I beg your indulgence for a little bit. At the end of September my dad, Jesse Jenkins, will retire at age 93, from preaching. He will have been preaching for seventy years. While his mind is still sharp, he feels like his delivery is not what he wants it to be. Also, my mom, age 90, is requiring a little more of his attention.
During World War II, Dad served in the Merchant Marines. For years they had not been recognized as a branch of the armed forces. President Reagan changed that. The Merchant Marines were a floating target for submarines. They went unprotected. Percentage wise, the Merchant Marines lost more men in the war than any other branch, except the Marines. All branches of service were dependent on them to deliver the goods they needed to live.
After a few years of owning his own gas station, selling National Life Insurance, and doing fill in preaching for a few years, in the summer of 1955 Dad moved to Irving, Texas to begin to work with the Westside congregation. Dad was Westside’s first preacher. It was a brand-new work, and this was his first “full-time” work. He helped the church learn the truth and stand for the truth on institutionalism. He then worked with Calmont Avenue in Ft. Worth, Texas. From there he moved to Tucumcari, New Mexico and then on to Odessa, Texas. His next move was to Denton, Texas where he stayed for eleven and a half years. Leaving Denton, he moved to Cedar Park, Texas. He then moved to College Station, Texas and then on to Oklahoma City. Finally, he has been with the Benchley congregation in Benchley, Texas the last twenty-four years. Benchley is eight miles north of Bryan, Texas. He has also been serving as one of the elders since 2000. Except for leaving Westside, there was always a purpose behind every move. He left Westside after five years because he thought that was what a preacher was supposed to do. In all his moves, it is the one he regrets.
Dad loves God’s word. He loves God’s people. If people miss this, they miss the heart of who he is at his core. I have never heard my dad say a disparaging word about any Christian. Even those who have not treated him well, and they have been few. Dee Bowman said to me one time, “Your dad is a man you can disagree with and still be brothers. He is the easiest man I know to disagree with.” While working with the Twin Cities church in College Station, there was a workday one Saturday. Dad and another man were working in the same area. This man, who was a little older than dad, told him, “Jess, you just don’t know how to preach.” Of course, dad had been preaching years by this time. When dad moved from Oklahoma City back to Benchley in Bryan, that man was a member there. Later, that man was diagnosed with cancer. Guess who took him to many of his chemo treatments? That’s right, the man who did not know how to preach. Dad also participated in preaching his funeral. That man came to understand Dad did know how to preach.
Dad has had multiple debates through the years. He felt a responsibility to defend the truth. At times, his opponents would not be very nice. He never responded in kind. As I said, there were very few times when brethren were ugly to Dad. But, when he tells of them, he always says, “I just had to throw the mantle of love over them.” On one occasion, right after Dad moved to Tucumcari, New Mexico, he and Jerry Ray went to talk to one of the men who had just split from the Third Street congregation over institutionalism. While talking to the man, he became enraged and made a couple of attempts to hit Dad with his fist. Jerry Ray told the man he might not want to keep doing that. He told him Dad had boxed in the Merchant Marines and had medals to show it.
Dad ‘s preaching is direct yet loving. He told people what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. I liken him to Haggai. He was to the point. Dad never preached out of “getting even.” I must admit, as his son, he often told me what I did not want to hear, too.
When I was in college at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas, I had stopped attending church. Somehow my mom found out and she told dad. I was home one weekend and the house was conspicuously absent of all but me and dad. He called me in to the den. He asked me to sit down and I still remember what he said. “Your mom tells me you have stopped attending church. Is that so?” Well, what was I going to do? Lie? So, I said, “Yes sir.” He asked why. Then I said, “I am tired of being asked if I am Jess Jenkins’ son.” He responded, “Well, son, I can’t do anything about that.” There was more conversation about a few other things I was involved in. The way he talked to me and treated me was wise and filled with a father’s love. That was not why I had stopped attending. I had stopped because I wanted to. I must admit, what I said was selfish and shameful. I have regretted it ever since. He has never brought it up again. He threw the mantle of love over me. Now, I want to be asked if I am Jess Jenkins’ son! I am proud of him and I am proud to be his son! I have heroes, but he is my hero of heroes!
Dad is well known and well respected in Texas. I often go places where someone will come up to me and tell me, “Your dad baptized me.” “Your dad did our wedding.” People tell me how he helped them through a difficult time or helped them understand a passage better. I am always so proud to be his son! Sometimes, you must go through foolishness to realize what a treasure you have.
Dad loves his wife, four children, nine grandchildren and twenty-six great grandchildren. Mom is his sweetheart and has been for seventy-three years. She fell recently and broke her arm between the elbow and shoulder. She had to have surgery to repair it. There was serious concern for her being anesthetized at age 90. I saw how deeply he loves her and how deeply she loves him. While in the hospital she would ask my younger sister, “How is your dad? I need to get home to him.”
In my estimation, there are few men who have a better of understanding of the church, her work, and her organization, than my dad. Bob Owen thinks so too. He asked Dad to write about the church in his book, The Church of Jesus Christ, Essays in Honor of Bob and Janelle Owen. Men of my generation, and now especially the younger generation, need to have his understanding. In areas where judgement is involved dad will say, “If that is what the church wants to do I will do it too.” He would say that even when it was not what he thought best. But, let the truth be assaulted or challenged, and he will not give an inch.
Dad is retiring from preaching, not from studying, and not from being a Christian. David Watson has worked in partnership with dad for seventeen years at the Benchley church. David recently preached a sermon about dad. He talked about his humility, service and love. Dad loves the Benchley church too. The church loves and respects my Mom and my Dad. The other four elders treat him with respect and dignity. It is just my opinion, but the Westside church, the church in Denton and the church in Benchley are dad’s opus. To the elders, David, and the brethren at Benchley, “Thank you for loving my Mom and Dad. Thank you for being great partners with him in the work of Christ for twenty-four of the best years of their lives.”
Finally, at ages 93 and 90, the years remaining are few. Their life has been successful and full. The disappointments have been few. Their love for each other is deep and abiding. Their love for God is unwavering. So, Mom and Dad, for Kim, Marva and Ted, Marty, Jody and myself, all the grandchildren and great grandchildren, “We love you!” Thanks for the wonderful example! Thank you for showing us the Lord!
by Rickie Jenkins