This Week in AG History -- May 12, 1968
Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980) was best known for founding the iconic restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken. After he accepted Christ at age 75 in an Assemblies of God church in Louisville, Kentucky, the news of his conversion spread quickly. During the last 15 years of his life, Colonel Sanders shared his Christian testimony countless times. Fifty years ago, the Pentecostal Evangel featured his story.
Sanders’ colorful life and personality earned him a storied place in American history. Young Sanders experienced a difficult childhood and home life. He began working as a farmhand at age 10, he left home at age 13, and he falsified his date of birth and joined the U.S. Army in 1906 at age 16.
Following his 1907 honorable discharge from the Army, Sanders held a succession of short-term jobs. He worked for a railroad, a ferry line, an insurance company, and a chamber of commerce, among other businesses. He was a hard-working entrepreneur, but his temperament led to frequent personality clashes. He studied law and worked as an attorney for three years in Arkansas, but his legal career ended after he got into a courtroom brawl with his own client.
In 1930, Sanders started a restaurant located adjacent to the Shell Oil station in Kentucky that he managed. His cooking became a local sensation and, in 1952, he began franchising his secret “Kentucky Fried Chicken” recipe. Sanders became a well-known philanthropist and was given an honorary title of “Colonel” for his charitable work by the governor of Kentucky. The company grew rapidly to 600 franchises by 1963. Sanders, with his white suit and white hair and beard, helped market Kentucky Fried Chicken and became a familiar image across throughout the world.
Despite this success, Sanders felt troubled in his soul. Over the years, he had been active in church, but he had never wholly committed himself to God. He had developed a habit of cursing that had become ingrained in his lifestyle. He wanted to be free of the guilt and inner torment, but he did not know how to achieve the peace that he sought.
Then, one day in 1965, a stranger approached Sanders on the street and invited him to evangelistic services with the McDuff Brothers at Evangel Tabernacle Assembly of God in Louisville, Kentucky. Sanders visited the church and asked the pastor, Waymon Rodgers, whether God could give him an assurance that he would go to heaven, and whether God could deliver him from his habit of cursing. Rodgers responded affirmatively on both counts and led Sanders in a prayer to accept Christ. Sanders became a faithful member of Evangel Tabernacle.
Sanders frequently testified of his Christian conversion. In a 1979 interview on the PTL Club, Sanders noted that God both saved him and took away his desire to swear. Various Assemblies of God publications also featured Sanders’ testimony. In 1968, Revivaltime radio personalities C. M. Ward and Lee Shultz interviewed Sanders, which resulted in the publication of a small Revivaltime booklet, Colonel Sanders Begins a New Life.
In the Revivaltime booklet, Sanders summarized his testimony:
“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 cussin’. 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.”
Thirty-eight years after his death, Colonel Sanders remains a larger-than-life figure in American culture. The company he founded, Kentucky Fried Chicken, continues to use Sanders’ image and life story in its marketing campaigns. But Sanders’s life represents much more than fried chicken; his story illustrates that the gospel can provide hope and new life to anyone — regardless of age or social background.
Read the article, “Colonel Sanders Begins a New Life,” on page 14 of the May 12, 1968, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Pure Stream of Christianity,” by H. Paul Holdridge
• “Paul Slept Here,” by R. D. E. Smith
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.