When The Christian Index learned that Bob Jolly, pastor of First Baptist Cumming, has had a long friendship with new International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood, Senior Editor Gerald Harris asked for the Cumming pastor to write a commentary commending Dr. Chitwood to our readers. Here is Bob Jolly’s encouraging and enlightening endorsement of the new leader of evangelical Christianity’s largest missionary sending agency.
The college student, with a young lady, knocked on the parsonage door my last day serving First Baptist Church of Jellico, Tennessee as pastor. I invited the two of them in and they sat on moving boxes with me.
“Brother Bob, I know you are getting ready to move, but Michelle and I have something we need to tell you before you go.” He cleared his voice and said, “God has called me to ministry and I have asked Michelle to marry me.”
You can imagine the joy I felt when God gave birth to my first “son in the ministry” and provided him with an incredible wife. The excitement and joy continued the day I read the news that the IMB board of trustees selected Dr. Paul Chitwood as their president.
I look back and marvel at all God has done in and through Paul and Michelle Chitwood. Paul graduated with honors from Cumberland College (now the University of the Cumberlands) and earned a Masters and a PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve had the opportunity to preach a revival at two of the churches he served and see up close and personal how much the local church has loved Paul and been blessed by his leadership.
He invited me to preach at his first church, a small rural congregation in the mountains of northern Kentucky, where I saw the love the church had for this young couple. It wasn’t long before First Baptist Church of Somerset, Kentucky called him and I had the opportunity to witness this church’s respect for the young pastor as they followed his lead.
Paul would serve Mt Washington Baptist Church and teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He would serve on the IMB board of trustees and chair the board for two years. He would then be called and elected to serve Kentucky Baptist as their executive director. Through each responsibility Paul has earned the trust and respect of colleagues around our convention.
To say I am proud of him would be an understatement and I want you to know why I am excited about his election as president of the International Mission Board.
I am excited because Paul is an evangelist. His first gospel conversation was with a fellow 4th grade student shortly after he was saved. I remember him sharing his faith, while I was his pastor, with the son of a local tavern owner and leading that young man to pray to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Paul was a leader in the youth group. I saw the other youth in our church follow his lead, not because he was the loud extrovert, but because he was the quiet, steady guy everyone could count on. He didn’t need a megaphone or pulpit, they wanted to hear from him. I am excited because Paul is an unapologetic Southern Baptist who believes our best days are before us.
I am excited because Paul loves Michelle. I watched their high school romance turn into a beautiful relationship that honors God as they love Jesus, each other, their family, their church, and their convention. I am excited because Paul and Michelle love the nations. Not only has Paul served the IMB as trustee, he has been faithful to lead his church and convention to support missions through praying, giving, and going. The Chitwood family has also welcomed and adopted a daughter from China and most recently completed the adoption of a child they had fostered.
Words are not adequate to express the love and admiration I have for Paul Chitwood. When Kathy, my wife of 36 years, died in 2015 I called Paul along with Dr. Bob White to preside at her funeral. He encouraged me, he comforted me, he loved on me, and he did the same for my adult children. He truly has a heart for people. And when God brought a beautiful woman of faith into my life once again, Paul was one of the first friends I called for advice.
The International Mission Board will be well served by Paul as he listens to God, loves on our missionaries, and works strategically with our IMB trustees. As you get to know him you too will be excited about the future of our IMB.