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First-time 72-year-old pastor now ‘doing what the Lord wants’

McCRORY, Ark. (BP)–He had been here before — lying in a sterile hospital bed listening to the ominous tick of the heart monitor.

He had a history of heart problems that had brought him to the point of death more than once. This time it was not too serious. Within a few days, he left the hospital with a new heart pacemaker to replace the one that had unexpectedly quit and caused his pulse to drop to a dangerously low rate.

With each time he had heart problems though, Lonnie Tidwell, then a deacon at First Baptist Church, McRae, Ark., said he recognized the protection and the healing God granted him, and he realized that he was still holding to this precious life only because God was not through with him.

But this time the realization that God had a special plan for him persisted, and on May 29, 1999, just days after leaving the hospital and only four months before his 72nd birthday, Tidwell surrendered to preach.

Now, according to Ledell Bailey, director of missions for Calvary Baptist Association, Tidwell is “making up for lost time.”

“At first I felt like I was giving God the leftovers,” said Tidwell. “I thought I was too old to preach.”

But with each Sunday that he stands behind the pulpit, Tidwell proves that God still has a plan for him. When he surrendered to the ministry, Tidwell admitted he tried to bargain with God. He planned on only supply preaching and never taking a pastorate, but God showed Tidwell that almost 10 years into retirement was not too late to take on a new job.

On Sunday, April 2, Tidwell stood before the congregation at Good Hope Baptist Church near McCrory, Ark., as their new pastor. “I never dreamed a year ago that anything like this would happen,” declared Tidwell.

“I’m doing now what the Lord wants me to do, and I love it,” said Tidwell, who explained that he had wrestled with a call to ministry since he was saved 32 years earlier.

As a Christian, Tidwell devoted himself to church work thinking this would ease the pleading of the Holy Spirit. He taught Sunday school, led in visitation and drove the church van to pick up children. Tidwell was even ordained as a deacon, but still the calling of the Holy Spirit persisted.

Then, eight years ago, Tidwell experienced a massive heart attack. After almost two months in the hospital, he recovered physically and became spiritually stronger than he had ever been, but still he did not answer God’s call.

Two years later, as he was driving his truck, his heart stopped, causing him to pass out at the wheel. Though his truck ran off the opposite side of the road, Tidwell miraculously did not have a wreck. A pacemaker corrected his heart troubles, and the call continued.

“I think God probably allowed these things to happen to me,” Tidwell reflected. “He was drawing me to him.” The third extended stay in the hospital brought Tidwell to the point where he finally answered his call to ministry.

“I finally decided if I wanted to live, I had to give my life completely to God,” Tidwell said. “I had just got tired of running.”

Bailey, who had worked with Tidwell in various associational activities, said that although he had never seen someone in their 70s just beginning to pastor, he was not too surprised to see Tidwell surrender to the ministry.

“It’s been very evident that the Lord wanted him to do this,” Bailey said. “I’ve never seen anyone so interested in seeing lost people saved. That’s a good trait to have as a pastor.”

Tidwell’s new congregation at Good Hope said they were never concerned about his age.

“People have to start somewhere,” said Good Hope member Betty Matthews. “If that is God’s will, then it’s God’s will.”

Since Tidwell began his work as pastor, his wife Lela has also found ways to minister in the church. She has started a booster choir and teaches the children’s Sunday school class.

“I love [being a pastor’s wife],” Lela said. “I love it because I know that my husband is doing God’s will.”

The couple said they were encouraged by the enthusiasm of the church, and church members, in turn, shared that they are excited by the Tidwells’ zeal for ministry.

“We’re just glad to have them,” said member Lisa Cobb. “They are just a breath of fresh air.”
(BP) photo to be posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: LONNIE TIDWELL.

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  • Rachel Rains