May 4, 2017

Uncle Keith

I was young in my faith, new on campus, and four hours from home. I had a couple of local connections … but did not know a single fellow student. It’s daunting to think what may have become of me had a man in my home church (an alumnus of the same university) not said to me: ‘When you get to Ole Miss, don’t bother with joining a fraternity, go to the Baptist Student Union.’ And then one day, before classes had even begun, came a knock on my dorm room door, inviting me to – guess where – the Baptist Student Union (or BSU as we called it)! And so I went. And I saw lots of other students committed to this ministry, and to Christ. And I saw, on a video, a pretty young lass from Louisiana, inviting people to be a part of a prayer ministry. And I even signed up to be a part of a guys’ discipleship group!

Soon afterward, the BSU director, Keith Cating – a tall and rather imposing figure (with a head shaved completely bald!) – walked up to me, handed me a slip of paper with a Bible verse or two written on it, and said: ‘Memorize these verses for our meeting next week.’ And when you’re nineteen, and a big, strong man walks up to you and says such a thing … well, I guess you do it! And so I did! I learned the verses, and I showed up to the meeting along with three other guys my age. And, over the weeks, we memorized more scripture. And we talked about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And, rather important among it all, we simply had an older man, a more mature Christian, spending time with and taking an interest in us concerning the things of God.

'Discipleship.'  This is Keith's watchword.  Making and shaping followers of Jesus.  And this was what Keith was doing with me and these other young men (and so many more through the years) - discipleship!

And so, thank God for Keith Cating! He was crucial at that stage of my life – surrounded as I was by collegiate temptations, potentially very lonely had God not provided this fellowship, and (little did I know it) being prepared by the Lord for a calling to gospel ministry (part of which has included my own opportunities to be the older man, spending time with and taking an interest in younger men concerning the things of God).  

Eventually Keith became ‘Uncle Keith’ (by means of his niece, the pretty young lass from Louisiana!) … and I am so thankful for him as an uncle! But I first knew him as the man who discipled me; who walked beside me, and showed me how to walk with the Lord.  Where might I now be without such a helper sent from the Lord?

And, as I think about his impact upon me, it occurs to me that, in some way or other, we should all grow up to be a Keith Cating for someone; a Paul for some Timothy. Because of his calling to campus ministry, Keith had a chance to disciple many, many people. And, though we may not all have quite the same volume of opportunities, yet as we mature in Christ ourselves, surely each of us can, in our own measures, be that older man or woman – working through the scriptures with some younger believer; teaching them how to walk with the Lord; and just walking with the Lord with them, and before them.

This week, after 36 years of ministering to college students like me, ‘Uncle Keith’ retired. And I salute him, thank him, and wish him all the Lord’s best in this next stage of his life. And I hope this little tribute to him will commend his disciple-making example to those who read it. It was worth it, Keith! And it will be worth it for all of us who make the same investment!