By KATIE EUBANKS
Earlier this year, MCL called for nominations for our 2020 Christian Leaders of the Year. Our four winners share a few commonalities, like working in and around education, but each of them has a unique story of God’s leading in their lives. Also, two of them are technically “retired.” Good leadership has no age limit!
Bill is head of school at Mt. Salus Christian School, and an active member of Providence Presbyterian Church, both in Clinton. He and his wife, Kim, are former missionaries to El Salvador, and live in Bolton. They have four children.
From his nomination
“As a student (at Mt. Salus), it was evident (to me) that for Mr. Maner, as I knew him at the time … the classroom and the basketball court were a mission field. … Bill took members from the basketball teams, myself included, on mission trips to Guatemala, to give students an opportunity to share Christ and experience firsthand another culture.
“In addition to serving at Mt. Salus, Bill leads an open gym each week through Active Impact International to provide a safe place for local students to come participate in athletics … where the gospel is shared.
“Throughout (the COVID-19 pandemic), Bill led our faculty and staff with wisdom and calmness to complete last school year. Additionally, he stayed in touch with the families at our school to see if there were any needs … He has continued to lead with courage and wisdom (since then). No matter the task at hand, Bill never cuts corners, and always does everything with integrity and humility.”
– Mary Kathryn Whittle, counselor and dean of students at Mt. Salus Christian School
From pre-med to teaching
“God has his ways,” Bill says, laughing.
“I was always going to be a doctor. Growing up in Brazil and in mission work (with my parents), I always thought there was a need for medicine, and there is, so I went to (Mississippi College) doing the pre-med route.
“While I was in college, I worked at The Baptist Children’s Village, worked with the kids and did athletics. That’s something I always enjoyed. … but I kept thinking, ‘It’s got to be medicine.’”
Then he married Kim, and she went to grad school. Bill had to find a job.
“Lo and behold, Mt. Salus had a job opening as a teacher and (basketball) coach and athletic director. My background is the sciences and Spanish. So I taught Spanish, mainly … and anything with the sciences,” he says. “That’s something that God has kept going from there.”
Now, as head of school, “I want (us) to implement a global vision. I want our students to see there’s more out there … God is at work … and how can they be part of it.”
What he’s learned about leading
“Something the Lord’s really shown me more and more recently, the older I get, is, I think Christian leaders need to make sure they’re investing in the next leaders — mentoring, helping develop them,” he says. “In a ‘post-Christian’ era, I think that’s going to be very important.”
The biggest Christian leader in his life
“My parents, especially my dad. Being a missionary kid, that’s who I saw. My father started in church planting, but (later) it became more teaching (at) Bible institutes and seminaries. (He built) relationships with these students. He was involved in their lives. Many of them would ask him to be the pastor to marry them when they got married,” Bill says.
“(But) a lot of that, I really didn’t realize until he passed away about six years ago, and I got inundated with emails saying, ‘This is how your dad influenced me.’ What I realized was, he never wanted to be in the limelight. He was probably the most humble man that I know. He loved his students, and he had a passion for sharing the gospel.
“And my mom alongside him was also a teacher. They were the ones who will come to my mind when I think about ministry.”
Doris is Alumni Relations director, Pre-Alumni Council advisor, and national alumni association executive director for Tougaloo College, and an active member of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson. She lives in Jackson with her husband, Willie “Bill” Bridgeman, Jr. They have two sons (one living and one deceased), one daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren.
From her nomination
“Passionate, patient, persistent, poised, purposeful, pleasant, peaceful and prayerful; these words emphatically describe the servant-leadership of (Doris).
“As a fellow colleague/manager, I was able to witness firsthand the nurturing affect her leadership had on thousands of young people (via United Way) for more than 23 years.
“One special project (that Doris took on at United Way) was training (nonprofit) organizations in Blagoveshchensk, Russia, (at) Amur State University, through the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID). … None of the participants spoke English, and all of the sessions had to be translated. It is impressive that this servant-leader’s ministry has been favored across racial lines, generations and global communities.”
