By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Psalm 144:4 (HCSB) reminds us, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
That verse became real to me this year as I realized that 40 years ago this month, God started me on a journey I never expected. I had my plans, but I soon learned that plans made without God rarely pan out.
When I graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1980 with a journalism degree in hand, I knew I would soon be the Gamecocks beat reporter for the Greenville News, but that’s not what God had in mind.
I had never actually worked for a newspaper before, though I had articles published while in college, so God led me to the Northwest Sentinel, a community newspaper in the upstate.
It’s mother paper was the established Pickens Sentinel in the next county over from where I lived. The editor, Ben Bagwell, wanted someone who lived in the area to serve as news editor. I loved it. He became a mentor and friend and helped me become a better journalist along the way.
But, I soon discovered I would not make much of a living at a small weekly paper. God worked it out by giving me another part-time position at North Greenville College (now University), a Baptist school where I earned my associate’s degree while it was still a junior college.
Actually I discovered that two part-time jobs with a newspaper and a small college were barely enough for me to scratch out a living, but I loved both positions. God was not through. He later arranged for me to move into full-time Christian ministry by moving me to Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) in public relations and later the Education Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention where I would be involved in communications and edit my first Southern Baptist publication, The Southern Baptist Educator.
It was at the Education Commission that I began to write stories for Baptist Press, both as part of my job and during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meetings.
Dan Martin, then editor of Baptist Press, was one of the best journalists I have ever known. He taught me the “ins and outs” of the profession.
During that time I came to know a lot of folks who worked at Baptist state papers and I knew that was where God wanted me to be. In 1988, former B&R editor Wm. Fletcher Allen hired me as his associate editor and I have been on the staff ever since.
When Fletcher retired in 1998 I wanted to become the editor, but for the most part, the paper did not have a history of promoting from within. But again, God opened door after door and in September of 1998, I was elected as editor of the B&R. Looking back, I realize that every position I held prepared me for the next one.
The journey has not always been easy but God has been with me every step of the way. Criticism has never bothered me that much. Having been a journalist and a baseball umpire gave me a pretty thick skin. The only time I really got upset was when a pastor questioned my salvation once. God took care of that for me and called him to another state.
What has overwhelmed me has been people, who over the years, have told me how much the paper has meant to them. A few weeks ago, I received a text from Joyce Rickman, wife of TBMB staff member and longtime Tennessee pastor Gary Rickman. She asked me to call because Elizabeth Vantrease, her 94-year-old mother, wanted to talk to me about the paper.
I called and we had a wonderful conversation. She basically had read the paper her entire life. She told me how that when she was a child, her mother would read the Bible and the B&R on Sunday afternoons to her children and her daddy who could not read. What an incredible testimony.
Joyce later told me that the conversation “made” her mother’s day. It also made my day and year for that matter. It was just another confirmation that I never was meant to be a beat writer for the Gamecocks.
I recently read this verse from Psalm 40:5 (HCSB) that sums up the past four decades. “Lord, my God, you have done many things. Your wonderful works and plans for us; none can compare with you. If I were to report and speak of them, they are more than can be told.”
God has blessed me by allowing me to serve Him and Tennessee Baptists through the ministry of writing and helping to tell His stories.