Say One Word and Die

Riverbed RocksPOP, POP, POP! Johnnie barely heard the sounds above the noise of the engine as he roared 90-miles-an-hour on a short straightaway in the back hills of Kentucky.  A noise exploded behind him as his back passenger window was shot out.  Johnnie was a Moonshine “Runner” back in the 1940s, hauling illegal whiskey called Shine, for short, to distributors.  He had just picked up a load of Shine made by the bootleggers and was on his way to cash in on the haul.

POP, POP, POP! Now he was positive the police ambush along the road was trying to shoot out his engine! Shine was big business and his load was worth a bundle! What the police didn’t know was that Johnnie had put his mechanic skills to good use by moving his engine block to the back of his large sedan on a shortened rear drive shaft.  Under the hood was where his jugs of Shine were now “safely” stowed away, and if they didn’t shoot out all the jugs, some Shine would still make it, and if the police couldn’t stop him, he would stay out of prison and get his money–so down the road he roared.

There’s a saying back in the hills that Shine only comes in two flavors, “legal” and “illegal.” Tax evasion was the name of the game, which became a deadly game. The bootleggers, who made the Shine along with the Runners, were in big demand—the government wanted them for tax evasion, the police wanted them for breaking all kinds of laws, and organized crime wanted them to join them. Because there was so much money to be made, a lot of people ended up either in prison or dead.

Into that world in the early 40s walked a skinny new preacher with fiery red hair with a wife and infant son. Reverend David Irvine had a love for the folks in the hills of Kentucky despite their choice of livelihood. However, it soon became clear that these folks “don’t trust no outsiders.” It took some time before David and Dorothea won the right to be part of the veiled community. As months passed, little by little, he was able to share with them how Jesus loved them, but probably more important was not what he said, but what he did—the way the Reverend and his wife cared for the folks’ spiritual and physical needs translated into a love that the hill folks could see and understand.

In time, some made the decision to trade in their life of bootleg crime for new life in Christ. It was no small decision—these were folks whose families had been bootleggers for generations, brewing and selling the illegal Shine and making good money in the process…as long as they managed to live through the gunfire. The new bootleg-believers changed their ways by quitting the business and began making a legal living. They were happy, honest people now, but their friends that were still making Shine, were NOT happy and NOT honest and saw these new bootleg-believers as a threat to their livelihood!  But the real source of the problem, as they saw it, was that red-headed skinny preacher who had moved into their territory with his God-message!!

The angry bootleggers devised a plan to take care of the source of the problem and saw their opportunity one Sunday evening. David had been invited to speak at a small church that was so remote he had to drive up a dry riverbed covered with smooth water-worn rocks to get there. Once there, he parked his car, and he along with his wife and infant son made their way to the church through the woods in the twilight of the setting sun.  After speaking, some men came to him and said they had heard that some bootleggers from another county had come to stone him to death in the riverbed where he was parked. David turned to his wife and calmly said, “Follow me to the car, and don’t say a word to anyone.”

Carrying a lantern, the young preacher and his small family made their way back through the dark woods to the car, and sure enough, just as the men had warned . . . as they stepped out into the riverbed clearing, by the glow of the lantern, they saw the group of rough, tough, mean-looking men standing near their car. They were glaring at David with hatred in their eyes and big stones in their hands.  David breathed a silent but serious prayer, “Jesus, if we live or die, we are yours, and if you want us to live, then protect us from these men.”

David walked to his car and saw the doors had been wired shut to prevent a quick escape. Not looking again at the men and with his wife and infant son beside him, he handed the lantern to his wife and unraveled the stiff rusty wire from the handles. Opening the front passenger door, he helped his wife and baby inside, got in the driver’s side and slowly drove back down the dry riverbed safely disappearing into the night.

No stones. No killings. Only protection.

A few days later, he was approached by some local men who said, “David, we know those men that were waiting by your car, and if you had said one word to them, they would have stoned you to death.”

With a heart full of gratitude, David silently prayed, “Thank you, Jesus . . . for making sure we didn’t say one word!”

“If we live, we live to honor the Lord.  If we die, we die to honor the Lord.  So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”    —Romans 14:8  (ISV)

~~~   ~~~   ~~~

Footnote:  The now deceased Reverend David Irvine was my father-in-law and the infant in the story is my brother-in-law, David.  I would like to thank Betty Ann (his daughter) and Carol (his daughter-in-law) for their input about the story.  Most of it I had remembered from Dad Irvine telling me himself about the near stoning, the Lord’s delivery, and the wonderful times of ministry he had in the back woods of Kentucky as a young preacher.

God preserved David’s life on that day, and his small family of one son grew to a larger family of three sons and two daughters—a family that continued to experience the Lord’s ongoing faithfulness. Of Scottish descent, David’s parents were the first in his family to come to America from the old country, and David was the first in his family line to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus—David’s example of being a Christ follower continues to this day in the lives of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. May his legacy continue.


Copyright © 2013 by William D. (Nick) Nichols


  • Scot Darby says:

    Nick and Barb,

    It is great to hear from you! Keep up living the calling that you are set apart to do.

    Blessings be upon you,


  • Yenna Liang says:

    Awesome God!!!

  • Anne-Marie Pagee says:

    great story Nick! So encouraging. I did not realized these were your stories so this is the 1st time i opened ti to read it. I will be sure to continue to do so!! May the lord bless you and continue to give you stories to encourage others, sincerely Anne-Marie

  • Susan Reichenbach says:

    Great job Nick!

  • Rodney Rapp says:

    I saw all this writing on my puter BUT I didn’t know what it was…. till I found out it was cousin Nick……Keep up the good news and stories……

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