October 13, 2014

A Testimony of God's Greatness by Irene Smith Lowrie (my great-grandmother)

My great-grandmother passed away a few days ago at the age of 97. In 2000, she shared her testimony of how her family came to know and follow Christ. My prayer is to continue to pass this legacy of faith down to the next generation: Irene's great-great grandsons. 

This is her story. 

My Great-Grandmother, Irene Smith Lowrie

My father and mother, Lawrence Smith and Audry Lee, eloped in 1915 and came to live in the mountains of East Tennessee with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor Smith. They moved into a small house (almost like a chicken house) near his parents.

My mother became a "pioneer" in the mountain ways of doing things. As a young city girl, she knew very little about cooking, canning, sewing, laundering, and most of all child care. She learned to make a home with the barest of necessities. She became good and efficient in all of these areas of home making. She learned well from her mother-in-law and her sisters-in-law, Bonnie and Eva. They called it "living on a shoestring."

They started their family while living in this little house. I was born there on January 16, 1917. My sister, Gladys, was born on January 28, 1919. Later we moved to another house in the Sigmon Hollow which was further in the mountains. Mary and Juanita were born there. After this it seemed we moved often because we rented and didn't own a home until I was 12 years old.

Daddy became a roofer by trade. He opened a business in Elizabethton, TN, putting tin roofs on houses and setting furnaces. Later he owned a sawmill and sawed lumber for many houses in the area. He built my house as well as Juanita's house.

This is the cabin that Irene and Orel lived in. It's also where my grandfather was born.

Years later he opened a grocery store and service station in the community and stayed there until he retired. He made very little money during these years, but he had a big heart and he never failed to help those in need. Often times, he sent groceries to families in the mountains who were sick or out of work. When he and mama closed the store, their books revealed that many poor people of the community still owed them and were never able to pay.

During the earlier years baby sisters came along - about one every two years. Mary Alice was born June 11, 1921. Juanita was born June 9, 1923. Eva (Chubby) was born October 3, 1925. Nell Marie was born April 16, 1927. She died as a small baby with what they thought was tuberculosis of the bone.

Then God, on August 22, 1930 sent us a little brother. My daddy was so thrilled. He had always wanted a son. They named him after his grandfathers, Taylor Smith and John Lee. We called him J.T. He became very ill with pneumonia when he was two-years-old and died after being sick only three days. His death was a great shock and sorrow to us. He was the only brother we would ever have. Helen was born Sept. 16, 1932, and Joyce completed our family when she was born on July 29, 1935.

This was a big happy family. I don't remember any fights or hard feelings, but I am sure there were some along the way. We enjoyed each other and the neighbor kids, especially the Roy Glover family who lived nearest us.
This is the one-room schoolhouse where my Great-Grandfather, Orel Lowrie, taught in for nine years.

I was married May 5, 1934. What about those other six girls growing up in the family? God was watching over us even though we didn't know it. Young men, looking for wives made their way to our home. During the revival at Chinquapin in which I was saved, I met Orel Lowrie. He had been away to high school and college and was now teaching school.

God's bringing this fine young man into my life was just about another indication God had his eye one me. I cant say enough good things about Orel. He was my teacher. He never made me feel inferior and he always assured me I could do anything I tried to do. He was my friend, my prayer partner, my companion for 64 years.

When Orel and I were married, I was 17 and he was 24. Our marriage produced four wonderful children: D.L., Jerry, Dwight, and Deoborah. Orel died in September of 1998.

My great-grandparents, Orel and Irene Lowrie sitting on the front porch of their home. 


When I think back to my early days at home, I recall getting up early to milk the cow before we left for school. My sisters packed our school lunches and did other chores. The cow milking was handed down to my other sisters as time passed. We had friends who walked to school with us, and by the time we walked three miles there would be a large number of us. Sometimes there were fights along the way, but for the most part it was fun.

Being the oldest in the family, I was the one who had the responsibility of helping my mother do the laundry, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the younger sisters. So, my education was limited. I dropped out of school when I was in the 6th grade. My sisters did better. They finished grade school. Gladys went one whole year without missing a day and that was  real feat in those days. Joyce finished high school and Helen finished college.

Life for this poor struggling Smith family changed because God still had his eye on us. We didn't know much about Him. We had heard about him through our grandparents and Aunt Bonnie, who attended church some. She loved the Lord and she talked with me about what it meant as far as she understood.

She was just five years older than me, so we became close like sisters. Much later we learned that my mother had been converted as a child in a Methodist church in Lenoir City where she grew up. We didn't go to church so there was no help for us to learn about the Lord and how He could help us.

We didn't have a Bible in our home and this worried our mother. She often talked about wanting one. She knew several old hymns that she sang to us at night as we sat around the fireplace. Remembering her singing to us brings back memories that blesses our hearts now that we know the Lord. Too, we understand her struggle to live for the Lord with her limited understanding, and no encouragement from anyone.  Daddy was a fox hunter at this time, and was often gone at night.

In September, 1933, life took on a new meaning for this family because the Lord knew we needed Him in our lives. A revival was in progress at the Chinquapin Grove Baptist Church and the Chinquapin School, which was nearby, took all of the children who wanted to attend to the 11:00 AM services. We, the Smith children, were able to attend church services for the first time.

The Lord began a work in my heart and a deep conviction came upon me. For the first time I was told that God loved me, and he sent his son, Jesus, to die on a cross for my sins. Oh, what a wonderful love! I barely could take it in.

