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promises to keep

The Amazing Life and Ministry of Trymon Messer

by T.R. Scott


HE'S THE ONLY FREE WILL BAPTIST DEACON TO PASTOR A CHURCH nearly 12 years without causing a ministerial riot. Of course, that’s because Trymon Messer took a church surrounded by 502 empty houses after a local military base closed. No preacher wanted the mission church in Salina, Kansas, where summer temperatures sizzled the flat plains and winter froze antifreeze in pickup trucks.

But the pastor’s resignation at First FWB Church in 1967 left the 34-year-old ex-Carnation Milk deliveryman and a handful of people with few options. Three years earlier, Trymon and Opal Messer and their two children relocated from Tulsa to Salina to help plant a new church. When the congregation could not find a pastor, the Lord nudged the Mississippi-born layman with a fifth-grade education to lead the church.

They started over with two families. The former U.S. Marine who brought home four medals from Korea began practicing what drill instructors taught him on Parris Island—leadership. Eleven years later when Messer resigned as lay pastor, the congregation had mushroomed to a record attendance of 859, completed three building programs, and helped start five Kansas churches.

Man on a Mission

Trymon Messer, 73, was an unlikely church leader yet one of the finest natural leaders of his generation. While serving as lay pastor in Salina, he chaired the Kansas Mission Board and was elected to Hillsdale FWB College’s Board of Trustees. Wherever he went, people stepped up to follow his leadership. The National Association elected him to the Home Missions Board in 1973.

Twice named Layman of the Year—in 1964 by Hillsdale FWB College and in 1969 by Master’s Men—Messer was sought by pastors nationwide to lead church-growth conferences.

When Trymon was 45 years old, the Home Missions Department named him associate director (1978), where his practical biblical knowledge and sense of humor made him one of the agency’s top spokesmen. He was named general director in 1995 and completed 22 years with the department.

The Farmer’s Daughter

Trymon and Opal Messer met in West Tennessee in 1951 where the Messer family had moved as share croppers.

“We moved every time Dad saw an empty house,” Trymon chuckles. “Opal’s family owned land, and I fell in love with her the first time I saw her. She was 15, so I joined the Marine Corps and gave her time to grow up before marrying her. She was my only girlfriend. After 50 years of marriage, I love her more today than I ever have.”

Meet Me in Heaven

Trymon’s conversion is the driving force in his life, a sweeping 11-year odyssey that bridges the cotton fields of Mississippi and the mine fields of Korea, the Chicago Loop and the Collinsville preacher.

At age 13, he promised his mother on her deathbed that he would become a Christian and meet her in Heaven, making that promise after a tragic fire killed his mother, a brother, and a sister. He dropped out of school to help his father farm and never made it back to the classroom.

Three weeks after the fire that killed his mother, he went to a Baptist church in Mississippi to get saved and keep his promise. But all Trymon got was wet when they baptized him. “I left the church unsaved,” he says. When he tried again at another Baptist church, the preacher only shook his hand.

Six years later, 19-year-old PFC Trymon Messer shipped out with the U.S. Marines to Korea. “I volunteered for every patrol,” he recalls. “I felt responsible for the boys in my unit.” Soon Sergeant Trymon Messer was a mine specialist, clearing the deadly devices from patrol areas.

“One day a mine exploded and almost killed me,” he says. “I went to see the Chaplain and told him about my promise to Mother to get saved and meet her in Heaven. The Chaplain offered me a wafer, but he didn’t know the way to Heaven.”

Cover in the Storm

After mustering out of the Corps, Trymon returned to Tennessee and married the farmer’s daughter. Circumstances soon handed them a one-way bus ticket to Chicago where they both found jobs.

Trymon was 24 and under the deepest conviction of his life. “It tore me up when Opal told me I was going to be a father, and there I was unsaved, and had not kept my promise to Mother.”

Then the Lord reminded him of Retes Hunsucker, a Christian from Hoyt, Oklahoma, he had met five years earlier in San Diego. “I tracked down his address and found out he was in Collinsville.”

They quit their Chicago jobs and headed to Oklahoma to keep Trymon’s promise to his mother, arriving in Collinsville at night in the middle of a raging storm with hail and high winds. As they stopped on the street, unable to locate his friend’s home, a policeman pulled alongside and told them to get under cover from the storm.

Trymon explained that they had nowhere to go and showed him Retes Hunsucker’s address. The policeman led them to Hunsucker’s home where Retes informed them that he was now a preacher and pastored a Free Will Baptist church.

“I had asked God to save me,” Trymon says. “He heard my prayer and led me across five states and a thousand miles straight to a Free Will Baptist preacher. That Sunday night I kept my promise to Mother. I got saved and will meet her in Heaven.”

The next morning at 6:30, Trymon began praying for his family. Within a year, his father, four brothers, two sisters, his half-brother, and a brother-in-law were all saved in the same service at Collinsville FWB Church. His father died two weeks later.

Trusting Free Will Baptists

Trymon and Opal established three trusts with the FWB Foundation. “We wanted to give back to the people who did so much for us,” he explains. “That’s why we have the charitable remainder unitrust with the Foundation. We owe a tremendous debt to Free Will Baptists. The denomination has always made a way for me, promoted me, and given me financial stability. They gave me a job, a car to drive, and paid me a good salary that permitted me to set aside money.”

The Messers checked into the Foundation and found what they needed to express their gratitude to the denomination. They saw in the FWB Foundation a means to tell the Free Will Baptist people how much they appreciated the opportunities they received through the years.

“We met with Director Bill Evans and Associate Director David Brown,” Trymon says. “They showed us how to do what we wanted to do. Our charitable remainder unitrust now provides Opal and me with a good income. After our deaths, the entire trust will go to Free Will Baptists; every national agency will benefit. Our two annuity trusts provide us income now, and will, after our deaths, benefit our children and grandchildren.

“I urge with every Free Will Baptist to give something back. Sit down and talk with Foundation representatives. We now have the means through the Foundation to fund every denominational outreach.”

Common Sense Philosophy

Trymon Messer lives by a simple philosophy: “I believe that if a man will claim God’s promise, practice God’s presence, and demonstrate God’s power, he cannot fail.”

He does not hesitate to pass along his sure-fire way to succeed as a Christian. “A man will succeed as a Christian, if he remembers three things—read the Bible every day, be a prayer warrior every day, be a soul winner every day.

But fair warning—if you want to rile Trymon Messer, start complaining about his denomination. “Other denominations almost let me die and go to Hell. I don’t want to hear this nonsense that Free Will Baptists will let you down and not stand by you. I thank God for the wonderful Free Will Baptist people who gave me a chance. I want to leave something behind for them—a good trail, a good example, a good influence. Somebody else did that for me; I want to do the same thing for others.”

T.R. Scott is a free-lance writer from Nashville, TN. A journalist for more than 35 years, his articles are featured often in ONE Magazine





©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists