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Flowery Branch minister to retire after 62 years in pulpit
Paul Wade, 84, gave his last sermon at Mount Salem Baptist Church after a 62-year career. - photo by Carly Sharec

Tears pool in Paul Wade’s eyes as he recalls his decision to join the Christian faith.

At 19, he had just left the U.S. Navy. With only a fourth-grade education, he was ready to head to Florida to pick vegetables for a living.

On the way, he stopped at his sister’s house in Cairo, Ga.

“It was Sunday, and they were Christians,” he said. “They wanted me to go with them. I didn’t want to go. But they were going to leave me, so I went.”

About three or four weeks later, Wade said, he became a Christian.

“I was in church and I felt God calling me, tugging at my heart,” he said. “I didn’t respond that first Sunday because I felt that I couldn’t live a Christian life. Satan did a work on me, and I wouldn’t respond. So I got to thinking about it all week, and I said, ‘Man. How in the world am I going to provide for a family on a fourth-grade education?’

“So I reasoned through things and was thinking that I needed to make that commitment, so I went back to church that following Sunday.”

But even though he had sorted out his spiritual life, the young man still struggled with how he would make a living.

“I had no purpose,” he said. “I was just living from day to day. Didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no objectives.

“Immediately, I felt like I just wanted other people to know the Lord.”

Of course, the then-bachelor found new converts at a variety store in Cairo in the form of young ladies.

“I invited all of the girls to come to church with me,” he said slyly, laughing a little. “I would carry them to church. And a lot of them became Christians. Then, their families became Christians. I just felt the urging in my heart to give myself to ministry.”

But following that path seemed like an almost impossible mission to the young man with only a fourth-grade education.

“I could barely read,” he said. “I came from a poor family and had no one to offer any support financially. I fit in between World War II and the Korean War, and I had no GI Bill. So I had no source of financial help.

“I just knew I couldn’t do it. I was focusing on me ... and I came to the conclusion, there’s no way. There’s just no way. So I got kind of miserable because I wasn’t obeying the Lord.”

Once again, divine intervention led Wade to his path.

“I was riding on the highway one Saturday night with my pastor’s son ... and we had a summer youth worker,” he said. “We were taking him to Camilla to a church where he would be singing the next weekend at a revival. Billy was writing his girlfriend from college, and Jim was driving the car. And I was sitting in the back seat, wrestling with the Lord.

“Finally, I just came to the place where I knew I just had to trust him. And I did. I was looking at my perspective and not God’s perspective. I wasn’t thinking about what God would do, could do. But I had a peace that came and I knew everything was going to be all right.”

Informed of his choice, Wade’s pastor helped him enroll in college. And so the man with a fourth-grade education set out to become a pastor on his own.

Though he’s been preaching for longer, November officially marks 62 years in his career. This path has taken Wade and his family all over, from Georgia to Louisiana to Alaska.

Sixty-two years later, Wade is pastor emeritus of Mount Salem, which he first joined in 2006, and Zion Hill Baptist Church; the man who once had only a fourth-grade education also received an honorary doctorate from Grace Bible Institute.

While he has no plans to fully retire, he resigned from his position with Mount Salem Baptist Church and gave his last sermon Sunday.

The now 84-year-old said there may have been a lot of uncertainty in his life, but his constant faith in God always saw him through, even when he wasn’t sure where his next steps should go.

“The Lord had things worked out,” he said. “You just have to come to a place, everybody has to go by faith and trust in the Lord. Just like you and your calling, and what you feel God wants you to do in life. You have to make a commitment to do that.

“A lot of people have such fears, they don’t accept those challenges that God has for whatever he wants them to do in life,” Wade continued. “And some people, too, they want it right now.”

“In all of our life, we’ve never had a need that was not met,” his wife of 58 years, Elizabeth Wade, chimed in.

“We didn’t always get everything we wanted necessarily, but we’ve never had a need that was not met or taken care of.”