April 16, 2013

Our Neighbors: Life lived faithfully

By Magen McCrarey
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — James “Jim” E. Casey Jr., 82, sat in his new home at Laurel Village on Mill Street as he unpacked his belongings, enveloped by memories of his late wife, Oleta Lancaster.  Casey was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December and was told that he may not recover. He suffered an immense loss of oxygen to his cerebrum, but, still, he has the memory of an elephant and great faith.

Since 1951, he has written three books, each about his life’s journey through his faith, and the last, what he calls “the crown of it” is about “The Boy from Back Creek and The Girl From 531 Pelham Street.”  It’s a true story about how he and his wife spent their lifetime seeking to please their heavenly Father as Christians.

Casey is a retired minister from humble beginnings. He was born on a small Kentucky farm in Mount Eden.  

“My mother began to pray for a son. She promised that if God would give her a son, she would raise him according to Bible standards. On September 4, 1930, I was born,” he said.

Casey was raised as a Baptist and went to church all his life. At 21, he began his higher education at Georgetown College and his ministerial career.

He started a church, New Baptist Mission, at a store-front in Georgetown.  It later outgrew that Main Street store and they had to build a new building.

In the beginning of his studies, Casey received a discouraging letter from the college dean, stating he wasn’t passing his classes.  So there, in his small dorm room, he asked God to help him improve his studies, and then, he said, he received an encouraging reply.

 “(He said), ‘Jim, don’t worry. If you will take care of my business, I will take care of you.’”

That encouraging assistance helped him graduate within three years instead of four. He then went on to minister to impoverished eastern Kentucky communities, including McRoberts, where hundreds of coal miners were recently laid off and the church he was to lead didn’t have sufficient funds to pay him.

“I pulled in the residence of one of the deacons of the church, knocked on the door, and he came to the door and looked at me astonished. I said, ‘I’m here to stay. God has called me to come here and I’m here to stay. I want to be your preacher here at McRoberts,’” Casey said. “He said, ‘Son, if you’re that determined, we’ll see what we can do.’”

He soon came to the realization that his faith and determination fueled the congregation

 “I felt like I carried a sword in my hand.”  

Many came forward and became Christians, and he was handing out Bibles like wildfire.  Soon after, he took on another church in the area and was preaching four times on Sundays.

While visiting a church in Ravenna, he met the love of his life, Oleta.  So, over the next couple years, he drove hundreds of miles back and forth to visit her in his ‘54 Ford Fairlane.  In the fall of 1956, he asked Oleta to be his wife, and a year later, they married.

Together, they began a vast ministry spanning northeastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.  

“It was quite interesting. I would visit people there and they’d be a McCoy, and I’d visit some other people and they’d be a Hatfield.  So I learned a whole lot about the Hatfield and McCoy feud,” he said.  “Many of the Hatfields and McCoys were instrumental in getting the ministry started in Phelps, Ky.,” Casey said.  

From there, Casey went on to pastor in Indiana, Florida, and even Swiss Colony in Laurel County, Ky., among many other places.  He was a missionary in Brazil in the “boondocks” where they’d never seen a white man, and he shared the gospel with thousands in Russia when the Iron Curtain of Communism fell.

“I preached right in the shadow of (Vladimir) Lenin’s great big statue, and 300 people would gather there to hear me, right in the open air, with no microphone or modern day stuff.  I gave the invitation and all 300 of them came forward,” He said.

Together, the Caseys not only fulfilled their missions work, they also became parents to four children — Sibyl, James, Jeffrey and Barry.  In 2011, his beloved Oleta befell victim to cancer.

As Casey sat in his new home, unpacking boxes of his religious writings and records, he said he remained hopeful in his outlook on life.  He truly believes that everything happens for a reason, and that he’s stayed alive through a recent bout of pneumonia, a blood clot and brain tumor, in order to share his story of living by faith.