Achieving The Impossible with God
Richard Alexander Forrest co-founder of Toccoa Falls College was born on July 14, 1881, in Wilmington, Delaware. He was one of four children in the Forrest household. His father Richard A. Forrest, Sr. was a factory worker, whose family was from Scotland. His mother Elizabeth Hagan Forrest was Irish and a homemaker. She was a godly woman with a strong faith who taught her children to trust God. Richardâ€™s father, however, did not come to know Christ as his Savior until much later. When he did, he admitted that it was his sonâ€™s faith that was the catalyst to his own conversion. He never could escape the fact that Godâ€™s hand was on Richardâ€™s life. And despite his early efforts to persuade his son to become an engineer, he entered Christian service.
Coming to Know Jesus Christ
â€œAt sixteen, Richard began to search more diligently for an answer to these inner cravings for a better, fuller life. And God began to answer, for a godly Sunday School teacher, Miss Margaret Rogers, a woman who loved boys and was concerned about their souls, gathered together a group of teenage fellows, of whom Richard was one. Earnestly, she labored, diligently she taught, striving to lead â€˜her boysâ€™ to Christ.
â€œRichard, who by this time was seventeen, attended a cottage prayer meeting held in Miss Rogerâ€™s home. It was at this meeting that he made the most momentous decision of his lifeâ€”to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. . . . It was 10:30 p.m. and Richard was on his way home from the cottage prayer meeting at which he had been converted. He was aloneâ€”there was nothing humorous about that. He was walking past a Roman Catholic conventâ€”nothing funny about that, either. But suddenly he was seized with a spirit of laughterâ€”he laughed himself into hysterics on the way home. And heâ€™s been laughing or chuckling ever since. It has been, in a sense, his trademark.
â€œThis would not seem unusual, unless you had known Richardâ€™s nature before he became a Christian. It seems almost impossible to believe, but he was a natural born grouch. He never smiled. For three or four days at a time, he would not even speak to any member of the family. His mother used to apologize to company for Richardâ€™s grumpiness.
â€œSo it was, that when he was born into the kingdom of God, he was given a new dispositionâ€”the spirit of laughter. [Over the years,] thousands upon thousands have been [touched] by his little chuckle or hearty laugh.â€ Miss Roger was instrumental in introducing Richard to the Savior and also to a young woman named Evelyn Drennen, who was a student at the Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, New York. Evelyn had her heart set on going to the mission fieldâ€”especially to West Africa.
The Girl of His Dreams
Later, he recalled how he felt after their first meeting: â€œThe room swirled; everything grew black except the face of Miss Drennen, which was all he could see, and he felt then that he wanted to look at that face for the rest of his life. The prayer meeting was called to order. However, he didnâ€™t know whether the group was singing â€˜Yankee Doodleâ€™ or â€˜Nearer, My God, to Thee.â€™ He couldnâ€™t have told whether the leader was reading the Scriptures or Sanskrit. All he could see or think of was that beautiful face and the fact that he must somehow become acquainted with Miss Drennen.â€
The next time he saw Evelyn, he confided to a friend that he had just seen the girl of his dreams and the one he would marry. After high school, he entered Delaware College, but soon moved to Nyack, New York, where he became a student at The Missionary Training Instituteâ€”later renamed Nyack Seminary. He felt God wanted him to enter the ministry.â€
â€œOne night, Richard gathered up his courage enough to tell Evelyn how much he cared for her. Then, characteristically, they got down on their knees to pray about it. After theyâ€™d both prayed, to his intense amazement, she leaned over to kiss him . . . . He backed away from her because he was so embarrassed. He felt she was so far above him. He didnâ€™t think it was possible that she would stoop that low. He couldnâ€™t imagineâ€”he felt as though she was in a different world from him!
Evelyn Drennen became his wife on December 24, 1901 in a quiet ceremony at her parentâ€™s home in Strickersville, Pennsylvania, which was sixteen miles from the Forrest home in Wilmington. A few days later, Richard and Evelyn began their Christian service in Florida serving as home missionaries in Orlando, Florida. â€œIt was during these early years that Richard Forrest began his work as an evangelistâ€”the work by means of which he was endeared to many, won hundreds and hundreds of souls to the Lord and to fruitful Christian service, and made the work of Toccoa Falls Institute known to thousands. . . .
â€œHe played the organ and piano very well, and also sang a good deal . . . . He also liked to lead song services and, in a sense, â€˜put on his own show.â€™ It helped in many, many places where the people would not come just to hear a preacher. They would come for the other things, and then hear the gospel message, too.â€ As a result of the Forrestâ€™sâ€™ efforts in Florida, fourteen Sunday Schools were established. Many of these later became churchesâ€”one being The First Alliance Church of Orlando.
