Lester Adkins in a 'jack-of-all-trades' at The Lafayette Missionary Baptist Church. And he has a phenomenal "witness" to boot. (Ada Herald/Joe Schriner)
Lester Adkins in a 'jack-of-all-trades' at The Lafayette Missionary Baptist Church. And he has a phenomenal "witness" to boot. (Ada Herald/Joe Schriner)

LAFAYETTE — When I first saw Lester Adkins from a distance, he was carrying big, 40lb bags of salt by himself into the foyer of an empty church on a wintery Tuesday afternoon. (I would learn later that the 80-year-old has been doing that kind of unsung work around the Lafayette Missionary Baptist Church since, well, anyone can remember.) I pulled into the parking lot, approached, and asked him how he was connected to the church. He said he was a Trustee, but almost in the same breath, he said he hadn’t always been a Trustee, in fact, he said he hadn’t always been a Christian. That had started when he heard a hymn…Amazing Grace.

That song, some 40 years ago at this time of year, helped change Lester Adkin’s life.

He was, by his own admission, quite spiritually wayward before then.

Actually, he said he and a buddy were both quite wayward, continually running the bars around Lima at all hours of the night. During the day, he worked in quality control at Ford Motor Company.

Then, as if overnight, his buddy fell off the map.

Five years passed.

Early one evening, they crossed paths again.

After catching up a bit, Lester asked his friend (we’ll call him “Ralph,” not his real name) if he wanted to go out drinking that night.

Ralph said no, he’d found God. Did Lester want to go to church with him the next day?

Lester declined.

But Ralph gave him the name of the church anyway, “…just in case.”

All that night, from bar to bar, Lester, who said he’d be the first to tell you, that he didn’t have much of a grasp of spirituality at all back then, kept thinking this one particular thought.

‘What in the world would the Lord want with the likes of Ralph?’

Lester came home early, and still quite perplexed that night. This nagging curiosity was still getting the best of him the next morning, which was Sunday. He drove to Ralph’s church.

Ralph greeted him, introduced him around.

The first hymn of the service was: Amazing Grace. This was the first “church song” Lester remembers ever hearing as a child.

Lester was “touched,” and hooked, sort of.

For the first two weeks, said Lester, he was on again, off again, with God. Wrestling with Him the way Jacob wrestled with the angel in the Bible’s Old Testament.

During this time, Lester continued, he had a number of quite visceral spiritual experiences. Finally, after the two weeks, he said he gave in totally “…and turned his life over to the Lord.”

That was 1968. And Lester has never looked back.

At this particular church, a Baptist Church in Lima, they believed in baptism by water. It was January. There were seven new members, including Lester, scheduled to be baptized – at, say, a baptismal font in the church.

Lester objected.

He said he’d read where a “proper baptism” should be performed outside in a river, or something. [John the Baptist baptized in the River Jordan, as an example.]

So… the pastor accommodated.

While they couldn’t think of a river that would be safe that time of year with the undercurrent, and such, someone offered the use of a farm pond somewhat off of Rte. 309 near Ada.

The following Sunday, church members with picks and axes in hand, cut a big hole in the pond near the shore. Must have been quite a sight.

Lester said those being baptized then walked into thigh-high frigid water. He said it was absolutely stinging cold.

But when the pastor came by and submerged him totally, Lester said he came up feeling “warm all over, like it was 65 degrees out.”

Another of those spiritual experiences.

After being with that church in the city for a number of years, Lester and his wife were invited to this little Lafayette Church out in the country about 16 years ago. They not only took a liking to it, but Lester said whey were feeling “called” to join it.

They did.

About this time, Lester was also coming up on retirement from Ford. In his retirement, he said he had had plans to find a part-time job to bring a little extra money in, and so on.

That’s when someone in the new church said there was an opening on the Building and Grounds Committee.

“And I thought, well why not ‘work’ for God,” said Lester.

When I asked what that work entailed, he replied with a smile: “Whatever they want done.” This includes, he continued, getting supplies, doing yard detail, snow removal detail (including getting the salt), general building maintenance…). He forewent, altogether, the other part-time job.

Lester ended by saying that not all people can be pastors and deacons.

“We need everyone to make it happen,” he smiled. “That’s what ‘church’ is all about.”