He always said: “Life is relationships.”
“That was his quote,” said one of the Rev. Wendell C. Wilson’s best friends, the Rev. Joe Hamblin.
According to Hamblin, Wilson also would say with a twinkle in his eyes: “Salvation is free, but it’s not maintenance free.”
Pastor Wilson, a much admired and beloved Manatee County pastor for decades, started Loving Hands Ministry to rehabilitate men lost to drugs and alcohol. He died after a nearly 10-year battle with cancer at 1:45 p.m. May 25 at his home and the home of Loving Hands, 9511 36th Ave. E., Palmetto.
Wilson, 75, was surrounded by family when he died and was comforted by the Rev. Bill Bailey of Happy Gospel Church.
“Bill Bailey was here and spoke some words from the Lord to him and shortly after that he took his last breath and it was very peaceful and amazing,” said Pastor Wilson’s daughter, Kimberly Wilson-Dodson, who is president of the Loving Hands Ministries Inc. and office manager.
At Pastor Wilson’s bedside at his death were six children, four biological and two adopted. They included sons, Steve and Christopher, and daughters, Kimberly and Vicki, along with adopted sons, Joseph VanBlarcom and the Rev. Hamblin, the man Wilson picked before he died to take over for him and be the new executive director of Loving Hands Ministry.
Wilson left Hamblin and his daughter in charge of Loving Hands Ministries and the pair said it will not falter on their watch. They want it to grow.
“We are starting an intake center in the Miami area with the hope of starting a full center there,” Hamblin said.
Loving Hands has eight men and four full-time staffers at the Palmetto center and nine men in the center in Dade City, Hamblin said.
Hamblin, who was addicted to heroin, went through the Loving Hands program but left it four times only to come finally back and “submit to the Lord’s will,” which he said removed the anger blocking him from being able to flourish.
When Wilson-Dodson and Hamblin sat down last week to talk about Pastor Wilson’s life accomplishments, some amazing facts emerged.
Many knew him from his longtime association with the Manatee County Ministries Association and his unwavering annual commitment to the Easter sunrise service on the Manatee River.
They didn’t know Pastor Wilson grew up troubled, his daughter said. He was the oldest of nine in a poor Virginia family. His father was an alcoholic. Pastor Wilson left home at age 16 and was living on the streets of Alexandria, Va., outside Washington, D.C.
That may help explain why he had a heart for helping rescue young men in trouble, of whom an estimated 1,000 come through Loving Hands Ministries since 1984.
“Dad was bribed by a six pack of beer to go to a church revival,” Wilson-Dodson said of her father.
Pastor Wilson accepted Jesus Christ into his life at the revival and joined the church but that wasn’t the end of the story, his daughter said.
“It was miraculous,” Wilson-Dodson said. “He never turned from the Lord again. In fact, he went on to become mentored by the pastor of that church and they became close friends for 58 years.”
Relationships are what Pastor Wilson told everyone was the secret to life.
Cut to the early 1980s. Pastor Wilson has been a pastor at churches in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida but he received divine inspiration to start a free program for men in trouble.
Pastor Wilson’s wife, Nancy, was not immediately on board with the idea.
“Dad asked mom if he could bring a young man into our home for dinner who had just gotten out of jail,” Wilson-Dodson said. “She reluctantly agreed, even with two young girls. Then, after dinner, dad asked, ‘Can he just stay the night?’ That man, straight out jail, was named George Turner. He would become the first resident of Loving Hands.”
Nancy Wilson, who died Feb. 12 of this year, was the key to the transformation all these men made.
As determined as he was to devote his entire life and energy to a program for wayward fellows, Pastor Wilson needed his wife on board with the idea of him resigning as pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Palmetto, Wilson-Dodson said.
“It took my mom a little while to see this is really God calling my dad into full time Loving Hands,” Wilson-Dodson said. “She wasn’t going to have the security of a pastor’s income anymore, even though it wasn’t anything lavish. But it was security that dad got a check every week.”
The decision was Nancy Wilson’s to make and she made it.
“She told my dad she would do whatever it takes,” Wilson-Dodson said. “There was a song in church that very next day called ‘Whatever It Takes.’ It goes, ‘Whatever it takes for my will to break that is what I will do, Lord.’ She sang that song in church that day.”
Nancy Wilson went on to become a force for the men. She invited them into their home for Christmas and made them Easter baskets. Often, 12 or so men would sit down to dinner with the Wilsons and they always felt part of a family, Wilson-Dodson said.
Wendell and Nancy Wilson have made Loving Hands work all these years on private donations. They helped start 150 churches in India over the past 22 years the same way.
They also started Nancy Wilson’s Children’s Home for orphans in India and a school in India. Pastor Wilson visited India every January.
Of all his accomplishments, one has to go back to the woman he chose to marry 53 years ago, who stood by him in his most excruciating moment of decision. Getting Miss Nancy to say yes to marriage may have been Pastor Wilson’s greatest accomplishment, Wilson-Dodson said.
Information or donations: Loving Hands Ministries, P.O. Box 1157, Bradenton FL 34206.