After some days of searching, the light began to shine. One day at the morning service I found forgiveness for my sins. How wonderful! Such joy I have never known poured over me and my deep burden was lifted. Praise his wonderful name!

I went home, but I didn't tell daddy at this time. Mama was away visiting her family in Lenoir City. That night I went to the service and confessed Christ as my Lord and my Savior. Everyone rejoiced with me. It was shouting time in the old church that night. God's Spirit was moving to bring others to Him - namely, my daddy.

He was under conviction and I asked him if he wanted me to pray for him and I did. He went with me to the next service and sat on the front steps of the church because the house was full. He relates that the Spirit of the Lord was so strong that night that he doesn't remember getting up from the steps and walking to the altar. Many were there praying and witnessing to others who had come forward.

Daddy tells that a dear old saint of the church, Bro. Slagle, came by and patted him on the head and said, "Lawrence, just give it over to the Lord." When this happened daddy said he felt like a bolt of lightening had hit him. The next thing he remembers he was up from the altar and people all around him were shouting and the whole place was as bright as day. This was the night my daddy gave his heart to the Lord. God had surely had his eye on him.

This was the most dramatic change that ever happened to our family. When daddy got saved our whole family changed. Nothing was ever the same. Later, some of my sisters were saved too. When mama came home from Lenoir City, we were baptized in the Holston River and joined the church. According to church records, this took place in 1933.

We were unique members. This was all new to us. We were at the church every time the door was open. We took whatever jobs they offered us. I became a teacher in the children's class and later daddy taught the young boys. Mama loved to sing, so she sang in the choir.

After this, daddy began his soul winning mission. He began leading a group of believers out to do soul winning in the community and surrounding communities. They visited, gave testimonies, witnessed to anyone who would invite them into their homes. Many older men and women, who were confirmed unbelievers came to know the Lord and joined the church. This witnessing group made a big difference in our community. Some years later, daddy was ordained as a deacon. He seemed to never be able to do enough for the Lord, and he had a burden for lost souls.

My mother was a quiet Christian. She was a kind, good woman who had a concern for other people and she ministered where she could. She had one unique experience which she related to some of us children. She was not well and faced some major surgery. She was worried and felt she needed to talk with someone about her problem. She tells that she walked up the creek bed which ran in front of our house to a secluded spot far away from the house.

She fell on her knees to talk to God and in the silence of the moment she heard and felt a gentle-like, singing breeze that seemed to envelop her. It was difficult for her to describe what happened and the sweet peace that came upon her, but she knew the Lord had answered her prayer.

We have never forgotten that moment in mama's life. She taught us a lot about life and how to live it under hard circumstances. She was the best example she knew how to be. Often times when she was burdened, we heard her sing songs such as "Victory in Jesus" and "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine."

How does this story of 69 years end? Mama and Daddy have gone to Heaven. Their earthly bodies are buried in the Sunrise Cemetery in Bluff City, but their souls have gone home to be with the Lord. There are twelve grandchildren who are all professing believers, three Grandsons are ministers and pastor churches, three are deacons, and others are involved in the Lord's work in various ways.

The Smith sisters are getting older, but coming along is the offspring which we hope will carry on the work which Lawrence and Audry Smith started many years ago. God still has his eye on this family. He still wants to use us for his glory. We must not fail to do what we have been taught and what we have learned through our own experience with the Lord.

He has blessed this family beyond measure and He is greatly to be praised for what He has done for us.

I sometimes think Mama and Daddy are watching use from heaven and are cheering us on. Let's not fail them, and  most of all, let's not fail the Lord.

Seven Smith Sisters

---Lovingly submitted by Irene Lowrie, August 2000

What Irene doesn't mention is that all three of her sons became ministers and her daughter married a minister. One of her sons is my grandfather, Dr. D. L. Lowrie. Of his four sons, three are serving as full-time pastors. D.L.'s son Stephen is my father. My husband is a minister in our community, making me a third-generation pastor's wife.

From a mountain girl with a sixth grade education came a great testimony of God's hand at work. Through God's faithfulness to her and her family's service to the Lord, thousands have come to know the Savior. It's a godly legacy that I hope to pass on to my own sons. 

I remember taking trips to her home up in the mountains of Tennessee as we were growing up. I remember the distinctive way she said "Say-rah" and I remember eating her delicious made from scratch cooking. I wish I would have had more opportunities to get to know her.  


I feel tremendously blessed to have a written record of how God worked in my Great-Grandmother's life and in the lives of her parents, my great-great-grandparents. Have you ever considered writing down your testimony for future generations?  

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  1. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful christian lady! I live just a short ways from her home & know all of Irene & Orel's children. I was in Aunt Bonnie's SS class at one time. Also remember Irene teaching Missionary stories in Bible School. Our community has been blessed by this wonderful Godly family.

  2. Thank you, Sarah... Blessed we are by you...

  3. Gail Jenkins UnderwoodOctober 16, 2014 at 7:18 PM

    Sarah, thank you so much for recording this. Irene was my Sunday School teacher when I was a little girl at Chinquapin Grove Baptist Church and she and Orel are bright and shining memories for me. Irene's father, Lawrence Smith, is my great-uncle -- his sister, Hattie Mae Smith Bolling is my great-grandmother. I have many wonderful memories of my great-grandma, too. And, my mother, Berniece Irene Boling Wolfe is honored to be named for your great-grandmother. Thank you again for sharing her wonderful testimony.


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