Mr. John Bonner was born May 10, 1915. He died May 12, 2004, two days after his 89th birthday. He was 60 and silver haired when I first met him in 1975. For almost thirty years I saw him on Sundays at Vienna First Baptist Church.
He faithfully served in many capacities including Deacon, Treasurer, and Sunday School Superintendent. His most notable role was perhaps that of teaching the men in the Caleb Sunday School Class for 70 years. Mr. John’s influence, however, went far beyond titles and designated responsibilities. His impact was profound through his consistent example of godly living.
Mr. John had good company at home to help him in that area. Miss Vivian, his wife of 64 years, exhibited the same solid faith and humble disposition that he was known for. As husband and wife, they each were the perfect complement to the other.
J. W. Wallis was the pastor at First Baptist when Jane and I first joined. I asked him recently if there were any particular memories of Mr. John that stood out during his ministry here in the 1970’s.
J. W. mentioned several things, including Mr. John’s dry sense of humor. But the essence of his recollections was Mr. John’s simple tastes. His home was simple in style and decor. His favorite dessert was simple, being the sugar cookies that Miss Vivian called teacakes. Even his hobbies were simple. He found great satisfaction in tending his garden. He loved sharing tomatoes and other vegetables with his friends.
I visited with him in his back yard one day and asked how he was so successful growing tomatoes. He explained that he dug his holes deep when he planted, and that he laid the young plants on their sides. He left only the tops above ground, saying that helped them develop a good root system.
His simple approach to living was evident in his teaching. I wasn’t in the Caleb Class, but the comments from those who were have common threads. He explained scriptures in laymen’s terms. He helped those listening to understand how verses penned long ago still apply to us today.
One Sunday morning our pastor at the time, Ellis Taff, spoke about the importance of personal Bible study. He told the congregation about going to visit Mr. John on the previous Monday. Ellis had found Mr. John studying his Sunday School lesson. He was already preparing for the next Sunday. Ellis then smiled mischievously and said something that has stayed with me these many years. He said, “If Mr. John Bonner feels the need to begin studying his lesson on Monday, that’s probably a good idea for a lot of other folks.” Like his approach to growing tomatoes, he nurtured the roots of a deep faith.
Mr. John delivered his personal version of the Christmas story to our congregation on a couple of occasions that I recall. If he had any notes he used them sparingly. His remarkable memory and years of faithful Bible study were evident as he spoke with deep reflection.
He stood respectfully behind the pulpit, but he seemed more like a grandfather sitting by a warm fire addressing young charges with attentive ears. Mr. John shared with us what he called “My Christmas Story.” He gently led us from Genesis to John and somewhere beyond. I’ve never heard a more complete or meaningful message about Christmas. He explained in simple terms how the Christmas story began much earlier than the babe in a Bethlehem manger.
Mr. John’s daughter, Marti Bloodworth, said that her father told this same story as their family gathered each Christmas Eve. He shared it from memory with only slight variations. Marti learned just a few years ago that he had written it down. “My Christmas Story” is a treasured part of the Bonner family tradition. On behalf of Mr. John’s family, we invite you to make it a part of yours.
I plan to post “My Christmas Story” at joinerscorner.com. I hope you’ll pause for an unhurried reading. Perhaps, like me, you’ll be reminded that Christmas doesn’t have to be complicated. Mr. John left us a simple story that can quietly help us savor the Savior. Merry Christmas to each of you.
(To request an email version contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a printed copy send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Neil Joiner 64 Coley Crossing, Vienna, GA 31092.)