This seems to be a season of life in which many of my former "bosses" and/or mentors are passing on from this temporary life to the next eternal one. A few weeks ago I got word that Dr. Ray P. Rust had died. Dr. Rust was executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention when I served there as associate director of the evangelism department. He is certainly among those at the very top of the list of great leaders with whom I've had the privilege of serving. To say that I have long had the utmost respect for Dr. Rust is an understatement.
I have forgotten everything about my official job interview with Dr. Rust except for one brief part. And I remember that one brief part like it was yesterday. I might be off by a word or two, but I feel confident enough in my recollection to put the conversation in quotes.
After we had talked about a lot of other things, Dr. Rust said, "Bill, as you probably know there is a lot of division in our denomination right now with a lot of people choosing to be on one side or another. I'm not out to hire people from just one side. In fact, I'm not even going to ask you what side you're on. All I want to know is - do you think you can work with all of our people no matter what side they're on?" The magnitude of that attitude and question was immediately appreciated. This was a man I wanted to work for and hopefully get to know. I thought about my response, but I didn't have to think long. I simply replied, "Yes, sir, Dr. Rust. I believe I can do that."
As I said, I don't remember anything else about that day or about what I'm sure was a thorough and in-depth conversation. So I don't know if we then went on to talk about other things, or if he then offered me the job, or if he said he'd pray about it and get back to me, or whatever. As I'm writing this, I'm somewhat amazed that I don't even remember if I officially got hired that day, a few days later, or a couple of weeks later. But I sure do remember his position, his question, and my answer.
In those days and these days when people were and are indeed quick to pick a side and see everyone else as opposition and even enemies, Dr. Rust had a desire and commitment to bring people together rather than drive them further apart. I think and hope I already had that same desire, but I took seriously my answer to him that day. I remembered it as I interviewed and hired staff over the years. I remembered it as I worked with "our people" on both sides even when they sometimes had their own agendas that worked against the common goals that we hopefully shared.
It has been many years since I've worked for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, but I'd like to think the wisdom of Dr. Rust has continued to help guide me. In our ministry and simply in my desire and mission as a Christian to serve and follow the Lord, "our people" has expanded. "Our people" are not all Baptist. In a larger sense, "our people," are not even all Christians or Americans or anything else. God calls us to love and serve all people - even our enemies who are not on our side.
I think Dr. Rust understood that more than many did and do. He has already been missed and that will continue. We need more Dr. Rusts.
(I have other significant and fun remembrances of Dr. Rust that I will save for another post)