The following is one of several Collegeside member profiles written by Donna Smith over a period of several years. They tell the personal stories of some of our long-time members, some of whom are living and some of whom have gone on to be with their Lord. Their personal stories are an important part of the historical fabric of Collegeside.
“I was in love with him all over again as soon as he opened the door!”
That is how Opal Wakefield Johnson described seeing her old boyfriend, Max Lafayette Johnson, for the first time in 55 years.
“He showed up right on the money at 5 o’clock perfectly dressed with gray slacks, navy blazer with brass buttons, turtleneck, shined shoes. . . and that voice. My barriers probably made a terrible racket when they fell right there at my front door. I think if he had asked me to marry him at that moment, my answer would have been yes!”
Actually, it took eleven days for Max to propose to Opal.
The couple first met as teenagers at Madison Church of Christ when Max came to hear a visiting preacher in the winter of 1941. Max came to Madison often over the next few months to be with Opal. Their dates usually consisted of dinner at her parents’ house or maybe an outing to drink a cola.
“He was all that I had prayed for in a Christian man, and I think I told God I was going to marry him,” admits Opal.
One night, though, Max took Opal home and just didn’t come back.
“I had begun my studies at David Lipscomb,” explains Max, “and soon found I enjoyed being one of the few boys on campus. The ratio during those war years was one boy to four girls.”
Max and Opal had one more meeting when they were teenagers, but it ended with Opal sad but wiser. She says she learned she should ask for God’s guidance instead of telling Him what she was going to do.
Fifty-five years later Max worked up the courage to call her again and Opal opened her heart enough to say yes to dinner, but only after the involvement of their children.
Their daughters met at a Let’s Start Talking conference in Nashville in 1998 and eventually discovered that their parents used to date! Max, who was also at the conference, talked with Opal’s daughter Kathy for hours to find out more about his former girlfriend’s life. He decided he wanted to call Opal. When Kathy later told Opal that Max was planning to call her, her first thought was “What for?” Then she decided he must want to talk with her about an upcoming mission trip for seniors.
An actual date didn’t enter her mind because she had long ago determined that she was happy with her life as it was. She and her husband Howard had worked to establish Happy Haven in Cookeville and worshipped with the Willow Avenue church for four years. They had 8 children, 6 birth children and 2 foster children, before they moved to Louisville for Howard to be a minister. After he died in 1985, Opal and youngest son Jonathan moved back to Cookeville.
Next Opal took a job at Abilene Christian University to be with Jonathan and help with his expenses. Her ideal job opened in 1989 at Freed Hardeman College: She was dorm mother to 150 boys during her eight years at Freed. Her role as a second mom to so many boys was perfect for her. She says she explained to everybody that she was fine and that she definitely was not looking for another husband. She forgot, she says, to tell friends and family not to pray that she would find somebody anyway.
In the meantime, Max married Joy Blackman, whom he had met at Lipscomb. The couple lived in seven states during Max’s 47 years as a pulpit preacher: North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He retired from the pulpit in Columbus, Mississippi, and served as an elder at the congregation there. His daughter, Sherrylee, and her husband, Mark Woodward, began Let’s Start Talking, and Max and Joy supported many LST overseas missions and were a part of several mission trips to 19 countries, including six trips to India.
Max and Opal married on May 9, 1998. Opal had been a widow since her first husband, Howard, died in 1985; Max’s wife, Joy, died in 1997.
Max and Opal continued supporting LST with trips to Argentina (twice), Brazil, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Japan, and Romania. Max’s travels all over the world, including a time in New Zealand to help establish a church in Wellington, were a dream come true for a boy who began his education in a three-room school house near Gallatin, Tennessee. “I wanted to be a preacher as far back as I can recall,” says Max.
Opal Frances Brizendine Wakefield Johnson grew up in Old Hickory and Madison, so both have roots in Middle Tennessee. In 2005 the couple decided Middle Tennessee seemed like a good place to settle partly because of the proximity of several of their 11 children, 32 grandchildren, and 48 great-grandchildren.
Since coming to Collegeside Church of Christ, Max and Opal established the Barnabas Ministry. They coordinate visits to hospitals, funeral homes, nursing homes, shut-ins, and others to try to meet needs.
“It is too easy for someone who is in need or is hurting to fall through the cracks. We love encouraging fellow Christians in this latest phase of our ministry,” explains Max.
They plan their ministry for the day just after breakfast. That time each day is precious to them, they say, as they share devotional and Bible reading time. Opal still considers listening to Max’s voice as he reads aloud from the Bible one of her greatest blessings, especially now that she is having trouble with her eyesight.
Psalm 92:12-15 has become an anchor for them in this beautiful time of their lives:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
He is my Rock, and there is no
wickedness in him.