The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Anna Elizabeth Thomas - Missionary Teacher

By Vera Stanley © 1984

Issue: May, 1984

anna elizabeth thomasAnna Elizabeth Thomas - Missionary TeacherEditor’s Note… In January The Mountain Laurel received a letter from Mrs. Taylor S. Brown of Rocky Mount, Virginia, asking it we would consider doing a story in the future about a lady who had just passed away. That lady was Miss Elizabeth Thomas. Mrs. Brown said, "I have known her in the past 15 years of her life and she was a super human person." We try to follow up on any request our readers make for stories, and in this case, there was so much to be found. I never had the pleasure of knowing Elizabeth Thomas, but all the sources I contacted painted a picture of a woman that led her entire life selflessly, only wishing to be of help to others.

I wish to thank Mrs. Vera Stanley of Meadows of Dan for contributing her writings on Miss Thomas and Mrs. Nelson Thomas, Elizabeth's sister-in-law, for sending information and a copy of Elizabeth's own writings. They paint a vivid picture of a woman whose lifetime was filled with faith, courage and unselfishness.

Elizabeth was one of the few truly dedicated Christians I have known. Her entire life seemed to be based on Christ's words that a true follower of His must be a servant of others. Her commitment to His cause sent her into many unhealthful and undesirable situations, and kept her working long after she became crippled and pain-wracked by arthritis. Her spirit was indomitable, her enthusiasm and zeal unwavering. As long as she was able to get around at all, she continued to serve her God and church.

She wrote of her early life, "When I was six years old, Aunt Sula Thomas, who had been serving as a missionary became sick and came to our home. As she was dying, she asked each member of the family to pass by her bed to receive her departing messages. As I came by, she said, 'May the Lord bless you and make you a blessing to others.' This made a great impression on me. Not very long after that, I joined the church during a revival. About two years later I began to feel that God was calling me to do some kind of church related work. Of course I had a long road to travel before I could be ready for such a task."

Anna Elizabeth Thomas was born in Franklin County, Virginia, on February 2, 1906, daughter of Mary Susan Barnard and Harvey Levi Thomas. She attended high school for two years in Eldora, Iowa, one year at Ferrum Training School and was graduated from Blue Ridge Mission School in Patrick County in 1924. She attended Radford College and taught in the public schools of Virginia and North Carolina.

Elizabeth received her Bachelor's Degree in science from Radford College and later attended the Baptist Bible Seminary at New Orleans Baptist Seminary graduating from that institution with a Masters Degree in religious education. While attending school there she had worked in the library and paid a great part of her own expenses.

Upon graduation, Elizabeth was offered a permanent job in the library at what was for then an excellent salary - one hundred dollars per month, room and board. She said, "I knew I could accept the offer, live there with all spiritual influences, conveniences and friends, or I could go down to the Bayou for $35.00 per month, live among mosquitoes, without refrigeration, fresh water, mail delivery or travel conveniences and minister to the Indians. My friends urged me to stay, reminding me that I was doing missionary work at the seminary. I sought an answer from the Lord and as I prayed, these words came to me, 'Fear none of these things which thou shalt suffer...Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thou a crown of life.' I went to work with the French Indians of the Bayou."

From the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, Elizabeth came to Virginia to work with the Woman's Missionary Society of Virginia in 1946. She became Director of Missions in the Blue Ridge Baptist Association, where she served for many years with great enthusiasm and success. She was able to organize Sunday Schools in churches where none had existed, to start youth groups, new women's groups, Vacation Bible Schools and other church organizations. In her later years, she helped with Back Yard Bible Classes. She often taught missionary books and secured the help of visiting missionaries in creating interest among the people of the Blue Ridge Association. Her attention went to people not in the Baptist Church also, a burned out family, a new baby, an ill or aged person were all recipients of her loving care. She tried to serve all the needy of the Blue Ridge area of Patrick, Floyd and Carroll counties. Her greatest Joy was in winning people to her Lord and Savior.

Elizabeth's search for health led her to many doctors in many locations, but her rheumatoid arthritis became progressively worse, finally triumphing over her determination. On January 7, 1984 Elizabeth went to receive her crown.

Elizabeth Thomas's sister-in-law, Mrs. Nelson Thomas, wrote this of her, "She served as Associated Missionary in the Blue Ridge Association which first consisted of Patrick, Floyd, Carroll, Franklin and Henry counties. Later Henry and Franklin formed their own association. Elizabeth continued to work in the remaining three counties until she retired in 1971. She went to Patrick County in 1946 and lived with her brother, Nelson Thomas, for 16 years, at Meadows of Dan.

After Elizabeth retired from the Woman's Missionary Union of Virginia, she continued to work without pay.

She moved to Franklin County from Stuart, Virginia in 1979. She united with Franklin Heights Baptist Church, in which she was active as long as her health allowed her to work."

From Elizabeth's own writings, I found that her mother died when she was only eight years old. She joined the church at age eleven. At 13, she was given a class of small children to teach and was faced with high school, college, and seminary training. She said, "There was no high school near my home for me to attend so I had to go away from home for my high school education. The idea of serving in a special way governed my educational training. The year I graduated from Blue Ridge Baptist Mission School I had two more credits in Bible than I was allowed for credit." Later she said, "It was not easy to receive education. After finishing school I went to college in the summer and taught school in the winter. I also worked in college to help pay my way." She did not have enough money when it came time to go to college in Louisiana but she took what money she did have and went with the faith it would work out. Of this she wrote, "I went to New Orleans worked and studied and my needs were supplied."

When she wrote about her decision to go to the Bayou, she said this , "I felt that many people could accept the position at the library, with all the conveniences there in the city, but just any one would not go to the mission with so many disadvantages. So I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit went to work among the French-Indians, leaving my friends that were dear to me in New Orleans, but I never regretted being obedient to God. The day I walked into the schoolroom to teach in the Atchalifia Basin some one said, 'You are the fifth teacher that has been here this year', with an indication, 'I order how long you will stay.' I did not run away quickly. I stayed for years."