“Behind ever great man is a great woman” is indeed true. My father often reminds me that a preacher’s wife can be either a great asset or great hindrance to his work. Thankfully we have biographies of preachers such as Thomas & Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Benjamin Franklin, and others who have made tremendous sacrifices for the gospel. Sadly, there are not as many biographies detailing the sacrifices their wives made so their husbands could GO and preach the gospel. One preacher who made enormous sacrifices to preach was Jefferson Davis Tant (or better known as J. D. Tant). Tant would operate a farm, rear a family, and still hold protracted gospel meetings away from home for weeks at a time. How did he accomplish this? Because of the sacrifices of his wife, Nannie Yater Tant. The trials that this pioneer preacher’s wife endured are difficult to fathom in our day of modern technology. To use another expression of my father, “we are standing on the shoulders of giants.” Nannie Yater Tant recorded her experiences in this autobiography; which was a major source of information for her son’s biography of her husband entitled J. D. Tant – Texas Preacher. Both books are excellent and both are worthwhile reading together.
J. D. Tant’s parents were devastated by the Civil War as their home and eleven farms were destroyed by General Sherman. The family never recovered from this loss. Nannie Yater Buckner’s family was affluent. When her family learned of Nannie’s desire to marry J. D. Tant; a traveling preacher, rough Irishman, and impoverished, there was much opposition. However, as Nannie’s mother fought her Baptist family to become and marry a Christian so Nannie fought her family to marry J. D. Tant. She arrived at his home to be met by two children from J. D. Tant’s first marriage. (His first wife had died of pneumonia while working the farm in J. D. Tant’s absence due to preaching.) She was trained to be a schoolteacher, but she was rarely able to teach in public school. She turned down other suitors who would have provided a much easier life than the life of toil, sickness, deaths, poverty, natural disasters, crop failures, adversity, perilous relocations, and adventure the likes some of us can barely imagine. Often when we speak of pioneers we are thinking of men in the early days of the restoration movement. In this case, the term includes this but also refers to the days of the settling of the West. In fact, on a tour of Oklahoma that Nannie attended with J. D. Tant, the Army was on the hunt for the recently escaped Comanche Geronimo! She often worked the farm alone so J. D. Tant could continue to preach and debate for the cause of Christ. Both of them equally considered their work to further the gospel in Texas and beyond. With the upbringing she had, there must have been times she wondered if she was made of the material to endure such hardship.
Indeed, the wives of preachers have made great sacrifices. Sacrifices today may not reach the same degree as the days of yesteryear; however, many choose to avoid the life of a preacher or preacher’s wife to this day because of the sacrifices that must be made. Thankfully, there are those who are willing to make these sacrifices that we may grow thereby. We must remember that these are the Lord’s servants, cherish and treat them the best we are able. One wonders if such a life is worth it? To answer, consider these words from Mrs. J. D. Tant:
“…I have not one moment of regret for the choice I made. It has been a life filled with incredible hardships and difficulties, but equally incredible have been the reward and the happiness. I have been richly blessed, and if the choice were to be made over again, and I could know the kind of life I was entering, my answer now would be as unhesitating and as whole-hearted as it was then. Not every woman could be happy as a “preacher’s wife,” but for me it was the only life I ever wanted. (Page 19).
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 15, No. 10, October 2008, p. 2. Reprinted by permission.