David M. Wiley is Executive Editor of The Real Issue
Our Lord demonstrates His sovereignty in our lives on a daily basis. Often He pours out blessings that are so obvious and so abundant that we can't help but respond in praise and gratitude.
But there are also those times when His sovereign actions cause us confusion, or disappointment, or sorrow. Those who knew Derrell McLendon find themselves in one of those times.
Dr. Derrell McLendon, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Georgia and a Faculty Affiliate with Christian Leadership Ministries, died of cancer on July 28, 1992 and has taken his reserved seat among that "great cloud of witnesses," watching the battle from the grandstands in heaven.
Derrell was perhaps not as widely known as some of the other professors who are currently giving leadership to the Christian faculty movement, but his commitment to his Lord touched the lives of so many that his loss is felt on campus after campus throughout the nation.
One close friend and colleague of more than 25 years, Dr. Jim Allison, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Georgia, said that Derrell stood out to him as a model of Christian dedication.
"He set an example by the way he lived, and didn't just talk it," Allison said. "He was a very close friend, and he had a profound impact on my life."
That theme is heard again and again as people discuss the legacy of Derrell McLendon. One of the first to mention it is one of Derrell's closest friends from his graduate student days.
Dr. David Ludington, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Cornell University, said that, in maintaining his friendship with Derrell over the years, he was continually impressed with his commitment to ministering in higher education.
"For someone in academia, facing the pressures of publishing, research, grant applications, etc., to make the decision to be involved in ministry is really something," he pointed out. "Heaven will only know what the harvest of his ministry will truly be."
Derrell came to a personal faith in Christ relatively late in life according to statistical averages, having already finished an undergraduate degree and spent a short time in private business before returning to graduate school.
But at that time, Heaven was far from the thoughts of Derrell and Frances McLendon. Though they attended church, Frances recalls that it was "really more for the children. We were just happy heathens."
When they arrived in Ithaca, Frances began attending a women's Bible study, which Letty Ludington taught. She soon noticed a difference in the friends she made there, seeing "some qualities in those women's lives that were real attractive to me."
At an evangelistic outreach sponsored by her own Bible study group, Frances was among those who made a personal commitment to Christ. She decided not to tell her busy husband right away, but soon afterward "he noticed something different."
When Frances told her friend Letty about Derrell's response, Letty encouraged her husband to see if Derrell was interested in talking with someone. He wasn't. At least not at that time. But he later began reading the New Testament and various apologetic sources. As questions came up, he would take them to Ludington or to the local Campus Crusade staff.
"He approached it from an intellectual point of view," Frances explained. "He didn't want to do it just because I had."
When his questions were answered, Derrell took that step of personal commitment, and with that beginning Derrell and Frances blossomed under the discipleship efforts of the Ludingtons and local Campus Crusade for Christ staff.
"When I look back and realize the people that influenced us, teaching us the sovereignty of God and the Spirit-filled life, among many other things, I'm just overwhelmed at what God did," Frances said. "He used the time at Cornell to really ground us."
That grounding continued when they returned to the University of Georgia and met Tom Hinkle, for many years the local Campus Crusade student ministry director and later on the area director for the campus ministries in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
The McLendons were among five couples which Tom and his wife Deborah challenged in early 1975 to participate in a Lay Action Group, which would give them the same training in evangelism and discipleship which the students received.
It is one of the unique demonstrations of how God worked in the life of Derrell McLendon that he was very resistant when first approached.
"He told me he didn't like going door-to-door," Hinkle recalled. Yet it wasn't too long before Derrell "had one of the most viable witnesses of any layman. He was always taking the initiative and wanting to provide people with a platform for spiritual growth."
Frances remembers that when Hinkle challenged them to ask God for His vision for their lives, they determined to work with married couples.
"If we invested time with couples and got them grounded, it would also get the children grounded," she explained. So they taught a couple's Sunday school class, developed their own marriage enrichment seminars, and looked for other ways to involve their friends in discipleship opportunities.
"God just showed us that the things that really count are the things that count for eternity," she said.
Later, they began including Derrell's students in their ministry activities because, Frances said, "God made it clear to him that it wasn't just a student sitting in front of him. It was a real person with real needs."
After Christian Leadership was organized, the McLendons also added professors to his ministry mix. One of the first CLM staff to work with Derrell was Dr. Scott Luley, former professor at Miami of Ohio and currently CLM eastern regional director.
"I can't think of anyone who was more committed to discipleship," Luley commented. "He lived II Timothy 2:2. His legacy to the world is that his life goes on through his disciples."
A former University of Georgia professor, Dr. Michael Sklar, now associate professor of management science and information technology at Emory University at Atlanta, also came in contact with Derrell during his time in Athens.
Sklar's department head asked Derrell to meet with Sklar. Like Derrell at a similar time in his life, Sklar was not immediately interested in discussing spiritual matters.
But with Derrell's persistent and caring witness, Sklar eventually came to a personal faith in Christ. And to a realization of the importance of reaching out to others.
Sklar said his involvement with various ministry activities in the Atlanta area, and his international missions activities, are all due to Derrell's influence.
"It is a huge loss for me and so many others. My prayer is that God will comfort all those who knew him," he said.
"No one wants to get sick like this," Frances said. "But Derrell had the opportunity before he died to hear from so many of his colleagues and former students about how important he had been to them."
It is often said that God will take only two things out of this world when He returns, His Word and His people. Thanks to Derrell McLendon and his commitment to God's Word, our Lord will have many more people to include in His forever family.