NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Joe McKeever has held a lot of day jobs — secretary, pastor, denominational worker and now, in “retirement,” itinerant preacher and seminary professor. But perhaps he is best known for his hobby -– cartooning.
McKeever’s mother gave him a pencil and paper when he was 5 years old, and he’s never stopped. When he was in the seventh grade, the teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up.
“When I said cartoonist, they all laughed, and I was embarrassed,” McKeever said. “So I never said that again.”
McKeever is still making people laugh, but not at him, at his cartoons.
He has been drawing cartoons for Baptist Press each weekday for 12 years, and today he reaches a milestone of 2,000 cartoons in Baptist Press.
Countless visitors to SBC annual meetings over the years have left the exhibit hall with their own likenesses in Joe’s trademark caricature style. And his annual cartoon series each January has helped thousands of pastors in their facilitation of the SBC’s January Bible study.
But Baptist Press readers know him for his daily dose of humor that provides a fresh insider’s perspective on the SBC, a sentimental reflection from a grandfather or a poignant commentary on the church and pastoring. In other words, McKeever draws from experience.
“Joe has a wonderful talent for cartoons and a spiritual gift for humor,” said Baptist Press Executive Editor Will Hall. “God has given him a special lens to see the joy and uniqueness of situations and the ability to use pen, paper and coloring to brighten and enlighten people’s days.”
With more and more people consuming information on the Internet, McKeever has kept up by posting his cartoons on Baptist Press and on his own website, www.joemckeever.com, where he also blogs regularly.
“I was teaching a class on cartooning this summer for Vacation Bible School,” McKeever said. “They wanted to know how much money you make. I said ‘Not very much. There are very few that make a living. You just have to do it ’cause you love it.'”
BP readers also might remember McKeever from his days as the director of missions (DOM) for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans (now called the New Orleans Baptist Association), a position he assumed in May 2004 –- less than a year and a half before Hurricane Katrina changed the city forever. This week marks another milestone for McKeever and other Katrina survivors — five years since the devastating storm.
“I had a five-year verbal contract,” McKeever said of his acceptance of the DOM position. “I was 64 years old then. I said, ‘I’ll give you three years.’ They said, ‘Give us five.’ That was of the Lord. Three years [would have been] one year after Katrina. That was no time for transitioning.”
Before the storm, McKeever and his wife Margaret evacuated. Little did they know it would be a month before they could return home.
McKeever set to work immediately to account for all the association’s churches, trying to contact each pastor and assess needs. The task was daunting, since cell phone service was nonexistent and since no one knew the locations of many of the pastors.
Before long, McKeever established a weekly meeting for the association’s pastors. The first meeting was held in Jackson, Miss., while most of the pastors were still evacuees. Twenty pastors showed up, driving in from as far away as Alabama and even Oklahoma for the fellowship and the information.
“They came in crying and hugging,” McKeever said. “We’d touched a nerve. These guys didn’t want to leave.”
For the next year and a half, the pastors met every Wednesday for three hours at First Baptist Church in LaPlace, La. McKeever knows that he was put in the DOM position at the right time. The rebuilding after the storm gave the opportunity for the association to reinvent itself. They even brought in outside experts to help map out the future.
“I never looked on myself as a stereotypical DOM,” McKeever said. “When I walked away, they got a new kind of DOM for an entirely new program. It was a transition time that I did.”
McKeever retired from the association in April 2009, but not before he had seen the city and the association make great strides toward recovery.
Now that he’s retired, McKeever spends his time traveling to various speaking engagements and teaching a class on interpersonal relationships at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. And drawing. Always drawing. He’s had five drawing engagements this month alone.
“If I’d known it was this good, I’d have gone straight from ordination to retirement,” he said.
Laura Erlanson is operations coordinator for Baptist Press.