By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]
The Rev. Billy Warren is one of four preachers who will be honored with their wives at a community-wide pastor appreciation event set for Saturday, Aug. 6 at the National Guard Armory in Boone. Click here to read more about the event and heck out the July 2016 edition of High Country Magazine for the full story.
Billy Warren: An American Hero
Relentless prayer and obedience led this decorated military hero to the altar after more than two decades of service with the United States Army. It was an adventure that he didn’t see coming, but his unwavering faith and teachable spirit have allowed him to win souls for the Lord for more than a quarter-century since his last tour overseas.
The Rev. Billy Warren was raised in a Christian home in Zionville and grew up attending Union Baptist, which he still calls his home church. In 1952, he entered what would be a long and celebrated military career when he left for basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He served his first tour in Korea with the 40th infantry division and, after returning home safe and sound, continued going to services at Union.
“When I came back from Korea, that’s when I met Libby at church. Of course, I was wearing my uniform,” he said. “I’ll let her tell it from there.”
“He was coming to visit my grandparents, and they lived next door to my parents,” she said. “I told my sisters when he went by, ‘You know, there’s my man. I think he and I will be married one day.’ I don’t know, I just had that feeling … that he was the one.”
One week later, the handsome soldier took the pretty girl from church to the skating rink down the road in Cove Creek.
“He took me and then he went over to the restaurant because he said he couldn’t skate,” Libby laughed. “So, we started seeing each other. He had to go back to Fort Jackson, but he’d come home on the weekends. In two-and-a-half months, we were married.
“We got married Aug. 9, 1954, so it was a short courtship. My sisters always said I just got him because he was in that uniform. It’s been 62 years. We’ve been married all of our lives.”
As Mr. and Mrs., the two began the adventure of a lifetime as a military family. They lived in places all over the world, including Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado, Kansas and even Germany.
Together, they’ve raised two boys and two girls.
“Libby was pregnant with our first child when I was sent to Vietnam in 1967. I was on a search and destroy mission when they called me on the radio and told me that Billy was born and that his name was Billy Jr.” he said. “I knew the day before he was born what his name was, how much he weighed and how long he was because I was a day ahead in Southeast Asia.”
Their son, Greg, was also born while Billy was overseas, and father and son met for the first time when Greg was only nine months old.
“Linda was born in South Carolina and Lottie was born in Texas. She’s a Texan,” Billy said.
Billy remembers returning to the states from military service to meet his newborn children as “quite the experience.”
“There was a lot of weeping going on,” Libby said. “A happy time.”
Life in the military provided a unique set of challenges, but the Warrens were bound by love, prayer and faith.
“I took three children and had never flown, but I wasn’t even scared,” Libby said, recalling their move to Germany. “I reckon I was so young I couldn’t even think. We flew to Germany nonstop. It was at night and we left from Charleston, South Carolina that afternoon, so with the time change it was so dark when we got there. We got there and could see Bill over waiting on us, but I had to go through customs and all of that before I could even get to him; and me with three kids and all this luggage.”
Even when they lived overseas, they made sure to find and connect with a home church, even if they knew it was temporary; and, when Billy was on tour and the family stateside, the grace of God brought him home safe every time.
“When I got home from Vietnam, Lottie asked Libby, said ‘Mama, who we gonna pray for now that Daddy’s home?’” Billy said with a chuckle. “I asked little Billy when I came home, ‘Where’s Daddy?’ and he pointed to my picture on the wall.”
Answering the Call
Although he was raised in a Christian home and knew Jesus and loved Him well, Billy never expected to receive a call to the pastorate, although angels may have visited with the message a few times.
“When we were living in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, it was back in ’56. Our lady next door was from Nashville, Tennessee, and she was our landlord. Her mother had come to visit when she was in her 80s, so Bill and I went over to meet her,” said Libby. “We just entered the door and she looked at Bill and she says, ‘One day, you’ll be preaching.’ I thought, woman, you’re crazy, I don’t want to be a preacher’s wife.”
At the time, Billy, too, thought, “There ain’t no way.”
“When I was in Vietnam, I sure didn’t plan on preaching when I came back, but it happened just like that,” he said.
“It was 1974 at the third army headquarters in Fort McPherson, Georgia. One evening just prior to my retiring for the night, I was in my quarters and my Bible was laying on the bedside. I’d been reading it and then all of the sudden something spoke to my heart. I don’t know if it was an audible voice, but it was a voice. It was the Lord speaking to me and it said, ‘I want you to go preach.’
“This is before I retired from the army, so I said, ‘Lord, I don’t know anything about the Bible. Call my Sunday school teacher, Otto Thomas, he knows all about the Bible — more than I do.’ I never got an answer.”
Two years later, having returned safely from Vietnam, he announced his calling at his home church in February of 1976, and was called to the pastorate at Clark’s Creek Baptist Church in Valle Crucis.
The Mercies of God
Warren knows without a doubt that God led him through his military career just in time to serve in a new capacity when he returned to the states.
