By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
COLUMBIA — Stroking his long, gray beard and pausing occasionally to collect his emotions, Jay Binkley shares his story about how he came to know Jesus.
It’s a modern-day Road-to-Damascus narrative, complete with the persecution of Christians — at least those who dared to come onto Binkley’s property.
“I wasn’t a good man,” said Binkley. “I had an attitude toward people: I didn’t like them. And for years, I didn’t want to have anything to do with God.”
During that stage of his life, Binkley was admittedly confrontational and hot-tempered. “If you cut me off in traffic, I might follow you home and get out of my car with an ax handle. That’s just how I was.”
He also said he was known to chase away unwanted visitors — especially those who were attempting to share a spiritual message — by flashing a shotgun.
So how, exactly, did Binkley become the outspoken believer that he is today? How did he go from being a man who brewed whiskey at his home to a man who now witnesses at Walmart, marching up and down the aisles with a large Bible in his hand?
It all started with a simple invitation to church.
Roughly three years ago, while waiting for his car to be serviced, Binkley had a random encounter with a stranger that turned out to be a life-changing event. “I was approached by an elderly gentleman, and he told me that he had just come from an amazing day at his church. He said that he went to Highland Park Baptist Church (in Columbia) and that they have an amazing pastor. He said ‘We have service on Sunday morning at 11 a.m., and we’d love to have you.’ ”
Binkley initially had no interest in following through on the invitation, especially since he lived 38 miles from the church. But he wasn’t able to let it go. For months, he was “haunted” by the idea of going to church.
“The name Highland Park just stuck in my head because when I was growing up, we lived near a park called Highland Park,” Binkley said. “So, I just kept thinking about what the man said to me.”
Finally, more than a year later, Binkley decided there was only one thing to do.
“I told my wife one day, ‘I think I am going to go to Highland Park Church,’ ” said Binkley. “I think my wife thought she was talking to a stranger.”
True to his word, Binkley attended Highland Park the following Sunday. And on that day, he literally came into the light.
“I sat on the back row, under the balcony, in the dark,” said Binkley. “During the invitation, I was listening to the prayer — and that’s when the miracle happened. I bowed my head during the prayer, and when I lifted my head, I was one-third of the way down the aisle. With each step, I felt my load get lighter.”
Binkley surrendered his life to the Lord and became a different man. Simply put, he caught fire for Christ.
These days, he looks for any and every opportunity to share his faith, relying on his two conversation-starters — his beard and his Bible — to break the ice with strangers.
He can be spotted all around Columbia, smiling, laughing, and talking about his church and his faith to people of all ages and backgrounds. Binkley has recently moved to Columbia so he can serve the church and the community that he has come to love.
“He is so genuine and so sincere about sharing Jesus,” said Proctor. “Shortly after he was saved, he bought a big Bible and started carrying it at Publix. Now he takes it to Walmart, hoping people will approach him.”
Binkley’s boldness has no boundaries — and no time constraints.
“God has called me into evangelism,” said Binkley, “and I go into the streets and the shops, spreading the message to anyone I can. I will go to Walmart at 3 a.m., carrying my Bible. And you’d be amazed how many people want to talk about Jesus at 3 a.m. at Walmart.”
Bob Crichton, a member and lay leader at Highland Park, has become close friends with Binkley, and the two men often go door-to-door, witnessing, and inviting people to church.
“He does it every day; we can’t keep up with him,” said Crichton with a laugh, adding that Binkley has become involved in many areas of the church’s life. “Jay has a great ability to connect with people.”
So what about the beard?
“It has become a trademark of mine, I guess,” said Binkley. “When I talk to children, I tell them that I am not related to Santa Claus, but I know a man who is even greater than Santa.”
And the giant-sized Bible?
“You don’t send a man into battle without a weapon, do you? Well, the Bible is my sword,” said Binkley. “There is power in this book.”
Jay Binkley is living proof of that. Just ask anyone at Walmart on a random night at 3 a.m.