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Texas History -The Big Pine Tree

Every Sunday morning, Elmira made her way to the big pine tree not far from her house. There were many trees in the area, but this particular tree had become a sacred sanctuary for her. Here, she prayed and studied the Scriptures, and found communion with the Lord. Over time, God began to sew a vision into her heart to share the Word with others. But who?

Elmira and husband A.T. Castleberry II moved to Upshur County in East Texas the year Texas was annexed into the United States. They established a homesite within a few miles of relatives including the Rodden family. (In 1873, their homestead would become part of the newly created Gregg County, town of Longview).

Elmira realized that there were many children of neighboring pioneers who had been born in this frontier settlement, and had never been to church, much less Sunday School. So she invited them to meet with her each Sunday morning under the big pine tree. Soon, it was a regular session and occasionally, parents attended, too.

In 1847, a circuit riding preacher named Solomon Awalt and his wife Ann noticed Elmira teaching the children under the big pine tree, and were impressed to start a church in that very location. After consulting area residents, Rev. Awalt on Oct. 10, 1847 founded Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Pine Tree School.

Soon, Joseph Castleberry, brother of A.T. Castleberry II, and neighbor John Rodden donated that very parcel of land to the church so that they could build a permanent structure. Little did they know the future of that three-acre plot of land with the big pine tree. Elmira, Joseph, and John provided the foundation for God to reach the entire East Texas region.

The Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian Church was born because one woman saw a need to sew the Word of God into hungry hearts. And this historic church continues to impact their community 174 years later! At a recent anniversary of the church, its history was reviewed and plans for the future were discussed. The announced theme of the church was, “Our roots give us wings.”

The story of Elmira Castleberry and the experience of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah have some similarities. Isaiah had an amazing vision from the Lord as told in Isaiah 6. What he saw led to this challenge in verse 8, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then I said, 'Here I am! Send me.' ”

Elmira spent time with the Lord, and He planted in her heart a vision to reach hungry hearts with the Gospel. She stepped out in faith, and 174 years later, her efforts are still fulfilling the vision.

Just think what could be accomplished if we all did our part with the faith of Elmira.


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