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Friends remember a larger-than-life evangelist

HARTSELLE, Ala. (BP) – Carole Hill still remembers being taken aback at the strapping 6’2” tackle on the Howard College football practice field. Walking with a friend, she took note of the blonde hair and blue eyes. There was something about him, and she hoped he would ask her out for a date.

The next night Junior Hill did. That led to a marriage that would’ve reached 67 years in March. During that time Carole saw her husband’s love for preaching the Gospel – spread across more than 1,800 revivals, convention gatherings, evangelism conferences and who-knows-how-many Sunday church services – lived out any chance he got.

“He loved people and loved to preach,” she told Baptist Press hours after the 87-year-old Hill died at home Jan. 3 at approximately 7:30 a.m. “He saw preaching the Gospel as his responsibility.”

Hill’s travel schedule was laborious, but she said it never took precedence over his family life.

“I never heard him say he was too tired to go preach, even though sometimes he drove through the night to get where he needed to be,” she said. “He was committed to keeping his word.

“He never booked two meetings in a row, though. He wanted to come home.”

A few years ago, Carole accompanied Hill to a doctor’s visit after some concerns about his memory. She remembers seeing two words written on the physician’s notes – dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“He had served the Lord and felt like his time was up,” she said of recent days. “He had finished the course.”

Hill, a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was “one of the first preachers I ever listened to and was influenced by,” said NOBTS President Jamie Dew.

“I was struck by his humility, humor and genuine love for Christ and the Gospel. I’m forever grateful for this particular servant of the Lord and alum of NOBTS. May his reward be as sweet as he hoped it would be,” Dew said.

NOBTS president emeritus Chuck Kelley told BP that Hill was “anointed to be an evangelist.”

“Junior Hill did all things well in evangelism, but without question he was the greatest local church evangelist Southern Baptists have ever had,” Kelley said. “Almost as important was his awesome ministry of encouragement, especially to pastors. We can appreciate and praise him, but we will never replace him.

“I was always amazed by the way Junior married simplicity and depth in his preaching. It was profound enough to stir the mind of serious disciples, yet simple enough to grab the heart of those with little or no faith.”

Alabama Baptists’ state executive director, Rick Lance, was a teen preacher when he first met Hill.

“I was amazed at how much interest he had in my life and ministry,” said Lance. “From that moment forward, Junior Hill was one of my main encouragers.”

Hill’s name was “synonymous with evangelism,” Lance added.

“He was the walking definition and description of an evangelistic preacher. He preached to thousands of people during his decades of ministry. Junior Hill didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk.

“He was an effective personal witness for Christ. His walk with the Lord was a testimony to the goodness and greatness of God,” Lance said.

Hill’s impact placed him in the Hall of Faith for Southern Baptist Evangelists. Current president of that group, Keith Cook, called him “the most Godly mentor and friend” you could have.

“We all grew up wanting to be like him,” Cook, who leads On the Go Ministries, told BP. “He was a champion for evangelism in his efforts to win the lost.

“To his last breath, he wanted to proclaim Jesus, not Junior. There was no one like him and there never will be.”

Others took to social media to express their thanks and condolences.

SBC President Bart Barber posted: “I’m so sad to hear of Junior Hill’s death, but overjoyed to think of all of the folks he will encounter in Heaven whom he has led to Christ.”

“One of the dearest men of God that I have ever known slipped into the presence of our Lord this morning,” posted evangelist Phil Waldrep. “Thank you, Junior Hill, for faithfully sharing Jesus and finishing well.”

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin called Hill “one of the finest, kindest and most Christlike men I have ever known. Thousands were blessed by his life and ministry. He is now with the Lord he loves so dearly. Hallelujah!!!”

Jared Wellman, pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, recalled a Hill sermon about “the ministry of carrying bones.”

“For me, it was more than just a sermon; the message became a thread woven into the fabric of my journey as a pastor,” Wellman said. “Hill’s ministry now mirrors the carrying of bones, resonating through generations of preachers inspired by his work. May he rest in peace.”