Editor's Note: Oklahoma Baptist University alum Dennis Jernigan, a 1981 graduate, is a 2011 recipient of the OBU Alumni Association's Profile In Excellence Award. The awardis given to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, Profile In Excellence recipients are featured in OBU Magazine.
For Dennis Jernigan, making music is less about perfectly combining melody and lyrics and more about redemption and transformation. Jernigan is a well-known Christian singer and songwriter who has penned thousands of songs. However, the ability and desire to write such moving songs came to him through a journey he did not expect.
While growing up, Jernigan experienced what he believes was spiritual bondage in the form of unwanted same-sex attraction. After graduation from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1981, Jernigan attended a worship event where he was freed from his bondage and forever changed.
"At that time, I acknowledged the fact that I was totally helpless, and I turned everything in my life over to Jesus -- my thoughts, my emotions, my physical body and my past," Jernigan said.
After Jernigan was able to settle his sexual-identity issues, God used his innate music ability and the things he learned at OBU to help others.
Jernigan's voice teacher throughout his time at OBU was Dr. Jeri Graham-Edmonds. She taught him how to lead worship from the piano and pushed him to work hard to train his voice.
"I credit her high standards with giving me an instrument with which to praise God until my dying day," Jernigan said.
He also gives credit to Kathryne Timberlake, professor emerita of music, and her music theory classes where he learned the language of music.
"She enabled me to get onto paper what was in my heart, and because of that, my music and message of hope has literally been sent around the world many times over," he said.
Jernigan not only learned and gained encouragement from his professors, but faculty members he never studied under also supported him. Sandra Meyer, retired associate professor of music at OBU, met him years ago and keeps up with his ministry and encourages him today.
"Sandra Meyer has taught me much about God after my days as an OBU student," Jernigan said.
Though OBU prepared him well academically and technically in the area of music, Jernigan felt spiritually trapped.
"It was the harsh reality of life after OBU that forced me to learn how to live an abundant Kingdom-focused life and to adequately apply the scholastic and technical training I had learned at OBU to the reality of the ministry God had called me to," he said.
In 1983, Jernigan married Melinda Hewitt, also an '81 OBU graduate, and they started a family. During this time, Jernigan became completely immersed in the music business; however, he was different than the typical Christian singer. He did not write songs according to current trends of songwriting, nor did he choose to go on tour. Instead, he worked closely with his wife and children.
"I did not find solace in being so different, but I did find an intimacy with God that I do not think I could have found otherwise," Jernigan said.
Jernigan said he is able to use his past experiences to minister to people struggling with the same feelings he experienced by serving on the board of directors for Exodus International, the world's largest ministry for people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. The organization and its affiliate ministries receive more than 400,000 calls each year from those who struggle with such feelings, as well as their families and friends.
"I feel I am a part of something cutting edge, yet as old as time," Jernigan said. "People need freedom, and God's Word tells the redeemed to say so. I am proud to say so." Jernigan said he seeks to build relationships with hurting and struggling people and walk with them through their difficult times, primarily through his songwriting and singing.
"My goal is to walk with God and write what I need to say to Him, what others need to say to Him, and what I hear Him singing over me," he said.
Since his national launch in the music industry in 1988, Jernigan has been sharing the message of hope and healing found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Jernigan has sold more than 1 million recordings, and he has witnessed the body of Christ sing several of his songs around the world, one of his most popular being, "You Are My All in All." In addition to recording more than 35 music albums, he has authored several books and devotionals.
By sharing his story and the stories told through his songs, Jernigan said he has seen thousands of struggling, desperate people break free from their spiritual bondage and find healing and hope through Jesus Christ.
"Through my music and through my testimony, I have witnessed tens of thousands begin the journey toward wholeness," he said. "My greatest delight, easily, is seeing someone suddenly realize the truth of freedom and begin to walk in transformation."
When Jernigan and his wife started their family, they vowed to give their nine children to God in hope that they, too, would choose to minister to others.
Three of their older children -- Israel, Anne and Hannah, along with their spouses -- serve in ministry positions around the world. Two of their children, Glory and Judah, work with Jernigan in managing his music career in Muskogee, Okla. Galen will be a sophomore in college in the fall semester, and Raina recently graduated from high school. The Jernigan's two youngest children, Asa and Ezra, will be high school seniors in the fall.
Jernigan said his time at OBU offered some high points -- learning about music, singing in the Bison Glee Club, practicing in Ford Music Hall and meeting his future wife. And though much of his college was also filled with anguish, God used what was most damaging and hurtful to Jernigan to transform him so he could help others.
"When I settled my identity issues, the Lord began to pour songs of deliverance, worship and ministry out of me," he said. "As I shared these songs with others, a wonderful thing began to happen -- others were finding truth and being set free through music."
While experiencing great success with his songs and books, he has come against some protest for his past choices. Despite occasional opposition, he holds fast to his miraculous transformation and continues to share his story of redemption.
"My story is precious to me and to the Lord, and I will continue to proclaim freedom to the captive until my dying breath," he said.
Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.