25 Years Ago Today. How it All Started

(Note: This post is very long. It is the longest thing I’ve written. It is more like a short story. I thought about breaking it up into multiple posts but decided that the story is best told all at once. It is the story of how this day in history happened in my life 25 years ago. If you are going to read it in one sitting, you probably need 12-15 minutes. I hope you enjoy!

August 23, 1996

25 Years Ago Today

“A man’s mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”Proverbs 16:9

It was around 7:30pm, I think, as I walked into a building on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. There were probably 20-30 people in the room.  Coffee was being served. People were just hanging out. There were two guys at the front playing guitar and singing. One of the two, Phillip Sweet, would later go on to win multiple Grammy Awards in the country group Little Big Town. Why was I there? That is a pretty deep question.  The simple answer is that it was my first day on the job. I was the new assistant campus minister for the Baptist Student Union. But it was not just my first day on the job. It was my first day in Little Rock.  But more importantly,  it was day 1 of 25 years of vocational ministry.  It was 25 years ago today. 

Until that day, I had never been to Little Rock, Arkansas. So why, or better yet, how did I get there? Thanks for asking.

I Was in a Rock Band

To really answer that question, I need to back up in time about a week. No, really about 3 months. Actually, I could keep going back, but 3 months will work. I had been playing in a rock band for a little over a year. Not a christian rock band. We really had nothing to do with Jesus. We were just a small-time rock band based in Athens, Ga. and we weren’t too bad. It was everything that you could imagine that the small-time rock band life would be. That’s about all I can say about that. My job was to play guitar and write songs. It was fun.

Now, this is where it gets weird. I haven’t told this part of my story to a lot of people because of how weird it sounds. Ultimately, “weird” is not even the correct word.  The correct word is “God”. God decided that He was tired of me messing around. I guess He wasn’t very impressed with my playing. Our band was playing one night at a fraternity house on the campus of the University of Georgia. You need to keep in mind that I wasn’t thinking about God at all. I was just thinking about rock and roll. But there we were in the middle of playing a song that I had written and everything in my mind went into slow motion. Everything in the room went into slow motion.  I felt detached from what was going on around me.  And, no, it wasn’t because of any chemicals in my system. It was weird. It was God. 

I want to be careful here because I get a little nervous when I hear people say things like, “God told me.” That gets abused too often. For me, there have only been a handful of times in my life where I have known without a doubt that I heard God in this way. This was one of them. What I heard was like the voice of a loving and correcting father saying, “What are you doing? Is this how you are going to treat a gift that I have given you? I have so much more for you than this.”  I was completely caught off guard.  I did not know what to do. All I knew was that everything was about to change. When the gig was over I just wanted to go home.

I think I played a couple of more shows with that band. I didn’t know what to tell them.  One night I just didn’t show up to a gig.  I did them wrong. I was confused. I really loved those guys. We had so much fun together. When I finally worked up the courage to tell them, “Jesus made me do it”, they had a hard time understanding, which is understandable. I didn’t really understand. A few months down the road, we were able to talk it all out, but for the moment it was over.

Dames Ferry in a bar somewhere: Left to Right: Doug (me), Jason, Wilson, Scott, JJ on drums

My Next Move

Now, getting to college ministry in Little Rock from a rock band in Athens sounds like a leap. Well, it is. I really need to back up about 7 years but I am not going to.  I will just say it like this, early in college I had one of those “God told me” moments where He had revealed to me that I would be in vocational ministry after college. I just happened to take a few detours along the way that weren’t great. But, then again, there are probably not a ton of people that can say, “I heard God speak while playing in a rock band at a fraternity party in Athens, Ga.”  That would make a great t-shirt and I am probably in a fairly elite and small fraternity (see what I did there?).

The only thing I knew to do at that point was to move forward.  Figure out the next step and take it. For me it was clear, go to graduate school or as they call it for people preparing for ministry, seminary. Now I never liked school and was never very good at it, so going back was huge.  I had every insecure thought possible that could be summed up into one question, “Do I have what it takes?” I knew that I could play a pretty mean guitar solo but did I have what it takes to get a masters degree in theology. It was intimidating. 

