Colonel Sanders Story

Harland Sanders had put several years of back-breaking work into a small motel and restaurant business, a mile and a half north of town.

Suddenly the state decided to move the highway seven miles west of town. Colonel Sanders was left high and dry, facing economic strangulation at sixty-five.

Instead, he loaded his car with what he could salvage by way of capital and started out to sell his franchise idea, which today bears his name and picture coast to coast. His father died when he was five. He says, looking back. "I did the cooking, and Mom did sewing for the neighbors. When I was seven, I baked my first bread. I cared for the two younger siblings while Mother worked." His mother was a God-fearing woman, "We went to Sunday school every Sunday regardless of weather. We walked there and back two and a half miles." Long since, Colonel Sanders has rebuilt the little country church in Southern Indiana as a memorial to his godly mother.

At ten, Sanders was working as a hired hand for a neighbor farmer. At eleven, he was hired by an elderly German man at four dollars a month. His employer put three teams in the field and sandwiched young Sanders with a team, between the front and rear teams. The work was backbreaking, but it built a strong body. The Colonel retains it today. Even now he rises at 4:30AM and works a fourteen-hour day. Every evening there were cows to milk —sixteen of them every night of the week. This kind of education makes a man or an invalid out of you. The Colonel remembers, "I got all the kickers and hard milkers!" All this for four dollars cash a month and you grew up on a diet of cornbread, cottage cheese, and sorghum molasses!

By forty, Sanders had tried his hand at a lot of things—black-smiting, running ferryboats, railroading, and selling—and he reached a decision that one thing folks had to do was eat. He decided that was where he would sharpen his talents. There had not been much time for formal education. The Colonel realized how much he could have used advanced studies like business administration when he got up into the millions, but he liked to quote, on the other hand, what Will Rogers said: "I don't know what all these college graduates are going to do for jobs if we eighth-grade failures don't take care of them."

So life toughened him! He likes to say, "The Lord kept me on earth either to use me or punish me." And of course, today, he knows why. He looks back and sees how God spared him: "Back in 1924 my home was connected to the highway by a swinging bridge. A few days before Thanksgiving I pulled my son's car to get it started. Suddenly the bridge cables collapsed, and our cars plunged us nearly fifty feet below. There wasn't a spot on my body that wasn't bruised black and blue. I was thrown from the car. The car nosed into the water. Yet I survived without a broken bone.

During World War II, I had a cafeteria at Oak Ridge and another place of business at Corbin," he remembers. I had worked 48 hours or more without sleep. It caught up with me as I drove. I awakened to realize I was headed over a cliff. My car turned over three times, landed right side up next to a creek. And I stepped out without a bruise. I often wondered, 'Why?' “Inside, every man knows whether he is right with his Maker. After he had gained wealth and fame the Colonel was asked to be a delegate for his church denomination, and attend a world conference in Australia. During the trip he turned to his companions and remarked, "If this plane goes down, you fellows will go to heaven, but I'll go to hell. I hope I can find the peace of soul I need at this conference."

He was doing everything his church had taught him to do. He tithed. He was particular about that. He had to learn after 75 that tithes will not take you to heaven. You cannot bribe God. But you can rob Him. He had always been the preacher's friend. Many a struggling, little congregation, and impoverished parsonage benefited from his generosity. He had heard thousands of sermons. But he never met Christ personally. You can be lost in church. Oh, yes, you can! Ask Colonel Sanders!

He enjoyed giving scholarships. Yet he never sent a boy or girl to college who smoked or drank. All his life the Colonel tried to live by principles of decency, hard work, patriotism, and a high standard of morality. It was not enough. There was a void inside. One question remained unanswered. How could a man know that his sins had really been forgiven?

God will meet the honest inquirer, somewhere, somehow. He had an appointment with the Colonel, right in Louisville. One day, someone had the courage to walk up to Harland Sanders on the street, and with just a friendly word, to invite him to attend special evangelistic services, and to hear the good singing. Pastor Waymon Rogers, minister of Evangel Tabernacle, Louisville, Kentucky, remembers how it happened. "I saw him come in," the pastor says. You couldn't miss him in a crowd, with his white suit and his identifying white beard and full head of hair. I knew God was going to do something special that night. I felt it immediately. Our people had been praying.

"As our evangelist moved into the service," Pastor Rodgers recalls, "I left the platform and sat with the Colonel on the front pew. The invitation began. He raised his hand for prayer. There were tears. "I said, “Colonel, let's get down on our knees and talk to God.” He replied, “I don't know what to say.” "Let's start with the sinner's prayer," the pastor suggested “God be merciful to me, a sinner." Pastor Rodgers will always remember how the Colonel's problem tumbled out. A stain, stubborn and shameful, had fastened itself to this proud successful man's life. He wanted to be free from cursing, which festered his ordinary conversation. He was never free from it. It made him feel as rotten as liquor does a drunkard. It was the one bad thing he had learned to do during his years of railroading. It marked him.

He had tried in vain to break the habit. This was proof enough that he was not saved, no matter how often he attended church. "Suddenly the Colonel lifted his head," Pastor Rodgers relates. "He looked at me and told me that it was the first time he had ever experienced the presence of Christ within his heart. A moment or two later, I suggested that we talk to God together about his problem of cursing. He said, “Pastor Rodgers, we don't need to do that. Christ has done that for me already.”

I knew then and there that the Colonel had experienced old-fashioned regeneration. Colonel Sanders will tell you today that there is a big, big difference between being a church member and being saved. He speaks from personal experience. And no one loves the Church, regardless of denomination, better than Colonel Sanders. Those who know him best know that it is his first love, beyond even the preparation of original food. He tells his associates today, "There is an inner experience, a new birth that brings peace. Morality and good works cannot accomplish it. It is the work of the Holy Spirit."

Colonel Sanders' testimony today is this. "You can join the church. You can serve on committees. You can be baptized and receive communion. You can become the superintendent of the Sunday school—and not be saved. I know. It happened in my life. There I was. I didn't have enough spiritual power in my life to keep me from cussing. I know there is an experience of salvation. It is my personal experience today. I know I am right with God. I know my sins are pardoned."

He likes to add, "I discovered that no church can save you. I tried a lot of them. Most of them were well-meaning. I tried to fit into different forms of service. Most of the preachers were my friends—but something was always lacking. I needed to know something deep within my soul. And for that I needed more than songs, and prayers, and church suppers. I needed a personal experience with Jesus Christ."

So now he looks back over a full life.

It has been checkered with ups and downs; with struggles, with a share of violence, with gain and with loss, and with satisfying investments of trust in his fellowman. He is glad now for the hard years, poverty-stricken years. They taught him to respect work, and they built for him a strong body that has hardly known a day of sickness. He knows that God saved his life many times for a purpose. He is using his testimony and his resources for that purpose.

He laughs when he talks about it, but it reflects his newfound dedication: "You know what they say about me—I came from rags to riches. Well, maybe now I'm on my way back from riches to rags." Seeing the twinkle in his eye, you know his meaning. He has placed his future in the hands of another—a Friend who is guiding him on the rest of the trip.


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