The Idle American
It was early in my Howard Payne University presidency. The student, whose name I don’t recall, presented a gift. It was a colorful poster showing a beautiful mansion, luxury sedan, sports car, decked-out boat and huge motor home. “Five reasons I want a college education,” the caption read.
He proudly hung the poster on my wall. I chuckled, but made a mental note to remove it in a week or so.
Later, two other students requested to see it.
Tenderly, yet purposefully, one said, “That’s not the reason we want a college education.”
Screams at a rafter-rocking concert couldn’t have been more jarring. My face reddening, I removed the poster immediately.
The students, enrolled in the university’s then-new youth ministry program, had gently put me in my place.
How rich are we who have sensitive friends to keep us on our mission.
And how obliged I am for a small band of ministers who proposed consideration of the new program--one that has more than 200 graduates and now includes master’s study.
I’ve been thinking about two young men at HPU in the 90s. Wise beyond their years, they had much in common, including the absence of front teeth.
The older, Shawn Brown, lost a tooth to a baseball bat while a student at San Angelo Central High School. The other, Brad Echols, was short two permanent teeth that never grew in. (Dentists bridged his “gap” with braces and other measures, but a gaping space remained.)
Both had ill-fitting prosthetics they called “flippers” that were broken, misplaced, forgotten or lost regularly.
Shawn played college baseball for a year, but youth ministry at Bronte First Baptist Church almost 100 miles away—and courtship of Kathy Jo Muirhead, whom he married a couple of years later—used up his out-of-class hours.
Brad was bent on becoming a teacher and coach. Upon his HPU arrival, he continued playing tennis, having starred at Vernon High School. Upon college graduation, he spent two years at Terrell HS, then three as tennis pro at Plano’s Gleneagles County Club before returning to teach and coach in Vernon, his hometown.
Along the way, he married Erin Howell of Fritch. They were wed in 2002, and in 2005, he opted for fulltime ministry, first serving at his home church, FBC, before enrollment in the HPU master’s program.
In 2010, he began a four-year stint as youth minister at Cleburne’s Field Street BC. Erin, a Cleburne elementary school teacher, was cited this spring as her school’s “teacher of the year.” The couple has two children—Macie Claire, 9, and Beckett Neil, 6.
Oh, back to the missing teeth. An anonymous Cleburne church member underwrote the cost of extensive dental preparation--then a permanent implant--for Brad. Now, he has a prize-winning smile.
“Others-centered as it gets,” Dr. Gar y Gramling, said of Shawn and Brad.
He went on to describe both graduates as “exemplary students—none finer,” in a program he’s directed since it began.
A caring friend had earlier provided an implant for Shawn. After he and Kathy Jo married, they moved to Fort Worth where she’d teach during his graduate study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 1998, they joined Fort Worth’s Wedgwood BC. A year later, Shawn was felled by a gunman who killed six young people—then himself—during a Wednesday night prayer service. Two weeks shy of his 25th birthday, he was one of the first killed.
Dr. Al Meredith, in his 27th year as Wedgwood pastor, called the Browns “as good as it gets.”
Brad and his family are headed to Midland, TX, where he will be Minister to Youth at FBC.
Shawn’s widow, Kathy Jo, continues to teach in Fort Worth. She is now Mrs. Marc Rogers, and the couple has two sons—Seth, 11, and Samuel, 3.
With peace that passes our understanding, Kathy, an Eastland native, is forever positive.
“If we’d known the man was sick, we’d have invited him over. Shawn would have counseled him, and I’d have cooked dinner for him.”
Those with lives touched by Shawn and Brad credit them with far more than commonality of broad smiles and missing teeth.
Dr. Meredith, known for breaking into song during his sermons, cites a long-ago hymn that fits both men.
It’s the chorus of the late Kittie Suffield’s 1924 hymn: “Little is much when God is in it. Labor not for wealth or fame. There’s a crown and you can win it, if you go in Jesus’ name.”
Brad, 37, lives with the noble calling to serve; so did Shawn.