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End of an era in Men’s Ministry

MOVING FORWARD – Jim Didlake (left), retiring director of the Men’s Ministry Department at the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson, discusses transition matters with Don Gann, incoming director and longtime consultant in the department. Gann will assume leadership of the department on August 1. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr.
Editor
 

Jim Didlake will close out a 32-year career in the Men’s Ministry Department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board when he walks out of his office for the final time on July 31.

“The thing I will miss the most are the people, the volunteers who in the name of Jesus always come to the rescue of anyone who needs their help, literally across the world. They are part of my family. Mississippi Baptists are the greatest folks anywhere,” he said.

As Didlake departs, he leaves a department with greatly expanded responsibilities compared to his beginnings there all those years ago, and he is confident his right-hand man for the past ten years, department consultant Don Gann, will continue to move the ministry forward as he moves up to the director position.

“I’m excited for Don,” Didlake said. “He has a real heart for this work. He was my associate at Central Hills Retreat many years ago. He was a volunteer before he accepted the full-time consultant position in the Men’s Ministry Department. I’m confident he will take the program to greater heights then we ever thought possible.”

Didlake, a Crystal Springs native, holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry (’66) from Mississippi State University in Starkville and a masters degree in religious education (’68) from New Orleans Seminary.

His first place of service after seminary was First Church in Russellville, Ky., as minister of education, youth, and administration. From there, he went to First Church, Brandon, as minister of education and administration. When Paul Harrell, then the Brotherhood Director for the convention board, called about serving in that department, Didlake responded affirmatively.

That was 32 years ago. “The department has diversified. We didn’t handle as much back then. The name was changed to Men’s Ministry to reflect the expanded responsibilities,” Didlake recounted.

Among the major ministries currently overseen by the Men’s Ministry Department are Disaster Relief, Central Hills Retreat, Royal Ambassadors, Criminal Justice, and Chaplaincy. In addition, Didlake and the department took on the task of writing the department’s ministry materials after the Southern Baptist Convention’s Brotherhood Commission was disbanded in 1997 and folded into the newly-created North American Mission Board.

The most visible function of the department is likely Disaster Relief, which has gone from a simple feeding operation at the beginning of Didlake’s tenure to the massive operation that it is today – including a feeding unit that has grown to a capability of 20,000 meals per day and the initiation of cleanup and recovery operations.

Didlake is widely viewed among his peers as the dean of Disaster Relief in the Southern Baptist Convention. That work has taken him around the world, and into areas so dangerous that his mission and whereabouts had to be kept secret until he returned home.

“Rusty Griffin, who was the consultant in the Brotherhood department at the time, started Disaster Relief under Paul Harrell. I came to the Brotherhood department after Rusty went to the SBC Brotherhood Commission.

“Disaster Relief started with a few pots and burners. Now, we have all commercial equipment and a self-sustaining eighteen-wheeler with potable water and its own generator. Volunteers have grown from about 40 people to several thousand today,” he said.

The most demanding Disaster Relief operation, in Didlake’s mind, was Hurricane Katrina, a five-year effort that began mere hours after the record-setting storm hit and continued until the Mississippi Gulf Coast was on the path to recovery.

“That’s also the disaster that will stick with me the longest. I remember making my way to Pass Christian the day after the storm and thinking, ‘How long will this recovery take? Can we even do it?’”

Katrina also holds positive memories for him. “There was so much donated to that cause. There were over 100,000 volunteers. Baptist disaster teams came from all 50 states to help.”

The most satisfying response for Didlake? The 9/11 response, when Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers flooded New York City from September to June in response to the devastating terrorist attack.

“I believe that was really when Southern Baptists gained respect as a national Disaster Relief organization, and Mississippi Baptists were very much a part of that,” he said.

Didlake and his wife of 44 years, Marlene, a retired elementary educator, are moving to Spring City, Tn., to be near their daughter Elizabeth and her son. They’ve already built a house there.

“I look forward to helping raise my grandson – and I can assure that will include some disaster relief training,” Didlake said.

Didlake can be reached until July 31 at P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. E-mail: jdidlake@mbcb.org.

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