Blessings,  Leadership Lessons,  Spiritual Growth

A Faithful Reflection

I wanted to share this memorial tribute I had the honor of giving recently for a dear friend and ministry partner who walked into the presence of Jesus February 17. This woman truly reflected the image of Christ.

One of the greatest gifts God gave me in ministry was Dr. Rhonda Kelley. When none of us knew much about effective women’s ministry, we were asking the questions and looking for others who were seeking answers. Rhonda was one who, very early, asked how do we effectively reach and disciple women for Christ?

I found myself in the early 90s, a lay person in my church in East Texas, actually serving on my staff full time. This is when I got to know Rhonda.  As the Lord led me to serve at LifeWay, knowing very little about denominational work in the Southern Baptist Convention, she took me under her wing and taught me! She was a safe place to ask questions, and she never made me feel less than because I didn’t know the answers! 

It’s so hard to try to describe someone like Rhonda but I made a “limited” list of words that describe her life that have meant so much, not just to me, but to all who knew her. 

Grace-Rhonda understood and gave grace freely to everyone!  In 2 Corinthians 9:8 Paul is talking about our motivations for giving, but what He says describes Rhonda so well in all aspects of who she was: And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.

God’s grace overflowed her life to all who knew her and she excelled in serving Jesus by that grace. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a negative thing about anyone, but I heard grace as she spoke of others, even when situations were difficult.

I am a recipient of God’s grace overflowing my friend. A line from the song In Jesus Name says “I speak Jesus over you”. Rhonda spoke Jesus’ grace over all, always giving the benefit of the doubt to others, always encouraging others. 

Visionary-At the first Women’s Leadership Forum we hosted at LifeWay, our Southern Baptist seminaries and entities joined women’s ministry leaders. A women’s leader asked why there were no seminary classes for women’s ministry leaders. No one had an answer for that. So, Rhonda went home and asked that same question to her husband Dr. Chuck Kelley who just happened to be president of the seminary. He said, we can! and the rest is a history that includes no only a certificate program but women’s ministry degrees on all levels. What an encouragement to so many women in leadership across the country!

As we worked together putting courses together, I got to see first hand how she worked toward this vision and handled her responsibilities. Getting to teach alongside her in many of those classes are memories for which I’m forever be grateful. I spent so much time on this New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus that it became home away from home for me! Many of the women’s trainers who helped us train through our LifeWay events came from these classes. 

Each time I visited New Orleans, Rhonda challenged herself with finding a restaurant where I’d never eaten. We never ran out of New Orleans restaurants! 

1 Corinthians 13:13 says, Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love — but the greatest of these is love. All three words describe Rhonda’s life.

Faith-She had absolutely unwavering faith. I saw her experience hard times but not once did I see her go through it faltering in her faith in her God. Never.

Hope-Rhonda always had an optimistic outlook on all the challenges she faced. She always had a plan to address the issue from the glass half full. She knew God would always keep His promises. Not once do I remember a pessimistic response to anything. Her ever present smile showed her heart filled with hope.

Love-It was obvious she loved Jesus, and that she loved people. She fulfilled the great commandment faithfully. I absolutely love how she loved “the moms” (both hers and Chuck’s) so well! She had a slot by her back door with things she needed to take to them! Can you even imagine the heavenly welcome Rhonda had from them when she arrived!

Thoughtful-More than once Rhonda ministered personally to me and even my daughters when we faced hard situations. When my three of my granddaughter’s lives changed forever through tragedy, she sent them cards and gifts.

More than a ministry partner and colleague, she was my Friend. I’m forever changed by her influence as so many other women have been.

Rhonda understood nothing on earth satisfies like Jesus. In John 6:35 we find these words, I am the bread of life, Jesus told them. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again. Rhonda knew that nothing on earth could satisfy like Jesus and that was where she always turned her heart and focus. This is the image she reflected on earth.

A few verses below in John 6:51 we read: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Peace is available to all of us because we “know how the story ends.” Rhonda knew as well, and now is enjoying  her forever. We will all miss her terribly but are SO grateful she was a part of our lives. I’ve been forever changed by her investment in my life.

Banner photo by Jovis Aloor on Unsplash

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