When his mother died when he was 19 in 1968, Rudy L. Williams Sr. fell into such a deep pit of despair that he decided to take his own life.
The weapon was actually in his hands.
The reason Williams is alive today, still serving God as he has for the past 41 years, was a single thought that came to him as he prepared to leave this world.
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“It struck me that if I did this the last thing I would be saying to the world is, ‘Life is hopeless,’” Williams said this week. “I realized that I didn’t believe that. The words came to my lips, ‘I do not believe this. Jesus is my hope.’ I then put the weapon in the corner, threw my body across the bed and cried out to God.”
The following Sunday, after leaving a church service, the pastor’s wife made a U-turn, approached Williams and said, “I have never been more concerned about you than I have this week. Have you ever considered the ministry?”
Williams took the suggestion and hasn’t looked back.
When he is introduced Sunday to the congre- gation at Dry Prairie Bap- tist Church, 40849 State Road 62, Duette, it will mark nearly four decades serving God at eight churches, most in the Jacksonville and northern Florida area.
At Dry Prairie, Williams replaces the interim pastor, the Rev. Harney Whidden, who served roughly one year. Whidden replaced the Rev. Doug Carter, who served three years.
“When I lay there on that bed I said, ‘I give up,’” Williams said, recalling what is not only a remarkable moment, but a powerful testimony. “I said, ‘Lord, I have tried to do it my way. If you have something for my life, show me.’ ”
The pastor’s wife did indeed light the way for his life’s work.
“No one knew what happened that day when I contemplated suicide,” Williams said. “I am only here by grace. My faith saved me.”
Williams grew up in a military family. He was one of four children, with two sisters and one brother, who started out in Florida, went to Puerto Rico, then to Connecticut, Hawaii, Virginia and then back home to Worthington Springs in Union County, where Williams graduated from at Union County High School in 1966.
“Back then I thought I might become an engineer or a chef,” he said. “When I was a teen, I was a serious young man who was searching for his vocation and was applying himself to do just that.”
After graduating from high school, Williams attended Lake City Junior College for two years and studied science and engineering.
“After graduating from junior college I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and became an electronics technician and served for four years,” Williams said. “I met my wife, Juanita, in Mobile, Alabama.
“In Mobile, where I was stationed, Juanita was working at a bank as a teller. I thought she was bright, intelligent and attractive.”
Williams married Juanita and prepared for his calling by attending Luther Rice Seminary, where he studied psychology and counseling.
His first full-time pastor job came at Silver Glyn Baptist Church in Jacksonville and he spent seven years there. Then he spent 10 years at Bible Oak Hill Baptist Mission on the west side of Jacksonville.
From there he was pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Jacksonville and then at Hilbron Springs Baptist Church near Lawtey.
“I really have a real good impression of this man,” said Betty Glassburn, a lifelong member of Dry Prairie whose father, John, had the timbers cut that built the church rafters. “I believe he is a man of God and will fit right into our church and community.”
Williams was pastor at Flemington Baptist Church near Micanopy for a year and at Tedro Baptist Church near the Villages, just south of Ocala, for six and a half years.
Then he headed back to his family home in Jacksonville, where he spent a year waiting for a new assignment before Dry Prairie’s search committee found him through Florida’s vast Baptist network.
He terms himself a “exegetical” preacher, which means he believes in going through the Bible verse by verse.
“That way you cover the whole book,” Williams said.
So how does he look at his faith now, after all these years?
“I believe that the Bible is the infallible, inspired word of God about God’s plan of salvation,” Williams said. “Its key person is Jesus. Its purpose is to redeem mankind. Its heart is to let us know that God loves us. And its offer of grace is for everyone.”