Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


June 4, 2014

Called to serve

I will never know if the student was serious or simply smile-seeking when he scheduled a visit to my office a quarter-century ago.

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. Gary 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, 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.


Dr. Don Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He may be reached by email at His website is Follow on Twitter: @donnewbury.

Text Only
  • Dr Don Newbury 2014.jpg Flipping out over flip-tops

    Somewhere between the admonition to avoid looks at gift horse’s mouths and the dangers of Greeks bearing gifts should be warnings about acceptance of gifts from offspring.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dick Platt 2014.jpg ‘Spilling doze count’

    My subject is borrowed from a local contributor to the Sarasota Herald Tribune named Bob Parkinson.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Deanna Kirk Water Park woes

    I’ve come to the realization that vacations are not a luxury, they’re a necessity.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dr Don Newbury 2014.jpg Old, new, borrowed, blue

       Dissection of notes found in the pocket of an old suit isn’t easy. Maybe they were scrawled during the lull in a wedding ceremony, or to jog my memory of a joke for later use.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dick Platt 2014.jpg Spam french fries

    I saw a relatively disturbing video and article on Yahoo which touted making Spam French fires to go alongside your big old ground chuck burger. I just can’t imagine a basket full of these deep-fried cholesterol-loaded sticks, but there they were, bigger than Texas.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Janet Jacobs Dumb and dumber in the blotter

    When it comes to dumb criminals, nothing beats the would-be gang of car burglars who tried to break into a car in Tampa, Florida, this past week.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Belcher, Bob.jpg ‘Change’ — old "buzz word" shows up in our town

    If you pay much attention when you’re driving around town lately (and I really hope that you do — pay attention, that is) you can’t help but admit we’ve seen some “change” as of late. And, contrary to the political connotations that word will forever carry with it now, that “change” we’re seeing is good.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Tinsley Germany present and past

    Last Sunday evening my wife and I stood on the balcony of our apartment in Nuremberg and watched as fireworks lit up the sky.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dr Don Newbury 2014.jpg Where strawberries are king

    In 1949, when Stilwell, Oklahoma’s “Strawberry Festival” was just one year old, crooners were applauded when they cut loose with Dear Hearts and Gentle People.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dick Platt 2014.jpg My TV is held hostage

    Give me back my TV! The Sunday sports fare today is just pitiful as far as I am concerned. Over the past weeks, my normal sports programs has been rudely preempted by endless hours of Wimbledon tennis, the Tour de France, assorted motor sports, and the nauseating mega-million signing sagas of LeBron James and Carmello Anthony

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways
Featured Ads
Twitter Updates