I want to take the day off from blogging about making disciples to wish a happy 91st birthday to my friend and mentor, Ernest Hollaway. Ernest has played a pivotal role in my life, and I would like to share that story today.
The story begins in 1962 when I first began to respond to a call into the Christian ministry. I had been a coop student at Georgia Tech working in Huntsville, AL for NASA on the Saturn 5 rocket’s guidance and control system. Recognizing that I would need a strong liberal arts background to prepare for the ministry, I decided to transfer to Howard College (now Samford University) at the beginning with my sophomore year. That same semester, Cliff Tharp transferred to Howard after two years at a junior college. Cliff and I became close friends, and that friendship will come back into play later in my story.
In 1964 I was selected by the Alabama State Baptist Student Union to serve as a student summer missionary in Taiwan. On my way to Taiwan, I spent a couple of days in Tokyo, Japan, where a missionary from Alabama was doing student work. He hosted me during my stay in Tokyo, and one of the visits we made was to the home of missionaries Ernest and Ida Nelle Hollaway. This was a brief visit, probably lasting no more than an hour or so; but it became background for Ernest’s role later in my life and career.
Now fast-forward to August 1977, after I had graduated from Samford, received three degrees from seminary, worked on the staff at one church, served as pastor at another, and was beginning my third year as a professor at Campbell University. I received a phone call from my friend Cliff Tharp inviting me to write a series of Sunday School lessons for the Adult Life and Work Curriculum Section at the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources). Cliff admitted that he was in a bind. He had wanted to get Peter Rhea Jones to write, but that had fallen through. As a last resort, he fell back on our friendship and asked if I would do that assignment. I agreed.
In January of 1978 I attended a writers conference to prepare for writing the Bible background material on a series of lessons related to Peter and his writings. At that conference I became reacquainted with Ernest Hollaway, who was then the manager of the Adult Life and Work Section at the Sunday School Board. Ernest also was the leader of the quarterly team of writers of which I was a part, and for a couple of days we worked closely together on exploring the biblical materials and study foci for the lessons that I would write. I had prepared well for the conference, and Ernest saw something in me that made him think I might be a good curriculum editor. At that time, I was looking for a new vocational direction; but I was focusing on the pastoral ministry. At that same writers conference, Cliff Tharp told me that he was in transition back to a previous job he had held in research at the S. S. Board, and he would be leaving the Adult Life and Work Section soon.
A couple of weeks after the writers conference, I received a call from the personnel department at the S. S. Board telling me that someone had expressed interest in me as a prospective employee and asking if I would be open to considering employment there. I had declined consideration of employment at the S. S. Board a couple of years earlier, when Don Whitehouse, the pastor with whom I had served in Louisville and who subsequently had moved to the S.S. Board, contacted me about my possible interest in working there. This time, I already had indicated my intentions to leave Campbell University at the end of the academic year; so I said I was open to the possibility.
In May of 1978 I began my 25-year career at the S.S. Board/LifeWay. Ernest Hollaway employed me, trained me, and supervised my work for over three-and-a-half years. In February of 1982, I became manager of the Youth Curriculum Section; and Ernest and I continued to work together as managers in the Youth-Adult Group. When Ernest retired at the end of 1984, I became his successor as manager of the Adult Life and Work Section.
Ernest is one of those people who know how to draw the best out of people. He was a wonderful manager and mentor for me, providing encouragement, guidance, and the wisdom of experience. He was generous in his praise and gentle in his correction. He gave me tremendous freedom to explore new ventures, one of which was my interest is seeing the S. S. Board move from editing on paper to editing and designing products on computers.
Ernest Hollaway is a Christian gentleman, a mission-minded follower of Jesus Christ, an unselfish servant-leader, a colleague, and a friend. I am grateful for the pivotal role he has played in my life, for the opportunities he opened for me, and for the ministry-model he has been for me through the years. Happy birthday, Ernest! May you enjoy many more!