sharing in the crops. They were usually very poor.
Then when he was 12 years old, his father suddenly left the family. Hardy was heartbroken because of his attachment. And besides, now he was the one in charge of bringing in the livelihood for himself and his mother.
No school. Just work. At 12 years old.
Bishop Coleman shared about the life he lived with the other young people in the community. After work, the boys would sneak around the dusty roads and woods smoking cigarettes, drinking some moonshine, and talking about girls. He was having fun after the long hot days of work.
Yet something else was going on in the farm community. There were church meetings being held in an old schoolhouse, and the people were “making a lot of noise” in their services. Young Hardy and his friends would peep through the windows to see what was happening.
People were turning their lives to Jesus. Others were going to the altar to receive prayer for healing. And some were getting healed.
One night, Hardy was going out walking with his friends when suddenly he had a change of plans. He decided to go to one of the church meetings, and his life changed forever. Almost without realizing what he was doing, the young teenager walked to the front to receive Jesus.
It was a total turnaround. After that, he never looked back. The rest of his life he was determined to do what God was leading him to do. Soon, he was called into the ministry – and began preaching at the age of 19.
Bishop’s motto became, Some people like to watch things happen. I like to make things happen.
And did he ever make things happen!
He planted churches in Mississippi, Memphis, Atlanta, and Chicago. He grew in stature within his denomination. He ministered tirelessly to the people in his congregations — helping them with their natural needs as well as their spiritual.
Bishop Coleman’s ministry changed the face of the rural counties of north Mississippi. And he never stopped until he went to be with the Lord at 93.
When Bishop was 80 years old he designed and built a huge facility as a convention center in Tupelo. (And when I say built, I mean he did a lot of the physical labor). It was a place for the churches to come together, worshiping God and listening to inspiring messages from the Bible.
So what were some of the lessons I learned from Bishop? They were wrapped up in the characteristics he displayed.
- Bishop Coleman was faithful to God and continued to follow His leading as he expanded his ministry and influence. He never let fame and success cause pride to rise up. Bishop always stayed humble.
- Bishop Coleman never allowed himself to be bitter. When you hear of his tough situation, and some of the injustices he suffered, you realize that many people would have been bitter. However, he considered that a weakness. It would only slow him down from what he wanted to accomplish.
- Bishop Coleman was unstoppable. Bishop encountered obstacle after obstacle, but he never stopped. He lost a child at an early age and his wife died prematurely. People mocked him and his high aspirations. Nothing stopped him.
- Bishop Coleman was always ready for the next assignment. He was always full of hope and vision – reaching out for the next mission from God.
As a result, Bishop Coleman impacted an entire region – and beyond. He raised a large, vibrant family of achievers. Sons, daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And even more spiritual sons and daughters. People who he introduced to God and who would follow His lead for great achievement.
There is so much more to be said about Bishop Hardy Coleman. Too much to say here.
Let me just wind this up by saying that his life is a reminder to me that regardless of my circumstances at any given moment, God is faithful. I can turn to Him for comfort, hope, vision, and wisdom which will lift me up.
And you can too. He’s there for you.
Keep on Soaring!