In early October, I learned that my brother-in-law Ed Cook was retiring from his pastoral ministry, which began 58 years ago. I began to think back about those early years when he and my sister Nancy first married. He and Nancy invited his best friend and roommate Jim Puckett (my husband) for a visit, and we began dating. The three of them were also classmates of my brother Jim Combs and his wife Shirley at Free Will Baptist Bible College (re-named Welch College) in Nashville, Tennessee, which is how the lives of these three preachers and their wives connected and began to be intertwined.
As these facts, figures, and words began swirling around in my head, I quickly started jotting them down, which is how most of my writing begins. At that time, we did not know that our brother Jim Combs had cancer, a diagnosis he received just two weeks ago today. His diagnosis confirmed to me that the Lord had inspired me to capture this history in written form before it escaped my mind.
The term “man of God” has been revered and reserved for only the most dedicated among us, first used in the Bible to designate the Old Testament prophets. Eventually it became a more generic term to refer to anyone in ministry. We seldom use or hear it today, though there are many who qualify.
Without a doubt, several of my family and close friends exemplify the term. Among our families, it is not uncommon to find ministers. There are eight ordained ministers on my side of the family, seven of whom are still living. My father was the first in his family. Several others are not ordained, but are working in ministry positions. My husband’s family has a similar heritage going all the way back to his great grandfather. There are seven ordained ministers, four of them still living.
Knowing this many ministers, it is easy to take their work and dedication for granted. With the recent retirement of these three from our family within the last few years, I decided to acknowledge the great ministry each has had and share it with my friends. These men have impacted literally thousands of lives, scores of churches, and numerous cities and towns during their 50-plus years of ministry each. Though they came from three different states, their lives intersected as classmates, roommates, friends in college, and family. And their shared ministry and family connection has kept them close for nearly 60 years.
My brother Jim Combs grew up in our hometown of Crab Orchard, West Virginia. Jimmy Kemper, as he was known, answered the call to preach in his late teens during the mid-1950s while serving in the Navy. A few years later at Free Will Baptist Bible College he answered the call to missions. It was there he met his wife Shirley Roberts, a fellow mission student. Jim began his pastoral ministry at Stoney Point Free Will Baptist, a small country church near Nashville. After graduation, he and Shirley married and moved to pastor a church in Franklin, Ohio, to gain stateside experience while still feeling the call to foreign missions abroad. They entered language study to learn Portuguese and served as Free Will Baptist missionaries in Brazil from 1964 to 2007, spending a few of those years in the US while their children attended high school. During that time they served as missionaries-in-residence at Hillsdale College (now Randall University) in Moore, Oklahoma, pastored a church, and served as chaplain for the Oklahoma prison system.
My brother-in-law Ed Cook, a native of St Louis, Missouri, answered the call to preach during the early-1960s while attending Free Will Baptist Bible College. Ed also met his future wife, my sister Nancy Combs, in Nashville. They married while still students, and Ed followed Jim Combs as pastor of Stoney Point Free Will Baptist near Nashville. After graduation in 1963, Ed and Nancy moved to Miami, Florida, to pastor Golden Glades Church, and they have continued to serve in the pastoral ministry since that time.
My husband, Jim Puckett answered the call to preach during the late-1950s while still a teenager in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He also studied at FWBBC, where one of the first students he met was his good friend and eventual roommate Ed Cook. Jim and I also met during his days as a student in Nashville, while I was still in high school. We would later reconnect in Florida where he had moved after graduating in 1962.
During the summers before and after his senior year, Jim served as a pastoral intern for Free Will Baptist churches in Raleigh, North Carolina and Miami, Florida. In the fall 1963 Jim began serving as minister of music and youth at Wesconnett Free Will Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, under the leadership of his former pastor and mentor Elro Driggers. We married in 1965, and Jim served in Jacksonville as associate and interim pastor for one year before moving to south Florida to begin his pastoral ministry at Deerfield Beach.
During their nearly 60 years of ministry Jim and Shirley Combs served the following places and positions:
Stoney Point Free Will Baptist, Dickson County, TN; summer missionary in Pinar del Rio, Cuba; pastor at Free Will Baptist Church of Franklin, Ohio; Portuguese language study in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil; Overseer of Free Will Baptist Campground in Jaboticabal, Sao Paulo; Resident student directors, American Christian College, Tulsa, OK; established a new church in Tubarao, state of Santa Catarina, Brazil; Chaplain, Lexington Assessment Prison Facility, Lexington, OK; pastor of Dibble Free Will Baptist, Dibble, OK; missionaries-in-residence, director of student affairs, and both were professors at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College (now Randall University) in Moore, OK; Shirley served as professor of ESL classes at Oklahoma City University; pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church in Araras, Sao Paulo; founder and pastor of Candida Free Will Baptist Church in Araras, Sao Paulo; Lar Nova Vida Children’s Home, which they founded and where they served as Directors for more than 20 years.
In 2007, Jim and Shirley Combs officially retired from Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions and moved back to the US from Brazil to be near their three children and six grandchildren. They continued to be involved in raising funds and awareness for Lar Nova Vida, and made yearly trips back to Brazil to support the home. After a few years away from the pastorate, Jim began serving as pastor of the Chickasha Free Will Baptist Church in Oklahoma until the summer of 2016. Shirley is currently working in the display floor room of her son-in-law’s furniture business. Jim currently works as an assistant helping handicapped students on and off the school bus.
Here are the cities, towns and communities Ed and Nancy Cook have served since 1962:
Pastor of Stoney Point Free Will Baptist, Dickson County, TN; Golden Glades Free Will Baptist, Miami, FL; First Free Will Baptist, Chipley, FL; Holdenville Free Will Baptist, Holdenville, OK; West Palm Beach Free Will Baptist, WPB, FL; Donelson Free Will Baptist, Nashville, TN; Westwood Enterprise Baptist, Ashland, KY; Oak Park Free Will Baptist, Pine Bluff, AR; Trinity Free Will Baptist, Greenville, NC; and Heritage Free Will Baptist, Ashland, KY.
Jim Puckett has served in the following places and ministry positions:
Intern at First Free Will Baptist, Raleigh, NC; Intern at First Free Will Baptist, Miami, FL; minister of music and youth, and later associate and interim pastor of Wesconnett Free Will Baptist, Jacksonville, FL; Pastor of First Free Will Baptist, Deerfield Beach, FL; Pastor of Bellview Free Will Baptist, Colquitt, GA; Pastor of Southern Oaks Free Will Baptist, Oklahoma City, OK; interim pastor at Kingsview Free Will Baptist, Oklahoma City, OK; Pastor of Harrah Free Will Baptist, Harrah, OK; interim pastor at Church of God, Moore, OK; Mission Director for Oklahoma Free Will Baptists; interim pastor Oak Hills Free Will Baptist; and Associate Pastor at One Church, Moore, OK.
Jim Puckett’s pastoral ministry continued until 1999 when he resigned to become Director of Missions for Oklahoma Free Will Baptists. He served as State Mission Director until 2007 and has continued to serve as interim pastor of various churches and to preach intermittently for vacationing pastors. Jim officially retired from ministry in 2015, and is working aa a real estate investor – buying, renovating and re-selling homes.
It’s easy to see that I am very proud of these three preachers. I realize I am biased when it comes to three guys who are so dear to my heart, but I can truthfully say that they are among the finest men I know. In all their ministry accomplishments, I didn’t even mention that each has been a wonderful father and grandfather who have lived as examples to their families. Their work, character, and love for the Lord, for the work of ministry, and for people is an example to follow. I thank the Lord for the privilege of being associated with each of these men of God.