– Carol Burger, former colleague at United Way of the Capital Area, Inc.
Doris grew up in the Jackson area and attended Jackson Public Schools and Tougaloo College. Just a few years after graduating from Tougaloo, she returned there as an office manager, supervisor for work-study students, and assistant to the development director.
From there she went on to United Way, where she was director of youth programs for 23 years.
“And then when I left United Way, I went back to Tougaloo,” she says, laughing. “You know, you look at God’s sense of humor.”
Though she’s spent most of her time at Tougaloo in fundraising, development and alumni relations, she also works with students as advisor to the Pre-Alumni Council.
“(At Tougaloo) I am actually working with some of the students (whom) I worked with when I was at United Way,” she says. “Now I have the opportunity to work with them more as adults in college, and to look at their successes, and then to see many of them that are alumni and are very productive citizens out in the community.”
Doris has volunteered consistently for decades, but one of her favorite experiences was helping young men who were coming out of Job Corps, a free education and job-training program where “they could get a high-school diploma, and they could come back into the community and be fruitful,” she says.
“They would return back to the community, and they needed someone to steer them in the direction of getting housing, of getting education, of getting employment.
“You would call them … and kind of see where they were, and what kinds of things they had need of. And you would look into the community to see how you could meet those needs. There were so many organizations that United Way worked with that I could reach out to.”
The biggest Christian leader in her life
“My mother’s deceased now, but my mother and the spirit of my mother … She led in the church, she led in the community, but she always led bringing other people along,” Doris says.
“That’s the main thing that I learned about being a leader, is that you have to empower other people as you’re doing things, and that a leader does not stand alone. You may be called a leader, but … nobody can do everything by themselves.
“When we walked to church on Sunday mornings, Mama knocked on doors and took other people’s children to church. She never sent us to church, she took us.”
Dottie is a retired counselor and teacher, and an active member of First Baptist Jackson (FBCJ), where she worked in counseling and women’s ministry and recently served on the pastor search committee. She is the wife of the late Carl Hudson, and has three children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren (with two on the way!). She lives in Ridgeland.
From her nomination
“The first time I spoke with Dottie, I knew that she was a very special lady and someone I wanted to get to know. … Though she has ‘retired’ (from counseling), she never turns away a hurting heart. She willingly shares her time and wisdom when God sends her a ‘divine appointment.’ Her love for others is like a shining star.
“Dottie’s love for God and her fellowman, her faith and selfless servanthood, will surely earn her the cherished words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.’ (Matthew 25:21)”
– Charlotte Hudson, friend and former FBCJ member
When Dottie first married Carl, a preacher, she didn’t work outside the home. But expenses were adding up. So when Dottie and Carl were living in Bunkie, Louisiana, and the local high-school principal asked her to teach English, speech, and drama, she said yes.
“(Eventually) my counseling was getting in the way of my teaching,” she recalls.
“A student walked into my classroom (one day) and said, ‘Mrs. Hudson, I’ve got to talk to you,’ and I said, ‘School’s almost out. There are some magazines and books back there — go read for 30 minutes.’ And she said, ‘I will have committed suicide by then.’
“I turned to the class and said, ‘Go to page 45 and answer all 99 questions’ (so I could counsel her).”
Dottie went on to get her master’s in counseling, and continued counseling students in Louisiana. After she and Carl moved to Jackson, she counseled members and non-members at FBCJ. Sometimes she worked in both counseling and women’s ministry.
She officially retired at 85, but her heart for godly leadership has not slowed down.
For instance, in serving on FBCJ’s pastor search committee for approximately two years, she traveled to meet candidates, listened to their sermons online, and met with her fellow committee members every Wednesday night for sometimes two or three hours.
