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I Was BlindBut Now I See

January 14, 2005

For someone to receive the miracle of sight, one must first understand blindness. Bartimaeus, the roadside beggar, knew it. In his blindness he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” A similar cry came from Saul on the Damascus road when Jesus blinded him for three days. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asks. When Jesus answers, he simply replies, “Yes, Lord.”

Tom Wilks did not want to become a minister. Since his freshman year of high school he had some understanding of God’s direction toward ministry, but in a Jonah-like haste this Louisiana native sailed down the bayou to escape God. “I had this image of a black suit and black car kind of minister,” he says. “I didn’t want to be that person.” After receiving a bachelor’s degree in history and speech, he thought politics might be in his future. He successfully managed campaigns for mayors in two Louisiana cities before he decided to attend law school at Louisiana State University. “I was miserable,” he says. “I found that God had followed me there. Every time I began reading for class I could not cut loose of the Book of Leviticus. I guess I was called to ministry while reading Leviticus — by reading the laws of God.”

From his pastor growing up, Tom learned that ministry involves more than dictating the purposes of God, it’s about relationship building. He had less than one semester of law school completed when he entered seminary. In1971, he graduated with a Master of Theology degree, and for the next six years he worked as a youth minister and a pastor. As a young minister he saw a bright future ahead. That changed in 1977. A brain tumor robbed him of his sight and threatened to kill him. “I had come to that lazy place of only ‘getting by’ and not growing,” he says. And like Saul, Tom went blind to discover the value of life, the path charted out all along. Despite a midnight conversation with his wife before the surgery where he convinced himself death had called, he unexpectedly survived. “My doctors called it a miracle,” he says. Tom Wilks experienced a renewal of life. “Every day has to count,” Tom says, “and I continue to pack as much into each day as I can. That’s what we are called to do.”

In June 1980, Tom came to OBU as university chaplain. In 1984, he became a professor of religious studies and director of in-service guidance. He found his life’s work. “OBU is a calling,” he explains. While other professors in the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service concentrate on biblical languages and other academic preparation for ministry, Tom is infused with preparing students with ministry’s practice. “I have the opportunity to focus on the practice of ministry — its “how to” application. For example, how do we prepare students for conducting baptism? I take them down to the pool and we practice baptizing each other.”

Tom serves as an example to students not only through his lengthy tenure at OBU and his pastoral experience, but also through his involvement in the local church and his active schedule of preaching and working with community high school students through various programs. Like Bartimaeus and Saul before him, Tom Wilks continues to live out the exclamation of the man born blind: “I was blind but now I see!”