Four years ago, God called “home” one of my mentors, Dr. Newton Wilson. Newt hired me to teach at Belhaven College (now Belhaven University) in Jackson, Mississippi back in the summer of 1981. What an amazing opportunity! Those five years teaching in the departments of Bible and Christian Ministries remain as a significant and enjoyable block of time in my 45+ years in vocational ministry.
In June of 1986, Newt became president of this historic institution of Christian higher education, which was also his alma mater, and where he had met his lovely bride, Becky. According to the school’s website … “His nine-year term saw the greatest growth in College history, from just over 600 students to more than 1,100.”
Newt coined the phrase … “redeemed obedient personality” … to describe what it takes to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ. Since these three words characterized him as well, it was not surprising to see such growth. More importantly, the depth of spiritual character in the student body grew dramatically, too.
Most importantly for me personally, Newt became a mentor. He epitomized all the good of what it means to be a “southern gentlemen” … with an easy–going manner, a disarming sense of humor, a thoughtful and engaging intellect, a generous and warm heart … all capped off by a deep–seated passion to follow Jesus.
The apostle Paul indicated that a primary method for “equipping and mobilizing men to follow Jesus” is through mentoring …
- “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:2 (CSB)
What makes for a solid mentor, and what gets produced via solid mentoring are men (& women) with a “redeemed obedient personality.”
~ ~ ~
On a lighter note (but just as significant), Newt also taught me how to fish! … Mi’ssi’pi style!
I learned that large–mouth bass, holed up in the shallow ponds and lakes dotting the Mississippi landscape, are not attracted one bit to all the multi–colored lures and plastic worms you throw at ’em … unless … you first light up an extra–long Churchill cigar!
This was all new to a young, conservative Baptist from southern California! … but Newt’s calm and matter–of–fact Presbyterian demeanor convinced me to try. Very early, one balmy Spring morning, the two of us were floating in a flat–bottomed skiff in the middle of a multi–acre pond out in the country. There was barely enough light to make out the shoreline.
Eager to wet my line, I hurriedly tied–on a three-inch Rapala “top-water bait” with three grappling hooks attached to the underside. Newt calmly cautioned me to “slow down a bit” as he reached into his tackle box and fished–out two cigars … each more than half–a–foot long! Frankly, I had no clue what to do with it! … so he coached me how to remove and dispose of the wrapper … how to “cut, lick & light” the thing … and most importantly to me … how to avoid inhaling the smoke! This young Baptist’s lips had never even touched a cigarette!
What happened next still AMAZES me to this day! With a warm mist rising off the still, smooth pond, and just before sunrise, Newt explained (with his gentle Southern twang): “Ti’im … the bass won’t bi’ite until the smoke hi’its the pond. Watch it now! Let it curl off the end of your ci’igar. As soon as it kisses the pond, make your first cast.”
Now, I’m thinking (but not saying!) … “Say what?! …really?! … you’ve got to be kidding me!” … but I did as I was told! We were about 25 yards from the nearest shore, with lots of underbrush and tree branches hanging out over the water. As soon as the curl of smoke from my cigar made contact with the water, I straightened up my spine, pulled my forearm back, then flicked the top–water bait over my head toward the shore. I was extremely proud of myself as I watched the lazy arc of that first cast put the bait on target to splash down within a foot of the shore … but that never happened!
Just before my lure hit the water, a huge, large–mouth bass exploded out of the pond and swallowed half of it before crashing back down into the water. Fortunately, one of the grappling hooks was securely stuck into its lower lip, otherwise I would have lost this 2 lb. (3 lb?) trophy. So stunned by what just happened, I momentarily forgot to start reeling in the fish … until Newt coached me what to do next.
What a memory! … What a man! … What a mentor! As I mentioned earlier, our Heavenly Father called Newt home four years ago … to his gain and our loss … but the legacy of his “redeemed obedient personality” lives on in the lives of countless men and women influenced by his life. My “eyeballs keep sweating” as I re–write this tribute originally posted to the OC Bereans blog in April, 2013.
Peace & Joy!
P.S. Michael Hyatt, “Your Virtual Mentor,” has written an insightful blog post about the benefits of fishing … “9 Reasons You Need More Fishing in Your Life”