The Testimony of the Late Octavia Brown

Taken directly from her typed manuscript

How I found God

Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church, Skillman, New Jersey
Rev. Lawton James, Pastor
January 3, 1960

Since Rev. and Mrs. James are new friends in Christ, and, seeing as I cannot stand up in church to tell just what I feel, I take the liberty of using my pen. For I want to be understood, also I feel this may be an inspiration to some other lost soul. It’s hard to know where to begin.

octaviaWhen I first walked into Mr. Zion A.M.E. I had a feeling of coming home. As I sat through the sermon, I could see my mother’s being there for this was her church. She loved it dearly. Here I had my last look at her beloved face. The memories stirred. For here I went to Sunday School. I giggled in church and was punished in the good old fashioned way. Later I taught a class and even played hymns on a couple of occasions. I had always been a sort of gypsy, (come and go) but after my mother died, I blamed myself for my mother’s death and I thought my family did too. But I know now, what most of them knew then that “God’s” will must be done. I could have made mama’s last days, a little more happier perhaps, but I could not get her an extension of time. However, not understanding this, and with a chip on my shoulder for anyone who tried to reach me (and there were many) I proceeded to do all the things, that is called sin. I had a good job, when I worked, “God” bless those people. I had a little apartment, I wouldn’t share with girls less fortunate than myself. I had a little black puppy whom I treated better than my own race, and during this time my constant companion and courage builder was the bottle. That was what I lived and worked for, that which could blot out my thoughts. If only I had sought Jesus. He is always waiting. But “God” knows best. He knew I was not ready for him to use me. He had to work on me. For I was selfish, spoiled, stubborn and had a very independent attitude. Then my health began to break. I went to doctors, I worked a little, but I would not come home, and I wouldn’t give up. Never once did I stop to pray. I clung to all the material things. Each one in turn kept failing me. I was in the hospital twice, came home but I couldn’t last. Finally in October 1951, I went to the Doctor, he took my temperature 104 and put me in a hospital. I still fought against it. In a couple of days they said I had trouble in my chest and they were sending me to another hospital. Do you know I was so mean, I told the hospital, as sick as I was that I had one brother and I didn’t know where he was. (And I was in good shape, to cross over Jordon) but “God” is so merciful. I felt why should I bother my family, I didn’t stay home when I was well.

I did not know how much they truly loved me. This “Praise the Lord.” This was also very unfair to the hospital, when they asked me who they should notify in case of my death, I said call the undertaker. They still bury people don’t they? They devil sure had me hopping. I entered Roosevelt Hospital 18th of October 1951. After various examinations and etc., they said I had trouble in both lungs and I had to stay 6 months to a year. It took about 2 weeks to get over the shock. At first I said “Oh! I didn’t care.” I know my sister can get me out. Then came shock number 2. Sister Bagley couldn’t work that because at that stage I was con- tagious. I cried, I screamed, I cursed through the first 3 months. When I said my prayers it was just words, or selfish ones, like “God make me well.”

