The Reverend James Edward Files, a missionary to Brazil and pastor to several Birmingham area churches, died peacefully at his home on April 1, 2020 surrounded by family.
James was born in Townley, Alabama on May 29, 1926, the first son of Stella Jane Guthrie and Bruce Edward Files, a coal miner. He is survived by his wife Angelina (Ann) Warren Files; his children, Bruce (Lisa), Denisa Saez, Deborah (Byron) Smith, and Brian (Danielle), along with grandchildren, James Files, Emily Files, Helen Files, Grace Files, Daniela Saez, Salomon Saez, Rachel Smith, Sophia Files, and Elijah Files. He was preceded in death by his younger siblings Eula Mae Cooner, Jessie Lee Kelley, and Leon (Pete) Files.
When he was 13 years old, James' father was killed by a train at the Townley railroad crossing while transporting coal across the tracks.
In 1944, at age 17, James volunteered for the army air corps cadet program with the hope of helping during World War II. After graduating from Walker County High School, he started Basic Training at Keesler Field, Mississippi. While there, he underwent four days of intensive physical, psychological, and academic testing before becoming part of the select group chosen for pilot and navigator training. At that point, he was transferred to Lowery Field, Colorado, where he was assigned to patrol the airdrome as a military policeman while awaiting specialized training. Before he had the opportunity to serve overseas, however, World War II ended in 1945, and subsequently James returned home.
In 1951, he started working for General X-Ray while attending Birmingham Business College in the evenings, where he earned a junior accounting/secretarial certificate. His employer's wife, Alma Jackson Henderson, invited him to attend a Bible study at Southeastern Bible College that changed the direction of his life when he was saved in October 1952. Subsequently, James attended Southeastern, where he met Ann Warren. The two asked for special permission to marry in 1955, before graduation. Ann completed her degree in 1956, and James finished in 1957.
Together, the couple felt called to the mission field and began raising funds to go to Brazil under the Evangelical Union of South America. Meanwhile, James pastored West Jefferson Baptist Church from 1956 to 1960, and during that time, their first two children were born, Bruce Edward in 1957, and Denisa Ann in 1959.
In 1960, the family started what would be a 14-year mission to Brazil. James and his wife Ann were the first Protestant missionaries to settle in the Brazilian “Interior” town of Guaraciaba do Norte, Ceara. At first, the family had difficulty finding a home because, at that time (pre-Vatican II), Catholic priests were hostile to Protestant missionaries and had a strong influence over parishioners in small towns. Finally, they rented a small home constructed from dried brick. Drinking water which came from a well and was boiled for 20 minutes before consumption. Electricity from a generator was available for only three hours each evening. James’ self-sufficiency, creativity, and the ability to find alternative solutions were a big asset.
Along with other missionaries, James visited distant locations, establishing a small church called Olho D’Agua (Eye of Water) even farther into the Interior, which he reached by Jeep, then riding down a long trail on a burro. They also started church meetings in Nova Russas, an Interior town that later initiated a Christian radio station which broadcasts today.
There were many family emergencies during these years. Ann survived the 1963 breech birth of their third child, Deborah (Debbie) Jean, in Fortaleza using only ether for pain before the final push. She was born with one leg curled above her head due to the 260 mile bumpy jeep rides from Guaraciaba to Fortaleza. Bruce, their eldest son, survived an emergency appendectomy after a harrowing ride to the hospital in Fortaleza.
During their second term, from 1965 to 1969, the family lived at the mission headquarters in Fortaleza where they hosted incoming missionaries and converted existing buildings and stables into a school and dormitories to train Brazilians for the ministry. James also became treasurer for the mission while Ann supervised the kitchen, laundry, and housekeeping for visitors, students, and her family.
“Wherever we were needed, we were the ones,” James said in a family audiotape from 2011.
Still, the family survived more emergencies. James and Ann both skirted death: he from undiagnosed hyperthyroidism and a parasite, she from hepatitis. Their last child, Brian, who had been born on furlough in 1965, survived diphtheria because the anti-toxin happened to be available in Fortaleza's hospital during his illness. Often, the hospital ran short on supplies.
At that time, the charismatic movement, known as the Renovacao or Renewal, was beginning to spread throughout Brazil. The Evangelical Union of South America condemned the movement and asked their missionaries to do so too. James had visited healthy, growing, charismatic churches and felt that the Renovacao might be the work of the Holy Spirit. He was unwilling to condemn the movement, and so resigned from EUSA.
James and Ann joined a different mission, Worldwide Evangelization Crusade, for what would be their final four years in Brazil. This time they settled farther south, in Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon). There they lived on the outskirts of the city, in Bom Sucesso, where the children attended EABH, an international school. James became treasurer for the mission and EABH as well as interim pastor for a church in the Interior, while Ann directed the Children’s Ministry at a local Presbyterian Church.
After returning to the US in 1974, James pastored several area churches: Trinity Baptist Church in Ensley from 1974 to 1976, Birmingport Baptist Church from 1976 to 1980, and Tarrant Methodist Church from 1981 to 1983. In 1988 he was called to Docena Baptist Church where he remained until he retired in 2000.
In 2001, James and Ann joined Westwood Baptist Church where he taught a men's Bible study class for many years, was known for his faithfulness to the Pray Chapel and visiting those in need.
A big project that was dear to James' heart was restoring the Files Cemetery and helping found the Files Cemetery Trust in May 1996. Many hours of personal labor were spent clearing and improving the cemetery and James was faithful to attend the annual meetings every May. James opened the meetings with prayer every year through May 2019.
In addition, James had many hobbies which included growing a big vegetable garden every year, going with Ann to St. Vincent’s Fitness Center three times a week, and doing woodturning in his workshop. His children, grandchildren and friends were gifted many creative and beautiful pieces. He was already in his late 70s, when he became an avid woodturner, joined the Alabama Woodturners Association and attended the monthly meetings in Homewood. James built his own workshop/garage and a big deck and garage for his daughter next door.
A private family graveside service will be held at Hopewell Cemetery in Hanceville, AL on Friday, April 3, 2020.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Westwood Baptist Church, 2349 Forestdale Blvd., Birmingham, AL 35214. Website: westwoodbc.net
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