JOHNNY HUNT: FROM THE POOLROOM TO PRESIDENT OF THE SBC

September 9, 2016

By Ron F. Hale

This article first appeared in the Georgia Christian Index and can be viewed here.

The blood of an ancient people courses through his veins.  Johnny Hunt hails from the largest Native American tribe in North Carolina, the largest east of the Mississippi River, and the ninth largest tribe in the United States.  The Lumbee people are ancestors of mainly Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking Indians and eventually took their name from the Lumbee River that meanders its way through Robeson County.

Johnny was born in Lumberton, North Carolina (the county-seat of Robeson County), on July 17, 1952, and shortly thereafter the family moved to the coastal city of Willington.

At the tender age of seven, Johnny’s young world began to unravel as his father left his mom with six hungry kids to raise.  Working at a factory by day and by night as a waitress at the White Front Grill, Bessie Mae Hunt met herself coming and going.

Without a lot of adult supervision, Johnny turned to alcohol even before becoming a teenager. At the age of 16, he quit public school pursuing a new kind of “english” and other tricks of the trade as a professional pool player. Why not, Minnesota Fats quit school in the 8th grade.

Before long, Johnny was managing the local poolroom yet unable to manage his lifestyle of drinking, gambling, and miscues with the law. Like scratching after a bad break, the devil seemed to be calling a lot of shots in Johnny’s life.

In the spring of 1970, Johnny got a good break; a girl named Janet caught his eye and they started dating. Her parents were not overjoyed with this poolroom Romeo courting their young baton twirling daughter. After a 6-month courtship, they eloped across the state line into South Carolina to marry. Janet was 17 years and 17 days old and Johnny was a world-wise 18-year-old.

Johnny’s old habits and haunts didn’t change; therefore, their marriage became troubled very quickly.

Getting a part-time job at a hardware store, Johnny saw a Christian man by the name of J.W. Pridgen on a weekly basis in the store. Mr. Pridgen would mention that some of Johnny’s old friends were having their lives changed by Jesus Christ. Johnny brushed off every invitation to attend his church.

Finally in the fall of 1972, Johnny and Janet started attending Long Leaf Baptist and the Holy Spirit began convicting Johnny of his sin and convincing him that Jesus could radically change his life.

Pulled by the Holy Spirit and pushed by the prayers of a Christian wife and friends, Johnny responded to the Gospel during a snowy evening church service on January 7, 1973. Johnny told the preacher, “I want to give my heart and life to Jesus.”

After calling on Jesus to save him and forgive him, Johnny’s life was changed forever! Knowing his past and hearing his testimony, God used Johnny to bring his mom, other family members, and friends to salvation. Even his former poolroom owner got saved!

When God called him to preach the Gospel, those near Johnny were not surprised!  Friends could see his passion and boldness in winning souls and learning the Bible.

Johnny had prepared for pool but not preaching! He knew how to run a poolroom but not a church.

At night he studied to earn his GED. Believing in Johnny and Janet, Christian friends helped him financially as he earned a B.A. in Religion at Gardner-Webb University and later a Masters of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

For almost thirty years, the majority of Johnny’s ministry has been spent pastoring the fast-growing First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. Over 18,000 people have been saved, baptized, or joined this exciting fellowship.

Year after year, Johnny has won souls at the local Dixie Speedway in Woodstock on Saturday nights while up early on Sunday mornings to preach in multiple services.

Beginning in June 2008, messengers elected Johnny to serve back-to-back annual terms as Southern Baptist Convention president. He humbly served with honor and distinction and continues to grow his church through innovative ministries and passionately preaching Jesus!

Those old gambling and drinking buddies who may have bet that Johnny would put the backspin on backsliding by not remaining a churchman, a married man, or a preacher man have long been shushed.

The winner in pool gets to say, “Rack’em up!” However, a soul-winner like Johnny Hunt gets to prayerfully say, “Thank you Jesus for saving me, my mother, my siblings, and even my father. Thank you for saving many of my old buddies. Thank you for saving hundreds at the Dixie Speedway and thousands at FBC Woodstock. Thank you that your glorious Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes!”

Amen!

 

© Ron F. Hale, August 28, 2016