It is important to keep in mind that the whole thing in Athens happened in May of 1996.  Seminary classes would start in late August. Time was not on my side for figuring out where to go to seminary, apply (hopefully get accepted), explaining it all to my family, moving, etc, etc, etc. So I scrambled and decided that I would set my sights on New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. Great food. Great music. Maybe even a decent theological education. So I applied.  I hunted down a couple of people that were brave enough, and did not know about my career as a rock god, to fill out references.  I ordered transcripts. I filled out forms.  I mailed it all in. It was now early August and the clock was ticking. 

Let me give you a quick refresher of what you read at the beginning, “A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” That is Proverbs 16:9.  That verse was on a little black framed plaque that my grandmother, Granny, had given me when I was in college. It sat in my room for years and I think it was God’s gift to me for this moment in August of 1996.

Saying Goodbye

At this time I was living with one of my grandmothers, Mema, in Macon, Ga. She was so good to take me for a couple of months. I ate really good those two months! I was about a week away from my move to New Orleans and it was time to go say my official goodbyes to my mom and dad in Gainesville, Ga.   I remember both of those conversations very clearly. My mom and I sat together in her living room and cried.  She cried so hard.  I remember saying to her, “I will only be in New Orleans for about 3 years and then I will be back.” She cried. I cried. It was hard. I didn’t want to leave her.

From there I went to see my dad at his office. He was a banker. There are so many reasons that I am grateful for my dad. One of them is that he has always told me “I am proud of you.” Even when he has not fully understood what I was up to, he has always supported me. Not every young man can say that. I sat across his desk from him and we talked a little then he handed me a check for $1200 to help me get settled into life in The Big Easy. He gave me a big hug and I drove back to Mema’s house for a few days before moving.

The Phone Call and the Chair

I think it was Monday and I was getting excited and nervous about my move to New Orleans.  There was also something important missing. I did not have any information from the school about what to do when I got there.  Classes started in a week.  I didn’t have a class schedule. I would be living on campus.  I didn’t have any information on where my room was. So I called the school to get help.  The lady I spoke with put me on hold for a minute so she could look into my file.  When she returned, she said something like, “Mr. Hunt, it seems that the person who was handling your admissions went on vacation and never completed your file. You are not enrolled so we can’t give you a class schedule or housing assignment.”  I don’t remember what I said.  I hope it was nice.  She did say they would work on it and get back to me. The clock was ticking and I did not want to drive to New Orleans only to find out that “working on it” didn’t work. 

I was really trying to follow Jesus.  Really trying to get it right. But things were not going the way I thought they should. They were not going according to my plan. There I was a few days from my move to New Orleans and it was falling apart. 

Enter Tim. Tim Smith. Could there be a more exoctic name than Tim Smith?

Actually, Tim was already around sort of. Tim is a guy I met during my final senior year of college three years earlier. I won’t go into everything about our friendship here but he saved my spiritual life. He had taken me under his wing that year when I was in a rough spot. Why, I still don’t know. We became very close and he showed me what it looked like to follow Jesus. He, as I would put it, discipled me. He had a profound impact on my life. 

On this particular day, as I was in New Orleans Seminary limbo, I decided to call Tim and just tell him what I was up to.  We had not talked in probably two years. He was now the Director of the Baptist Student Union at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock (Ah Ha!). We had a little small talk.  I told him about my rock band life. He gave me their latest news. It was great. Then I began to tell him about my plans to head to New Orleans and how I was waiting on them to get their act together. Without blinking (actually I don’t know that since we were on the phone. He may have blinked. We will never know.) He said “Why don’t you just move out here to Little Rock and work with me?  There is a seminary extension here for Southwestern Seminary you can go to?”  I think my response was something like, “Uh. I don’t even know where Arkansas is and I just need to stay the course with New Orleans.” That was about it. Just before we said goodbye, he said, “Well I’m going to go ahead and make a couple of calls.  I will call you back tomorrow.”  Then we hung up. 

Me and Tim in Alaska, spring of 1998

In my room at Mema’s house was a chair that I sat in everyday to read and pray.  It became like Holy Ground to me. I am actually sitting in that chair right now. I have a clear memory of sitting there working through a Bible study called Experiencing God. One of the big ideas of that study is to look where God is working and join Him.  It basically means that you do not have to manufacture the work of God. You can’t do that anyway. He’s God and we are not. But if you look around, you will see that He is already doing things and all that you need to do is jump in with Him. Where was God moving around me?

