Heartbeat: Leaving Florida Baptist Witness with deep, deep thanks
by JONI B. HANNIGAN

Article Date: Mar 7, 2014

I love to tell stories. To get into the heart and soul of what motivates the subjects about which I write. To help the reader “be there” and see what I see–feel what I feel.

That’s why when I write first person I put on a whole new set of eyeglasses—my own. And it can be hard to do. I want to be transparent, but I weigh every word.

I desire always to bring God glory and extend His Kingdom. 

Writing and research is not always easy. In hoping for the best, I sometimes unearth the worst. And my heart aches. It hurts. Sometimes it’s just the pain of disasters or death. Sometimes it’s related to sin or miscommunication. Sometimes it’s just inexplicable stuff and my fertile mind connects dots.

Thankfully, much of the time there is plain joy. Unexpected information. Wonderful, God-glorifying news. Images filled with mercy. My heart lights; it is on fire. My fingers fly. My dreams are vivid. God is glorified.

I’ve taken my calling seriously, and I’ve prayed for how to say what I say. So now it’s time for me to share what’s been on my heart for a while.

In 2002, a month after I arrived as managing editor of the Witness, my mother died unexpectedly. I have grieved for years—and yes, in my pain I believe I buried myself in my work. I was trying to please people, but in reality, trying to please Mother. 

You see, in 1980 she was pretty miffed at me. I joined the Navy and she and my stepdad disapproved because it was a “man’s world.” I assured her I wouldn’t fall into sin, but throughout her life I believed she remained cynical of my passion for anything besides my family.

Going through her personal belongings in 2005, I found a letter I wrote to her in 1980 from NTTC Corry Station in Pensacola, where I was in school for the Navy.

I told my mother I had joined the Navy for adventure and an education; and I would have a “chance to witness to others, go to church regularly, and to travel.” I was unmarried at the time.

I continued to tell her about opportunities the Navy would provide: “Even at Bible colleges, and the Southern Baptist Convention Center, in order to teach and write, you must have a master’s degree. Then traveling. I would like to see first hand the countries we discuss in church and Bible study, and the people therein.”

You see, in 1980 at 18 years old there was no way I could have predicted what my life would look like in 2005 when I found that letter. I began weeping. I didn’t remember writing it or articulating that dream so precisely. 

No, I don’t work at the “Southern Baptist Convention Center,” but I am employed by the Witness and at the time I read the letter had already traveled overseas to cover international missions in Jordan and in Brazil; had been a correspondent for SBC’s Baptist Press; and had taught school.

My stepfather assured me my mother supported my call to Florida and believed I was living out God’s will. He said she told him I was a “great mother.” I wish I had known how she felt before she died!

I have fulfilled that early prophesy, Florida Baptists. God has given me an even greater gift, however, my wonderful family. Even as I have poured my life into my calling, into education, into my work, it is time for change.

My husband John and I are leaving Florida Baptist Witness with deep, deep thanks. You will be forever in my heart. I could only contribute to this news story after Dr. Sullivan reminded us a few weeks ago that Dizzy Dean said, “If you’ve done it, it ain’t bragging.”  

 

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