How do you describe a legend? How do you capture with words the magnificence of spirit that is Vesta Layne Mangun? Our best attempts always seem to fall short.
She was born into the family of R. D. Gibson, a pioneer of the Gospel in East Texas, as was his father before him. They were people of tent revivals and storefronts; the Gospel shared from overturned crates on street corners in town and backyard porches in the country. For the children of R.D. Gibson, prayer was the order of the day. Sister Mangun has recalled, “My Godly parents bound sickness – disease – Satan – sin – in our home and loosed the power of God upon our lives. Regardless of where they were they prayed. They prayed in public, they prayed in private. They prayed at church, they prayed at home. They were people of prayer. They prayed in groceries and clothing … they prayed in rent and car payments and gasoline.” She said, “That’s the only method I knew as a child. If you have something you need … pray about it. Whatever you need … pray about it. If the crops fail … pray about it. If the car breaks down … pray about it. “
She recalls, “I remember hearing Popsey on the back porch – praying after midnight.
I got up and went to the window and peeped out. What I saw and heard marked my life! With the moon shining on his sweet face, and the tears coursing down his precious cheeks, I heard him pray: ‘God, no groceries to feed my family … car payment overdue … no gas money to go to Nacogdoches, Etoile, Woden, Allentown, Thomas Crossing (the churches he planted) to pray for the sick.’
Early the next morning there was a knock on the door. A man with a box full of groceries stood there with tears on his face. ‘Brother Gibson, I had delayed paying my tithes. God woke me up and told me I had better find you and pay my tithes or He was going to take everything I had.’”
She was six years old when her father ordered her a guitar from the Spiegel catalog, $5.00 on credit. With help reading the instructions she learned to play … and play she did. She played it in church, played it in street meetings, played it on the courthouse square. She and her sister Nara sang in harmony as young children and drew quite a crowd. Then her father would preach. Some tossed a nickel or quarter or dime their way and walked away. But some … some would follow them to church. And always, there was a harvest – someone received the Holy Ghost, someone got baptized, someone became a pillar of the church.
Then one day she met an evangelist from Indiana, preaching one of his first revivals. She was a pastor’s daughter and a senior in high school. She thought, “I had never seen such a good looking man … especially that dressed so beautifully.” She was 17. He was 24. In the revival service she sang, “I won’t have to cross Jordan alone . . .” and between the two of them, and the God they served, a life-changing love and ministry began to grow.
A few months later, after an on-going exchange of letters between the two, when they saw each other again, his request was simple: “I want us to try being engaged … if you’re willing to fast one day a week and pray at least one hour a day…” It worked. On September 10, 1943, Vesta Layne Gibson and Gerald Archie Mangun were united in marriage and ministry.
They had been married five years and had preached countless revivals. He preached. She played the accordion and sang, but was too scared to even testify. Finally, he told her unequivocally that it was time … time for her to do more than she had been doing.
She said, “I wanted to do everything SO perfectly. I was afraid I would not do it as perfectly as I should so I refrained myself. “ However, Brother Mangun had a different idea. He said to her: “If you’re going to run with me, you’re going to have to get a new experience with God. You’re going to have to find yourself in Him.” So, she did the only thing she knew to do: more prayer, more fasting, more seeking God.
It was in a revival in Lake Charles, Louisiana. They were staying in the home of the pastor, Reverend J. W. Evans. She awoke during the wee hours of morning, and was struck by a heavy spirit of prayer and intercession. Her travail woke her husband sleeping next to her.
She said, “I was awakened with something like mighty rivers opening up on the inside of me. I began crying convulsively, profusely. “
When Brother Mangun, startled from sleep asked, “What is the matter with you?” she had an answer for him.
She said, “Gerald, don’t get scared. I’m not being called to preach but you may be sorry you ever woke me up!”
From that day forward, she was forever changed and became not just powerful in prayer, but powerful in speaking on prayer. She has literally challenged generations to fearlessly explore the adventures to be found in actively pursuing the presence of Jesus, every day, in every way.
In 2002, on the Louisiana District Campground in Tioga, Louisiana, Sister Mangun spoke at a Women’s Conference on “The Sacredness of the Ordinary.” Her notes reflect this introduction:
“A guitar … an accordion … a door hanger … a little tract called “The Apostles’ Doctrine” … a Sunday School quarterly … a prayer blanket … an old jitney bus … an old typewriter … my Bible and a few books … represent the pieces, the articles, and tools of my life’s ministry. ‘Ordinary things’ given to God that He used.
He used these things to make somebody out of nobody …
a princess out of a worm … to make something beautiful out of my life.”
So her life has been … God using ordinary things to do extraordinary things. An ordinary woman became extraordinary because of the time she has spent in God’s presence.
In 1950, G. A. and Vesta Mangun accepted the pastorate of what is now The Pentecostals of Alexandria. Those early days of ministry in her “new role” of pastor’s wife were filled with knocking on doors and passing out tracts. She would pray people through in their homes and then go find Brother Mangun to baptize them. There was no place she would not go – she ministered in prisons and jails and the dens of iniquity that got people there. She fearlessly walked into environments where the Gospel was challenged, knowing without doubt that “Greater is He that is in me…”
Prior to that time she had never taught an adult Sunday School class; and now, in Alexandria, she was following Sister Nell Morgan, a gifted Bible student and teacher. With prayer and fasting and her “tools of the trade” – a prayer blanket, a Bible, and the anointing of God resting on her – she started teaching a class she still teaches today. It’s a place where the Holy Ghost falls, where the Word of God speaks, and everyone in hearing distance listens carefully because it’s more than a woman with a Bible … it’s a woman with an all-powerful God.
There were buses to be filled with children and brought to church, tent revivals, and everywhere and anywhere the Holy Ghost could fall. There were Bible studies and prayer meetings and radio broadcasts and regular Sunday services. God found a willing vessel and, to this day, He continues to use her for His glory.
She was and is a prayer warrior. The magnificent obsession of her life has been prayer.
She was and is a woman of the Word. Hours a day spent in study, seeking God for His words for her to speak.
She has been wife and mother and now wears the cloak of “widow” with dignity. Yet, even in this devastating sense of loss, she has remained true to her calling and to her God. She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to prayer. Whether she is doing it or talking about it, she is indomitable. On some tomorrow, only eternity will show, how many will rise to call her blessed because of prayers she has prayed … messages she has shared … lessons she has taught – because of the power of prayer active in the life of one ordinary woman made extraordinary by His presence.