“Twins and Best Friends, Joe and Jim Willhite” are now separated for the first time in 88 years. Jim went home first. Death was the only thing that could slow Jim Willhite’s mortal life.
Brother Jim was in his element any time he was with people. On church building trips to Mexico, it was hard for him to sit still. He would walk up and down the aisle of the bus visiting with the people on board.
He was sharing homemade snacks and catching up with what was going in their lives. Every now and then Ruth would reach out, grab him, and sit him down.
Years ago, the 4-H International Convention was in Alberta Calgary. Jim had young people in his care who were not experienced travelers. Tennessee and Kentucky because it is so close, was the extent of their travels. Now they flew to Canada and were leaving the country.
One Canadian customs officials asked one of the 4-Hers, “Where are you from son?” He said with pride, “Cedar Hill, Tennessee!” The Customs agent countered, “Where’s Cedar Hill?” The 4-Her replied, “Between Adams and Springfield...”
Jim never forgot where he was from. He was from a farm on the Duck River at Hurricane Mills. From the farm Jim received the refreshing humility, common sense, and work ethic that followed him all the days of his life.
Mr. Jim was in his happy place with the Main Street Church of Christ, in his workshop, or up on the wall laying block on those Mexico church building mission trips. He had his cap, trowel, and his gloves.
My daughter Shelby has a picture of Jim saluting the troops with his trowel. He notched the handle for the 19 times he went.
I worked with him some days, setting him up. I would see he had plenty of mud/mortar and block. He tried to teach a number of us how to lay block with various degrees of success. If we had still been going Jim would have still been climbing the scaffold into his eighties.
Like Nehemiah, Jim was doing a good work and was not going to come down from the wall.
Jim was a happy man up on that scaffold. Durley McClarty from Collegeside Church of Christ in Cookeville introduced Jim to Rick Owens and this Mexico work. One hundred and seventy-five alumni of those cross cultural experiences reside in Robertson County.
Jim got Don Jenkins involved. Don made all 20 trips and took on more responsibility as Jim aged.
Jim was overjoyed when his children Edwin and Adelia went. Their spouses Barb and Andy and Barb went too. When the grandchildren were on the work site that was icing on the cake: Rachel, Mary Kate, the twins David and Andrea. Because of age, Paige and Will never got to go.
Jim got the biggest laugh when Durley would crow like a rooster, “cock a doodle doo!” Jim’s heart was so full when he saw people being productive for the Lord.
When Mexico became too dangerous to enter, Jim turned his attention toward Churches of Christ Disaster Relief. He was Secretary of the board. He was Secretary on many boards because he could take down the minutes in such legible handwriting.
When Hurricane Katrina hit back in 2008, the Main Street van was leaving from Springfield at least once a week taking workers to load trucks to send supplies to devastated areas. Whenever the call to load a truck comes, the van goes.
Jim spent several months on the gulf coast seeing the needs and helping Disaster Relief coordinate the response. He was out recruiting and encouraging others to grow through serving others. Mike McMurray retired from Post Office. His father Bill who recently passed away was already a Disaster Relief regular. Jim mentored Mike.
Mike would become an elder and is now on the board at Disaster Relief. Kevin Vaughn attributes Jim Willhite’s influence on him to developing a Main Street crew that regularly goes into tornado, flood, and disaster areas.
Jim never met a stranger. He could walk in a room of strangers and after ten minutes, Jim would made friends. He followed the Micah 6:8 map, “Love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God.”
J. T. owns a bait shop on the Dover Highway not too far from the Willhite fishing cabin.
Jim pondered one day, “I wonder if anybody ever bring this man any fish?” Jim gave this man fish through the years.
Jim went in one day and was trying to buy some bait. J.T. said, “Your money is no good here.”
Jim was the model of a servant leader. He saw a need and met it!
What made Jim Willhite tick? Who made Jim tick? Philippians 2:3-11 answers: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
God saved Jim and can save us through Jesus’s emptying, pouring himself out, serving, surrendering, and obeying to the point of death. God exalted Jesus and can exalt us as He did Jim when we become obedient to the point of participation in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11).
Pouring yourself out brings joy. When we pour ourselves out, God fills us. Off the overflow of God’s filling, we influence others for Christ in positive ways. Jesus made a huge mark on Jim’s life through the good news. Jim left his mark on our lives by serving. Jim girded himself with a towel and washed our feet. Jesus bids us, go and serve. Go and wash one another’s feet.
Mr. Jim repaired an oak kitchen table for my daughter back about seven years ago. It required some dismantling, gluing and staining. On the bottom side of the table, unseen to anyone, Jim left his stained handprint. It was his way of saying, “I care about you, now you go leave a handprint on someone else’s life.”
Jesus made a huge handprint on Jim Willhite. This humble servant heart is the handprint Jim made on us. This is the handprint Jesus wants us to make on others.
Joe D. Rushing was minister at Main Street Church of Christ during the last years of Jim Willhite’s Bank of America career and during his fruitful retirement.