Before D.J. McCarter began singing with the gospel quartet Cedar Tree Four, he played his guitar in honky-tonks.
At 14, McCarter learned to play a guitar and started playing in beer joints, with his big brother, Eugene, coming along to keep him out of trouble.
When he met his wife, Frances, he invited her out on a date. Eventually, she invited him to church, and it turned his life around. He said he was saved from alcoholism overnight and enjoys sharing his testimony.
McCarter will celebrate the 40th anniversary of giving his life to the Lord, Sept. 27.
For the past 22 years, D.J. and Frances McCarter have been in ministry at Elm Tree Baptist Church, after serving at Cherry Tree Baptist Church for almost 12 years. His first pastorate was at Barber Baptist. From 1973-’77, he performed with the Cedar Tree Four.
“As we sang, I couldn’t keep from telling people about God’s salvation in my life,” McCarter said. “I grew up a stomp dancer, and hardly went to church growing up. My folks were in the native religion. [God] put a desire in my heart that I needed to share my testimony of how he delivered me overnight.”
He knew he would become a pastor following that watershed moment.
“I had such a hunger for the word of God, I went to every revival I could find and studied all the time,” he said. “When I surrendered, it took a load off my shoulders and I got a real peace about it. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
McCarter enjoys nothing more than teaching and preaching the word of God.
“The Bible is alive, and every time you read a scripture, the Lord shows you a little something more,” he said. “Just like John 3:16, God shows something to edify and strengthen you. We never stop learning and get to everything fully until we get to heaven.”
McCarter preaches the Bible one book at a time.
“Every person has a different need,” said McCarter. “One of the reasons I go chapter by chapter, verse by verse, is that eventually I’ll get to a place that person struggling with needs and then to another place the next person is struggling with.”
One thing he’s learned over the years is to listen without giving advice. Clayton Bowling and J.R. Stogsdill both have been mentors.
“Clayton and J.R. and I fellowshipped a lot. J.R. was the first to share the gospel with me. He was a missionary for the Cherokee Baptist Association,” McCarter said. “I appreciate his honesty and his character. He was always up front and a loving person, he and Mary [his wife] both.”
He could always go to Clayton or J.R. with questions.
“I could bounce things off Clayton, and he’d tell me how to work them out,” he said. “He’d talk about how a pastor ought to be in a church, how to treat your brother in the Lord or the elderly women.”
Before accepting the offer to pastor at Elm Tree, McCarter told the church board a few things would have to change – including on voting each year whether to keep him.
“If the Lord calls me here, I’ll be here until he calls me somewhere else or I retire or die here,” he said. “[Saturday] we held a benefit singing for the New Tribe missionaries. We wanted to help out with lodging and other expenses like language helpers, who prepare them to go into the jungle to live with the tribal people.”
The New Tribe missionaries come to Elm Tree twice a year to study with the Cherokee-speaking members before going to live with tribes in the jungles of New Guinea, Argentina, Indonesia and other places in the mountains.
“Cherokee is hard to break down so it’s good practice,” he said.
Two mission trips to Venezuela with friends and a group from Oklahoma City, with pastor Gary Haskins, changed his perspective.
“It opened my eyes. People here don’t know how rich we really are, how fortunate,” he said. “We complain about our three-bedroom brick house, and they have an [tiny] room with dirt floors, pasteboard walls and a metal sheet covering a hole. It gave me perspective of how the Lord has blessed us here.”
They’re also blessed with family. The McCarters have two children, Chad and Darla; two grandchildren, Courtney and Michael; and two great-grandchildren, Brook and Dante.
Local community outreach projects include collecting food and other items for the CARE Food Pantry and the Oaks Indian Mission through the Women’s Mission Union at the church . They also send Christmas boxes to the reservations in North and South Dakota and northern Nebraska. They make new blankets and caps for babies at W.W. Hastings Hospital and make pillows for breast cancer patients. And they collect pop tabs to give to Tahlequah City Hospital for the Ronald McDonald House. They also had a community garden for the first time.
“In lieu of flowers, when a congregation member dies, the church gives give Gideon Bibles in that person’s name,” he said.
McCarter has just started serving as chaplain with the Cherokee Nation Hospice. When Mark Friend, chaplain at Hastings Hospital, goes out of town, McCarter is on call.
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