“It was quite an interesting experience, trying to find God’s will for our church,” she says. That process led FBCJ to hire Chip Stevens (MCL’s November 2019 cover story) as senior pastor in spring 2019.
The biggest Christian leaders in her life
Her grandmother: “She passed away before I was born. … She raised nine boys, who remembered her for her music and her laughter. I think if I had nine boys, they’d remember me for my screaming,” Dottie says, laughing.
“One man (in the town where she lived) said, ‘There’s only one person in this town who can witness to me, and that’s Cora Berry Leavell.’ She did, and he was saved.”
Ora Lee Love, a youth minister in Tampa, Florida: “I saw (in her) a happy Christian. I saw a Christian who could have fun and still was so real. She made it cool to be a Christian.”
Her father, the late Roland Q. Leavell, a pastor and president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary: “I marveled at some of the stands he took,” Dottie says. For instance, as a pastor during the violent days of the Ku Klux Klan, he condemned from the pulpit a recent lynching that he knew some of his congregants had participated in. (Some of them promptly walked out of the service.)
Martha is an ESL tutor, retired English and ESL teacher, and active member of First Baptist Jackson (FBCJ), where she’s taught with the Friend-to-Friend International Ministry for more than 40 years. She is the wife of the late Dr. Eugene H. Stockstill, and has two sons.
From her nomination:
“Christian Leader of the Year, actually years, is a perfect description of Martha’s determination to use every opportunity to touch others’ lives in the name of Christ. Martha has been a model of contentment in the Lord and has lived out Ecclesiastes 9:10, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’
“Martha has (helped) us better understand our birthright as daughters of the King, how to live victoriously despite the trials of this life, and how to put feet to our faith daily.
“Martha has also authored several original Bible studies for FBCJ’s Hallowed Hearts Bible study, which she co-founded. … Martha’s keen insight into God’s Word has enlarged our understanding of divine truth and has equipped this group’s members for greater kingdom service.
“Martha’s enthusiasm and joie de vivre uplift all who are in her presence.”
– FBCJ members Carol Craig, Sherye Green and Peg Guthrie
Martha grew up in Alabama and met Eugene Stockstill, or Gene, at a Baptist women’s college where they were both teaching. They married and later moved to Jackson, where they taught a Sunday school class for young married couples at FBCJ.
After 25 years of marriage, Gene died.
“I was 53 or 54,” Martha recalls. “I had not had to work (while we were married). And I thought, ‘What will I do? Who will take care of me?’”
She went back to school and got retrained in English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, which eventually led her to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. She taught ESL at Mercer from 1996 to 2001, including stints in Japan, China and South Korea.
She then returned to Jackson, where she led FBCJ’s internationals ministry and kept teaching ESL.
“Many ESL students are highly educated and know a lot of English, but the English doesn’t translate for college-level work,” she says.
Also, “many of these students are not believers, so it gives me an opportunity to talk to them about how a Christian lives and acts. If they’re Muslim or they’re Buddhist (or another religion) and you ask them (why), they’ll say, ‘That’s the prevailing thought of my country, that’s what my parents are’ — and they think Christians are the same way. And I have to explain that following Christ is a choice. And (that) our God gives us choices.”
Another profound lesson involves grammar and the gospel:
“(If) I’m working with someone who has no English … I start with (the statement) ‘God is love.’ And they’re amazed. Then we go to, ‘God loves you. God loves me.’”
Most recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martha has been tutoring ESL students via video chat. They live in metro Jackson but hail from as far away as Colombia, Japan, Vietnam and China. She also chats with former students in South Korea on a weekly basis.
The biggest Christian leaders in her life
“When I was younger, it was usually a Sunday school teacher, or someone doing music at the church, usually a young woman with a profound testimony — people in the church who were devoted. Not just surface Christians.”
What she’s learned about leading
“To listen with understanding. I’m a talker. I talk too much. So what I’ve learned is to listen with godly ears, so I hear more than what they think they’re saying.”