By ZOË WATKINS
Love and loss. Giving and receiving.
They are simple words, yet they describe the eventful life of J.C. and Joyce Elliott. They are members of Shelbyville’s First Church of the Nazarene on Union Street: J.C. has been a board member since the ‘60s, while Joyce has been serving as president of the Nazarene Missions International department since 2008.
Though they are older—J.C. is 84 and Joyce is 74—they are active in their church while working as drivers for Middle Tennessee Pharmacy Services, delivering medications to nursing homes four times a week.
“We use it as a ministry. And you can use any part of your life as a ministry for God if you let Him use you,” Joyce said.
That is a motto J.C. has been saying since he was saved back in the early 1960s. Though not a church goer yet, J.C. attended a tent revival, called The Try-Christ Crusade in Tullahoma.
In those days, as young 22-year-old man, he was a heavy smoker, buying $4 worth a week in cigarettes out of his $40 weekly check.
“Friday night, the Lord got a hold of me. I went to the altar and got saved,” J.C. recalled. He was convicted to stop smoking immediately after being sanctified that Sunday.
“It was wrong for me because He convicted me of it,” J.C. explained.
That $4 he would spend went straight to his tithe.
That was the start of the lifelong commitment of tithing and giving. It was also a start to God’s continual blessing and miracle.
“We just went full in, and God has just blessed us,” he said. From there, J.C. said he kept getting increases and increases in his job, eventually moving to Eaton Corporation where he became supervisor and began making $130 per week. And he only had an 8th grade education.
“I never missed a raised…God was with me,” he said. That 90 percent goes farther with God.
J.C.’s first wife Peggy passed away in 1981. But in 1984, he met Joyce while working at Eaton. They were married two months and two days after their first date.
“We just felt like God put us together,” Joyce said. “We prayed a lot about our relationship, and we felt like it was God’s will.”
J.C. added wryly, “And I liked her size. I’m for a small lady.” Each stand just under 5 feet and 4 inches.
They stayed active at the First Church of the Nazarene since J.C. was a Sunday school teacher and board member, which he’s been serving for 58 years. They both continued to serve the Lord in every way.
“We just support every area of the church here, with our attendance, with our tithes, with every part we can,” Joyce said.
Then in 2001, they needed a miracle.
Going in for back problems, the doctors decided to conduct an MRI on J.C. that afternoon. They found an aneurism in the memory section of his brain, and it was worse than expected.
He was given surgery two days before Thanksgiving that year. “It was getting close to the time the surgery should’ve been over, and we had not heard anything,” Joyce recalls. The doctor would not talk to family until he woke up, and that J.C. may not recognize anyone if he does wake up.
“We had a prayer meeting right there in that waiting room,” Joyce said. When it came time for them to see J.C., there he was asleep. Joyce took his hand, and when he opened his eyes, he said, “Hi, babe…Well, hi pastor.”
“He never lost his memory,” Joyce said. He did so well they moved him out of the ICU in less than 24 hours instead of the usual three days.
Though over 20 years ago, Joyce still has to reach for the box of tissues retelling the story.
“The nurse that was doing his pre-op… said ‘I’ve never seen anybody faces what y’all are facing with the attitude y’all have,’” Joyce recalled. “I said, ‘Let me tell you, we’re not in denial.’”
“Oh. No,” the nurse replied. “I can tell exactly where your strength comes from.”
The miracle enabled the couple to continue serving in the mission field, primarily out west in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Navajo Reservation and the Native American Christian Academy in Sun Valley, Arizona around 15 years ago.
“Here at the church, we believe in The Great Commission—going into all the world and preaching the Gospel—and this is a way of doing that.” As a “work and witness,” essentially, you pay to go work.
They had no grand display or lavishness to put on the dry ground of one of America’s forgotten territories. Instead, they came with working hands and a story to tell.
“Tell your own story. That’s what I tell people. Nobody can take away from you what you’ve experience, so all you have to tell people is what God has done for you. That speaks to them,” Joyce said,
It’s the advice they give anyone who wants to start witnessing to people. While there, they attended church at the Navajo reservation.
“We went to help those people, but we got the biggest blessing out of it,” Joyce said. JC worked on the staff vehicles, while Joyce would help sort pantries, cook, and sort files.
“Mission works can be anything from Bible preaching to working. We did more work than anything,” J.C. said.
“And as you’re working for these people, it is a witness to them when you meet their basic needs,” Joyce added. “People are more willing to listen to your words if they see your actions.”
They also do “crisis care kits,” basic supplies delivered to victims of natural disasters around the world. Recently, they prepared some for those in the Ukraine.
They had given so much time and effort. And when it came time for another miracle, God delivered once again.
In 2019, while delivering medications to nursing homes and assisted living care facilities, a truck plowed into the side of the Elliott’s vehicle, pushing J.C.’s driver door in by about one foot. Joyce was ok, but J.C. was life-flighted out with a shattered hip, a broken pelvis, and internal bleeding.
“And before they got to Vanderbilt, God stopped the internal bleeding. They never had to do anything for him for the internal bleeding,” Joyce said.
He was 80 years old then, so the doctors had little hope he would walk normally again after hip surgery.
But he came home in a wheelchair—two days before Christmas—then he moved on to a walker, then to a cane, and now walks as well as any healthy 84-year-old.
Through it all, Joyce was a prayer warrior. “Prayer is what done it,” J.C. said.
“Our faith is what gets us through—everything,” Joyce said.
That is the encouragement they give the young folks today, the ones stepping in the different positions at the church: pray, read your Bible, and pray some more.
“If you’re not involved, you tend to get lost. The more you put into any organization, the more you get out of it, certainly with your church and with your walk with the Lord,” Joyce said.
“We are blessed more than we give.”