My general condition was not better, but they had me where I could not infect anyone else. So they had me talk to the head doctor, about a pass as well as my condition. He let me go home for Christmas against his better judgment. Sister Bagley and my niece Lillian brought me back. I could hardly walk and I slept two days. I guess this is the only pass, I came back on time. You see the devil still had his hand on me. But now I realized I had to stay, so I made up my mind, to make the best of it and get well in six months, or year at the most. In my adult years I had never been confined, not told what to do and his seemed terribly hard, But still changes were taking place. I found that keeping busy was best. I became a reporter for our hospital magazine, I took over the duties of preparing the altar for services of all the faiths (we had to use the auditorium) I helped the minister to serve communion to the bed patients and had the list ready when he came. I took a brush up course, which enables me to take a year in college anytime. I helped with any programs that were planned, such as bingo, parties and visiting bed pa- tients. I took up sewing, joined the bible class and time passed quickly. But one year was not enough. My right lung was healed, this they call an arrested case, but the left one was very bad. They were very good to me at the hospital, they tried everything, every treatment they knew to make me well. All to no avail. Finally in 1955 they suggested operation, (pneumonectomy they call it), removal of the left lung. With my attitude, I said, “Oh! It’s like a bad tooth, if it’s no good take it out. I had a pass, I dulled reality with the bottle and got ready for this operation. Very little thought to help of God. I had my operation, healed up and knew I had it made. But up came complications, I developed fluid, my incision opened due to my sugar. (also was a diabetic). I became bedridden again, you know the devils work had stood out so strong and my heart did not seem to understand. God got tired of this foolishness and said, “Now, “I’ve got to let hew know that I am her Father and can put that old devil in his place.” This is where my trials began. God had tested me in many small ways but I could not see. So like Job I became sorely afflicted. From 2953 to 1957 I had five operations. I weighed 80 pounds. One lung, 8 ribs, bronchial fistula, scapula bone removed. Nothing helped. Doctors gave up. Might I say all through this time I had wonderful devotion from my family, even Farmer Aaron changed his schedule to be with me. I was on critical a year. I had a few old and faithful friends and made many new ones along the way. I wanted for nothing. God was showing me. Everyone prayed for me, ministers, deacons, catholic sisters, priest and rabbi, all came to pray for me. I was in an oxygen tent, I couldn’t talk (They call it vocal rest), I had tubes in my back, attached to 2 electric pumps which ran 24 hours a day. I could not feed myself. For 11 months I could not lay down. Oh yes, I prayed night and day, and cried, but although God afflicted me, he had not forsaken me, because he never allowed me to become biter, about my illness. I accepted it. Then one day Sister Joseph Girard, who also was a patient, came to sit with me and pray as she did so often. She was a Nun of “Order of Charity”. She taught the 6th grade in a parochial school. She gave me my prayer book and taught me to say the rosary. On this particular day she said to me, “You know Ollie you may not be praying the right way. God does not answer selfish prayers.” I said, tears running down my face, “Sister teach me now to pray, please.” She said, “My dear child, only God can move you to prayer, but I can give you guided thoughts.” She said, “You know our Lord never thought of himself he did his Father’s will. That is the way we must be. Humbly ask Him, beg Him, to forgive your sins, thank him for his blessings, and ask him for things for other people, those you love, your so called enemies, pray for the church and when you do ask for yourself ask only that he give you strength to bear whatever cross he sets upon you. Do this over and over, because I know you are going to get well. You just haven’t made your peace with God, so to speak. He is surely sparing you for a purpose. About this time the priest came in. They prayed for me. When they left I began to think about all she said and it made sense. Rev. and Mrs. Smith were two of the faithful friends I mentioned. They came often and brought little goodies and prayed for me often and still do. Deacon Williams came and Lord knows he is one praying now. Many members from New Hope came. Each one trying to help. As time went on two of their members became my greatest inspiration in Christ. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Miner, God bless them both. And now comes the part that is almost impossible to put into words. I kept on praying, but I began differently. No change came in a day or week. I was still a very sick person and helpless, but my faith was growing. I cannot say how long it was, but I do know I had a particularly bad day. Night came, my fever was so high, I was out of my head part of the time. They gave me iced alcohol baths to ease me. Then they waited. Then girls came to work on lat shift, they asked, is Ollie still with us? It was this night, in the wee hours of the morning, I sat with my head hung down, for I was too weak to hold it up. I was crying and praying words came, no one had to tell me. I prayed aloud for the first time. Only God could hear me. For when I first raised my head and said, “Be still and know that I am God”, the nurse ran out. She came back with the doctor and I was sitting so still, I guess they were both frightened. During this time it seemed as if a cool breeze passed through my room and touched me. I picked up my bible and there it was, the 46th Psalm. I did just that, I sat so still, the Doctor felt my pulse, nurse took my temperature, and they said she is almost normal. I said yes, you know what, I am going to get well. I would like to see Sis- ter Girard and I am hungry. I ask them to take the tubes and pumps out, I didn’t need them anymore. I began to pick up weight. I had to be lifted, carried, pushed, had therapy treatment, had to learn to walk all over again.

During this time Mr. Patterson, a friend I acquired while so ill, was very influ- ential in helping me to walk alone. Through these days I kept God any my bible very close to me. He had always been waiting, but now I was also seeking. I could read my bible and understand, and oh, so many things that seemed to matter so much only made me smile now. God kept right on pressing me. I was able to leave the hospital after 6 years. I stayed with a minister and his wife to be near the hospital. They almost had me a member of New Hope Baptist, a place I dearly loved, but God knows al things. Long ago I had joined the Catholic Church, but had not kept my vows. I just went along with the tide going to first one church, then another. But God is still in the guiding role, and here I am at Mr. Zion and proud to be. I met Rev. and Mrs. James and right away something clicked. I knew that this was what I had waited for. It being God’s will, he had led my heart and feet home. I fee here is where I belong and I hope I shall be an asset to the church and it’s members. This is why you see tears flow so often from my eyes. I have so much to thank God for.

On the day of our anniversary when they sang, “Do you Know Him” my heart was full and tears flowed. All I wanted to do was to go lay my head in Rev. Morris’ lap and praise God. Our Heavenly Father has seen fit to return me to the hospital, where I am writing this. But I will be baptized in Skillman, and I shall wait on God.