Blogger and minister John Dobbs has asked his fellow bloggers to write about those ministers who have influenced our lives. John has called this “Passing the Torch.” So I would like to share three individuals who have influenced me.
First off is Lee C. Camp. Lee was a youth minister in South Bend, Indiana where he was also pursuing his doctoral degree at Notre Dame when I met him as a young twenty-three year old adult. By that time I had already decided that I wanted nothing to do with Christianity and church after witnessing some poor examples growing up. However, after the sudden passing of my father, I decided to accept my sister’s invitation to visit her church where Lee was a youth ministry. Because I am naturally very intuitive and always wanting the ‘inside’ of what makes a person tick, I am always sizing people up (whether that is a good or bad thing is another conversation). Lee struck me as different from many Christians in that he did not come off as having everything all figured out (something I was not used to in the Churches of Christ) plus he seemed more interested in pursuing Jesus than issues which translated into the way he treated people. This grabbed my subtle attention and I began visiting the youth classes which he was teaching about God (and as I recall, from the book of Romans) and it is here where I decided that I wanted to be a follower of Jesus and teach others about Jesus…and thus I was called into the mission.
Secondly is Ricardo Maia. Many will not recognize this name because far from the Churches of Christ spotlight, Ricardo faithfully serves as a missionary and evangelist in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Though Ricardo earned a degree in Bible and Ministry from Harding University, he returned to serve God in his native homeland. I first met Ricardo on a mission trip to Brazil with Harding University in 2000 and then had the pleasure to serve with him when my wife and I returned to Brazil in the summer of 2001. Since then Ricardo and I have remained friends and have traveled together in the US when he is here speaking with congregations that support him. What struck me about Ricardo was his love for God and people and the way this translated into his approach to ministry. Ricardo is not focused on administration and running programs, though he is quite capable of both. Instead, Ricardo is focused on developing relationships with people, serving them, and sharing with them the life that God has created them and is redeeming them to. Ricardo has not only been involved in preaching and church-planting but is very involved in the youth camp near Belo Horizonte, not just as a director, but as a mentor and friend to the youth. One is more likely to find Ricardo mentoring a young person wanting to serve God or praying with a family in their home than they are to find him sitting in an office. My time spent with Ricardo in Brazil helped me clarify what sort of minister (preacher, evangelist, pastor, etc…whatever you want to call it) churches needed and that I should be – a missional-minded minister who builds dialogical relationships with people for the glory of God.
Lastly is John Mark Hicks. I entered Harding University Graduate School of Religion for the fall semester of 2002. Only two weeks earlier, my son, Kenny, had passed away. In hind sight, beginning a graduate theological education right away may have not the most cathartic decision but that is a moot point now. I was devastated emotionally and soon the spiritual havoc that such a tragedy wreaks would follow. By the time I met Dr. Hicks, as I know him, he was speaking at the ministry forum on the subject of Spiritual Transformation and spoke about how God has worked through his own suffering in the death of his first wife, the death of his son, and a subsequent divorce. Though he was not my professor yet, he became my teacher that day. I approached him with a simple question “how do I learn to pray again?” At the time, it had been about year since I had prayed and my faith in God was crumbling because I could not reconcile the God I knew with the meaningless death of my son. You can read more about that here. After speaking with Dr. Hicks, he sent me home reading the book of Romans for which I read, reread, and reread several other times until God spoke (not literally) and reminded me that he was going to finish his work of redemption in me even if I did not understand everything that happens on the journey (especially something like human suffering). It was a liberating moment that restored my confidence (faith) in God again. Since then I have had the pleasure of having Dr. Hicks as a professor where he continued to teach me how to trust in God even when God remains mysterious and makes little sense.
Of course there are many others who have had a Godly influence upon my life that deserve mention. I chose Lee Camp, Ricardo Maia, and John Mark Hicks because their influence has not only shaped my faith in God but also has helped shaped what I believe is important in Christian ministry and how I want to proceed as a minister.