“I do believe the Lord had a plan for me,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to turn out this way — Libby and I getting married and having the family we have today — but it’s only by the mercies of God I’m sitting here talking to you today. Two wars — I survived that.
His time in the army as a decorated soldier taught him the value of hard work, integrity, leadership and obedience. Back at home, God used that experience and put him to work for a very special purpose in Watauga County.
“I know the Lord has had his hand upon me by leading me,” he said. “Every church that I have pastored has always been a building project.”
With his whole heart and all of his trust in the Savior, Billy went to Valle Crucis to see his new church, and what he saw brought him to his knees.
“I went to that little church and I was sitting down on the steps, and I began to weep. I said, ‘Lord, you don’t want me to pastor this church.’ There wasn’t any paint on the building outside, the roof was rusted,” said Billy. “The grass around the church looked like the wilderness; but still, I didn’t get an answer from Him. The only thing that I remember was sitting there on the step, myself and the Lord, and He said, ‘Follow me.’ That’s the word that I got from Him.”
Warren was unsure about the less-than-suitable church building, but he had full faith that God knew what He was doing, and he promised to remain prayerful and obedient. He prayed and prayed for the resources and the means they needed to update the facility, and the Heavenly Father rewarded his obedience.
“During my ministry at Clark’s Creek, we renovated part of the church, got the cemetery under the church’s control, which was private until that time,” he said. “We painted it inside and out and put a new roof on it.”
Under Warren’s leadership, Clark’s Creek began to grow and flourish, and it would continue to do so for years to come.
Among his favorite memories of pastoring in Valle Crucis are the many times he was able to baptize his church members in the nearby creek along N.C. Highway 194 in the valley.
“I will always remember baptizing one Sunday after church and the cars began to stop along the road, and they got out to watch me baptize,” he said.
“That was the Sunday he baptized in his suit,” Libby giggled. “Someone wanted to be baptized, so he just went on down to the creek. In his good shoes.”
“Yep, I went home wet,” Billy said.
A Child of the King
In 1981, he felt a familiar feeling stirring in his heart. When he recognized a call to leave Clark’s Creek and move his family to the pastorate at Stony Fork Baptist, he followed it. There, he helped the church pray for, fund and complete a fellowship building. He did the same at Gap Creek Baptist, where another fellowship building was finished in 1984.
Of all the renovations, Billy said, “I followed the Holy Spirit of God and that came to pass.”
Then, the ever obedient Warren family followed holy lead again, this time to the small Beech Valley Missionary Baptist out in Sugar Grove near the Avery County line. The Lord had more projects lined up for him here, in addition to some incredible miracles.
“Here at Beech Valley in 2001, the church was wanting to renovate the sanctuary. The building committee told me, said ‘Preacher Bill, we don’t even have the money to begin.’ I said, ‘Let’s pray about it,’” Billy explained.
One Sunday morning that spring, armed with the word of God and His instructions, the pastor approached the people of Beech Valley in hopes of collecting enough money for the renovation, which would at least cost a couple thousand dollars.
On either side of the altar, he placed a podium. On each podium, he placed a notepad and a pencil.
“I lined the church up on each side of the wall. I said, don’t even put a name on it, just put the amount that your family your you would be willing to give,” said Billy. “Then I began to pray. The church prayer with me. At the end of the prayer, they began to come forward and on that little notepad they put down the amount they could give. As soon as they did that, they walked away and they were dismissed.”
Following the service, he took the notepads to his daughter Lottie’s house and enlisted her help in counting up the totals. On a tiny piece of paper, which he still keeps in his wallet 15 years later, they wrote the total: $24,000.
The incredible amount pledged that day allowed the church to completely renovate its sanctuary, complete with updated pews, new carpet, a new pulpit, beautiful stained glass and more. He work was completed in about a month by church members, and, thanks to the collected love offering, he work was completely paid for by the time it was finished.
“Everything you see in there we did in less than a month. People here in the church could not believe it, and we did it ourselves,” said Billy. “Isn’t God wonderful?”
The renovation included the installation of new curtains, one of which was dedicated to E. Stansberry, who was a deacon in the church, and another was dedicated to Billy’s parents.
“I was raised in a Christian home,” he said. “Mom and Dad took us to church. We didn’t have no vehicle, but we rode horses to church, so I dedicated that curtain to Mom and Dad.”
Later that year, with hearts overflowing with love and gratitude, the Warrens retired from the pastorate at Beech Valley.
As he and Libby prepare to accept an appreciation for their service before the entire faith community in August, Billy reminds us that his ministry has always been focused on obedience.
“He speaks through His word,” Billy said.
“It is an honor to be recognized by Charlie and the association and all the peoples of Watauga and the state of North Carolina. It’s been an honor to serve our country, too, for 22 plus years of military service, and then to be a pastor, and at Beech Valley for 25 years. Can you believe that? Amen! And at Gap Creek, Stony Fork, Clark’s Creek and my home church.
“It’s only by the mercies of God that I’m here, and I know it. It’s an honor to be a child of the king.”