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Blind grad senses clear calling to preach to all types of people

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Listening to Terry McKee talk, you would never know he was born totally blind.

He speaks deliberately of watching his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide football team on television, of riding bikes as a child with his identical twin brother Jerry, of driving an old pickup truck on his family’s farm, of a vision for the ministry.

The 32-year-old McKee graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in December with a master of divinity degree in missions, evangelism and church growth. McKee now hopes to be used as a means for God to open the eyes of the spiritually blind through preaching the gospel.

“I want to do evangelism or even pastor,” he said. “Just whatever God’s will is. I want to minister to all people, not just the blind. Some people have asked me if I wanted to minister just to the blind, but most blind people aren’t much different than regular folks, so I believe that God has called me to preach to all types of people.”

McKee admits that he and his twin brother are not your typical blind men, because both travel with exceptional mobility, with only their seeing-eye dogs tipping off their handicap. He attributes this to the way in which they were raised.

McKee grew up on a small farm outside Jacksonville, Ala. In terms of activities, Terry, Jerry and their older brother had a childhood typical of rural farm boys.

“I guess God was really protecting us. By all rights, we probably should have been killed,” McKee said. “Our [older] brother always rode his bicycle down the hill. We’d build these big ramps down at the bottom of the hill. He’d ride down to the bottom of the hill and hit the ramps and jump the bicycle.

“We thought if he could do it, then we could do it, and most of the time we did. I played a lot of backyard football with the brothers. We didn’t have a big farm. It was small, but at least we had some room.

“I also love [University of] Alabama football. I grew up watching their games on television. I listened to them on the radio some, but mostly I watched their games on TV. … The only thing we can’t do is drive.”

But while growing up, McKee did experience driving — albeit unbeknownst to his mother.

“Occasionally out in the field, I’d drive the old pickup truck,” he said. “My mom didn’t know half the things we did. When it came time to do the gardening, I was always out on the tractor, and occasionally my brother would have to go and sink the plow a little deeper into the earth.”

Life on the farm was not always pleasant for the McKees, however. Terry’s mother died young after a five-year struggle with paralysis sustained in a car wreck. His father was a drinking man who often worked out of town.

Terry and Jerry attended a blind school during their formative years, and Terry then went on to Jacksonville State University, graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in English.

It was at Jacksonville State where McKee initially began to sense a calling to ministry, but only in his last years there. At the outset, McKee was not saved and dabbled in drinking alcoholic beverages. He was saved in the early ’90s after a friend invited him to church.

Later, there came the overwhelming sense of calling to ministry. At first, he put off the notion, figuring he’d deal with it after college.

But after wrestling with the call for more than a year, McKee told a friend, who referred him to the pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Jacksonville. McKee met with the pastor, at which time the minister asked McKee to plan on preaching his first sermon at Westside.

“I thought my first sermon was really horrible,” McKee said. “I talked to [the pastor] about it and told him how bad I thought it was. He said the only thing he saw that I did wrong was rattle my notes.

“He told me I needed to get a notebook so I wouldn’t rattle my notes so much. That was the only suggestion he said I needed.”

The pastor suggested that McKee attend seminary. McKee sought information from three schools, but Southern was the only one to respond. After graduating from college, McKee enrolled at the Louisville, Ky., seminary.

His time at the school has included a term as president of the Student Government Association, the highlight of which McKee says was getting an ATM placed in the student center.

Best of all, he met and married his wife, Michelle, while at Southern. The two became acquainted when Terry helped her with Greek. They were married last year.

“It was great how it worked out,” he said. “She was having a little trouble with her Greek class. I helped her out with my other love, which is languages. I have loved the language classes. They have been easier to me because, fortunately, languages are my strength.”

McKee has also helped other blind students with issues relating to classes and seminary life in general. And while he has learned much, McKee said he has learned most that his physical blindness gives him some advantages in ministry.

“Being blind makes me more observant in many ways, I think,” he said. “It helps me in my preaching because I don’t have to base my words on what somebody in the audience seems to be thinking. That is an advantage and a disadvantage, I guess.

“Also, being blind has allowed me to develop an ability to have a lot of insight into people and a lot of other things. The Lord has given me an ability to kind of read people. I can walk into a room and 99.9 percent of the time be able to tell you what that person is like. That’s something my brother and I have had to develop, and it will be helpful in counseling in ministry.”

McKee says his seeing-eye dog, “Salem” — a jet black Labrador retriever — also serves as a good entry point for evangelism.

“Kids are drawn to him,” McKee said. “A lot of times, I get to talk to their parents about the gospel while the kids are petting Salem. Sometimes I feel led to talk with them about it and sometimes not, but he gives me good opportunities.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TERRY MCKEE AND SALEM.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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