The phone rang.  It wasn’t God, directly.  It was just Tim. “Hey Doug.  I made a couple of phone calls. You have a job with me.  You can live with me and Lynette (his wife) as long as you need to.  I am overnighting some papers for you to fill out.  Bring them with you.  You start class Monday morning at the Southwestern Seminary extension in Little Rock.”  Where was God moving? I can remember it so clearly sitting there in Mema’s chair. God was not moving me to New Orleans. He was moving me to Little Rock.

The chair from Mema’s house. I still sit here daily and ask God to speak.

Goodbye Again and Hello

Remember I had already told my parents goodbye and that I was off to New Orleans.   Those were funny phone calls. “Hey dad.  Remember that time the other day that I told you I was moving to New Orleans?  Ha. Ha. Just kidding. I am moving to Arkansas.”  What went through their minds? “You are moving where?” 

The rest of the story of the start of the past 25 years is quite simple. I didn’t know how to get to Little Rock, Arkansas so I bought an atlas. I loaded everything essential such as guitars and clothing into my light blue 1986 Volvo, and on Friday, August 23, 1996 I left Georgia. I-20 to Birmingham. 78 to Memphis. I-40 towards Little Rock. I-440 around the south side of Little Rock and onto I-30. Right onto University Ave. Right onto 28th. Right onto Fair Park. Right onto 32nd and into the BSU parking lot. The next thing I knew I was hugging Tim.  I was standing in a makeshift coffee house on the campus of The University of Arkansas, LIttle Rock.  I had no clue what the next 25 years would bring.  I had no idea what I was doing. But there I was. 

It was day 1.

I wish I could remember everyone from that night.  Tim. Lynnette. Derek. Michael. Joey. Bridget. Amy. Tammy. Rebecca. Phillip. Doug (a different Doug)… There were many more. In the weeks that followed I was introduced to 3 more of the most influential men in my life. David James. Jackie Flake. Lewie Clark.  It is impossible to put into words how they have shaped my life and ministry. Simply put, they have loved me and believed in me, and still do. As a girl in our ministry now might say, they were “grace bombs” in my life. 

Then almost exactly a  year later, God dropped the most powerful “grace bomb” of all into my path, Shelley Greenwood who would become my wife. In a way it was somewhat poetic in the way we met. I think God was just being kind to me and redeeming a part of my past.  There I was on a stage playing guitar and she walked in. Nothing gets the ladies like the guitar player. Now it wasn’t a frat house but the church we would get married in on December 12, 1998. As my dad often says, “God could not have put a more perfect person in my life.”  She has kept me going and put up with so much. 

Me and Shelley, December 1997

25 Years Later

To quote songwriter Leon Russell, “I’ve been so many places in my lifetime.”  The past 25 years of ministry have taken us to many places. We have now been in Dalton, Ga. for the past 5 years. Every place has been used by God in unique and profound ways in my life. At times it has been really hard but at the same time an indescribable gift. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some incredible people and by God’s grace maybe even had a positive influence on a few.  In many ways it amazes me that I have made it this long.  I have wanted to quit plenty of times and I know it is only because of the kindness, patience, and grace of Jesus that I am still going.  He has been too good to me.  

There are so many stories that I could tell that fill up the last 25 years. There are crazy ones, funny ones, serious ones, and miraculous ones . But, what I really think about are all the people we have had the honor to encounter so far. I have a tiny understanding of what Paul felt when he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” I think about the men  along the way who have taken a risk on this has-been rocker; Tim, David, John, Ken, Kevin, Alfred, and Lewie. I am grateful.

I will finish up this little trip from Athens to Little Rock with this. There have been thousands of lessons I have learned along the way and am still learning.  To try and boil those down into neat little one liners or bullet points would be an injustice to the work of Jesus in my life. He is much bigger than bullet points. What I do pray more honestly and desperately than anything now is this; “Jesus I am nothing without You.  Help me be pleasing to You. Purify me. If in some way I can help anyone get closer to You, then please use me.”  To quote Jesus in perhaps His shortest prayer, “Father, glorify Your Name.” 

Like the old saying goes, “If God can find me in a rock band on stage at a frat house in Athens, Ga. and do something good with my life, then He can find and use anyone.” Wait, maybe that’s not an old saying, but you get the picture. David put it much better in Psalm 145:8, The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”

My mind planned my ways.  But the Lord has directed my steps. And that’s a good thing.


August 23, 2021

While Sitting in Mema’s Chair

P.S. – I do kind of miss playing in a rock band….

The Baptist Student Center, University of Arkansas, Little Rock

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