A Man Named Johnnie by J.E. Reddick by J.E. Reddick - Read Online

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A Man Named Johnnie - J.E. Reddick

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The United American Free Will Baptist Denomination, Inc. was created in 1868, resulting from a division of the parent United American Free Will Baptist Church. Bishop Johnnie Ervin Reddick currently serves as General Bishop. Reddick was elected Annual Bishop/Moderator at age 29, the youngest in the church’s history.


From a Young Age

How did a skinny black kid named Johnnie, preaching on a street corner in Kinston NC, become the noted Bishop Johnnie E. Reddick, leading a church of more than 150,000 members?

I once said, There have been times when I wondered why I didn’t get to do certain things. It’s a mysterious thing. I think of the Tamela Mann song, ‘I never thought I’d be in This Place’.

That song testifies to me because, as a little boy preaching on the street, I never knew I’d be the national president of the National Convention of Free Will Baptists, U.S.A. with more than 150,000 members. It blows my mind even now. How did that eight-year-old boy get here? Perhaps by waiting it out, I can make my life clear. It all started eight decades ago.

I was born in Kinston on an Easter Sunday afternoon. I was told that when I came into the world, my mother, happy that the wait was over, said, Thank God.

Though I have traveled to many places, Kinston, North Carolina, has been my lifelong home. I had three older siblings and two younger. One of my older brothers has passed now. While my brothers and sisters played together, I usually did my own thing.

My daddy was typical of many fathers at the time. He worked hard as a sharecropper and, for a time, at a dairy farm. He provided for our family and had to work very hard to make ends meet, working two jobs to pay the rent and bills. But he did all right, and so did we. My father wasn’t deeply involved in my daily upbringing; telling me what to do or not to do, where to go or not go or directing my activities. He was not a churchgoer, but I always could tell he was supportive and didn’t get in the way of my church activities.

My mother was a homemaker and deeply religious. I only remember one time that Daddy spanked me. Mother was the family disciplinarian. She watched over my daily activities and taught me proper social behavior. She also did the spanking.

When I was growing up, everybody in the neighborhood knew each other. It was common back then that all the adults shared an understanding they could discipline any child in the neighborhood who was misbehaving. That meant you got it twice. If an adult brought you home and told your parent you got spanked and why, you got it again from your parent.

As in most neighborhoods like ours, the church was the center of social life. It also served as the outreach arm for families in need. When it became known that a family was in particular need, the church community came together and rallied for that family, even more than it does today. These days organizations provide those things, but at that time the church was the sole source of support for neighborhood families.

We lived in segregated neighborhoods, and everywhere we lived, there was a church nearby. I lived a normal life as a child, played with other children my age and did all the things that other children in my school and neighborhood did. However, as far back as I can remember, from about the age of eight, there was something about the church environment that captivated my interest. Although I could not understand what drove my curiosity, I was always eager to go into the church to find out what it was all about.

I distinctly remember a church two blocks from my house that had a female pastor. They held bi-weekly services and Wednesday night bible study. I’m not certain of its denomination, but I think it was a Holiness church. They were very emotional. They played music, beat drums, tambourines and things of that nature. My visits to the church as such a young person drew the attention of the church elders, who sometimes wondered if I was lost, or maybe had run away from home because I showed up there so often. Once they found out who I was and saw that I lived in the neighborhood, my presence did not disrupt them.

I never told my mother where I was going when I left the house; she always told me not to go out of the yard or stray from the property. But something about that church drew me to it, and in disobedience to my mother’s instructions, I continued to go. Mother knew where I was, though. I remember one occasion when she sent my brother and sister to come and fetch me.

Mama said to come home, they said.

When I got home, she sat me down for a talk. Mother was never a hasty person. She spoke and acted in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, certain in her purpose.

Now, I’m gonna whup you, she said. But I want you to understand I’m not doing it because I don’t want you at that church, but because I told you not to leave the house, and you disobeyed me.

She made sure I understood that when an adult told me to do or not to do something, I had a responsibility to obey them. It was that sort of thing.

She knew I was not generally a mischievous child. I did not steal or break into places, but there was something about me that was carrying me in the direction of the church. She did not understand it, but she saw there was something about the Lord’s house that influenced me. I only knew it was where I wanted to be. I never felt out of place or unwanted there.

I knew every church within a six-block radius of my home, and the churches’ members knew me. I was always the youngest person sitting in their pews. There was something about the atmosphere in the church that triggered something in me and turned me on; the way the people in there praised the lord and the brave way they stood up and testified without shame or embarrassment about who God is. Each person waited eagerly for the person before them to be finished so they could have their turn praising and glorifying God and thanking Him for His presence in their lives.

By the age of eight, my preoccupation with church had become common knowledge among my schoolmates. They referred to me as The Little Preacher, although that was before I began to preach. There were times when I wished there were more kids in church with me, but I was the only child who went there. It didn’t bother me, though, because I felt satisfied and liked