by Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HENNING — In 1944 Ira Singleton faced a tough decision.
The 18-year-old had joined the Army and was in basic training when he received word he had been granted a discharge. He later learned that his father and pastor had worked to get him the discharge because Singleton had been called to the ministry and had already preached his first sermon.
Singleton said he asked his superior officer, “Do I have to take it?”
When the officer responded that he did not, Singleton declined the discharge and remained in the Army.
“I didn’t want anyone to think that I became a preacher to get out of serving,” he said.
Singleton recalled that the nation was different in 1944 than it is today. People did not march against war, he recalled. For the most part people wanted to do what it took to support their country, he said. “I wanted to serve.”
Singleton was an infantry replacement so he faced combat in Germany two months before the war ended in 1945. “My life was in danger and I saw friends drop all around me. I could have been one of them,” he said.
Instead, God spared him and in 1946 he returned to the United States and began following God’s call for his life.
The Memphis native was ordained into the ministry at Buntyn Street Baptist Church in Memphis (no longer in existence) and served as pastor of several small churches in Tennessee while attending Union University in Jackson.
He also served for two years as director of missions for Beulah Baptist Association, headquartered in Union City, before resigning to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
After graduating from Southern, he served churches in Missouri and Arkansas and later as a director of missions in Kentucky. Singleton and his wife Georgia (now deceased) also served as missionaries with the Southern Baptist Foreign (now International) Mission Board.
After retirement he served numerous churches on a supply and interim basis. Fifteen years ago Singleton actually died while in the hospital but was revived by a team of doctors and nurses and continued to serve God during his retirement years. “God has blessed me,” he affirmed.
Earlier this summer, Singleton, now 91 years old, began serving as interim pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Henning, following the death of the church’s former pastor H.K. Sorrell (a lifelong friend of Singleton). He drives 74 miles one way every Sunday from Memphis to Henning.
Jerry Chipman, chairman of the deacons and song leader at Salem Baptist, said the church is honored to have Singleton as interim pastor.
“We think the world of him. He is truly a man of God,” Chipman said.
As for Singleton he said he is “overwhelmed” at the opportunities God has given him to continue to serve. “I really enjoy preaching God’s Word, ” he said.
With Veteran’s Day approaching (Nov. 11), Singleton observed that while America has its faults, “it is the best nation on the face of the earth for religious freedom. …
“We have dumped some of our Christian values but not all of them,” he added.
Reflecting on that decision to remain in the Army, Singleton has no regrets. In addition to fighting for the country he loved, Singleton was able to “share the gospel with fellow soldiers and I saw several of them come to know the Lord,” he said. “I see how God has worked in my life,” he added.
Though he has been termed a “hero” by some, Singleton says that’s not true. He describes himself simply as a flag-waving Christian.
“I have never considered myself a hero. I am an American who loves his country, his family, and, most of all, Jesus.”