A New Direction
â€œWhile attending the Missionary Training Institute, Richard had become a close friend to Dr. A. B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance and pastor of their church in New York City. After the Forrests moved to Florida, Dr. Simpson sent them yearly steamship tickets north for the annual convention at Old Orchard, Maine. As Dr. Simpsonâ€™s protÃ©gÃ©, Rev. Forrest often supplied his pulpitâ€”at one point for two months straight.” He made many friends while attending the conventions and as a result of preaching in Dr. Simpsonâ€™s church as well as other churches across the country.
â€œIn 1904, a missionary conference was held in Atlanta, Dr. Simpson was the director, and he insisted the Forrests come up to the meeting. There they met David Fant, Ulysses Lewis, and many other Atlantans who later became close friends. It was at this conference that the Forrests were persuaded to move to Atlanta and establish their headquarters there. . . . God used them to build the Christian and Missionary Alliance organization in Atlanta. They started in a second-floor lodge room on North Broad Street. It was not long until the little prayer band outgrew these quarters.â€
â€œSometimes the Lord, in a spectacular way, makes know His will to His children; sometimes, on the other hand, through many seemingly minor events, He brings a growing conviction that something should be done about a critical situation. It was by means of the second method that God began to speak to Rev. and Mrs. Forrest (separately) concerning the establishment of a school.â€
With this idea turning over in his mind, Rev. Forrest met J. F. Dunn, who was saved in Jacksonville, Alabama, under his ministry. This boy told him that the Lord had called him to preach, but he had no way of studying and equipping himself. Since had gone to work in a cotton mill before reaching the age of ten, he only had a third grade education. It was this boyâ€™s intense desire for knowledge that crystallized Rev. Forrestâ€™s interest in getting someone to found a school where a boy like this could get an education.
â€œUpon his return to Atlanta, Richard attended a Wednesday night prayer meeting where he mentioned the young man he had met in Alabama. The next day Miss Elizabeth Trailer, a very prominent socialite, came to see Rev. Forrest. She stated that she hadnâ€™t been able to sleep the night before because she was thinking about that boy. â€˜There should be a placeâ€”a schoolâ€”started where a boy like that could go,â€™ she said pointing her finger emphatically at Rev. Forrest. She also added, â€˜And you ought to start it!â€™ Although he had been aware of the need, up to that time Rev. Forrest had never dreamed of beginning such a work. Before he could remonstrate, however, Miss Trailer continued, â€˜I have no money, but I brought something here that you can turn into money if youâ€™ll accept it to start such a school.â€™ She handed him two beautiful diamond earrings. They were sold for $300.00. Rev. Forrest thought of this challenge for some time before mentioning it to his wife. He wasnâ€™t sure that she would feel led in the same direction. Imagine his surprise when she confessed to him that she had been doing much thinking about the same thing.â€
Originally, they purchased a school that was up and running in Golden Valley, North Carolina. However, since it was located 17 miles from the nearest railway station, Dr. Forrest began searching for a more convenient location. Through D. J. Fant, an engineer of the Southern Railroad and a former resident of Toccoa, Georgia, Dr. Forrest learned that Haddock Inn was for sale and thus made contact with Mr. Simpson. On January 1, 1911, Dr. Forrest purchased the property at Toccoa Falls from E. P. Simpson, a local businessman for $10.00 down and a promise to pay $24,990. On the property stood Haddock Inn, a hotel of 58 furnished modern rooms that had previously been used for summer guests. The attraction on the 100 acres was Toccoa Falls, a waterfall of 186 feet.
His Greatest Joy
Richard Forrest was a man who was known as a friend to countless people. He knew senators, lawyers, doctors, clergy from all denominations, and those who had, as he put it, â€œevery advantage availableâ€ as well as those who did not. Without a doubt one of his greatest joys was leading people to Jesus Christ. â€œWhether at the altar rail, in a train, on the street, or in a homeâ€”he remembered the commandment of the Lord: â€˜Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that ye should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain, and whatsoever ye shall ask of the father in my name, he will give it to you.â€™
â€œDr. Forrestâ€™s whole ministry can be epitomized in his love for the soul of the individual. For this reason he left his lovely wife alone much of their married life to go out in evangelistic work; for this reason he developed a Bible school to train others in the art of soul-winning; and for this reason he knew no rich nor poor, no great nor small as he greeted the man, the woman, the boy, and the girl in the everyday walk of life.
â€œPraise God for a man whose ear was so attuned to the Lord that he could hear His command, whose heart never failed as he set forth to carry out His desires, and whose vision did not grow dim through the passing years as he put His plans into fruitionâ€”the man Dr. Richard Alexander Forrest.â€
(Editorâ€™s note: All quotes were taken the book Achieving The Impossible with God.)