The 30-30 man
by John Arlon Hawke
To find out more about the Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement, call (877) 767-7738.
IN THE WORLD OF PRECISION FIREARMS, the 30-30 rifle is known as a powerful weapon that, when placed in the hands of an expert, astounds observers with its ability to strike targets far in the distance. That’s why those at "The Agency" will tell you there’s no one like their 30-30 Man.
The Agency is the Board of Retirement. The 30-30 Man is Reverend R. Eugene (Gene) Waddell—the 30th person to open an account when the National Association of Free Will Baptists adopted the program in 1969.
Thirty years later, when he retired after a five-decade career, he settled his account and took a joint life annuity with a 15-year guaranty. As long as Gene or his wife (Genny) live, they will receive monthly annuity income to help pay the bills.
The slender, silver-haired minister smiles across breakfast at a south Nashville Shoney’s and says, “I started out with my church contributing $100 a year to my retirement account. I encourage young men to do better than I did with their retirement accounts. They should ask their churches to contribute five percent of their salary to retirement, and add a personal five percent above that.”
The man who for 36 years was a torch bearer for Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions got his start in a three-room tenant house on a Wayne County tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. He earned his first money gathering huckleberries.
“I had a wonderful childhood,” the 74-year-old minister recalls. “I was an only child for 15 years. My mother worked in the fields and cooked two family meals a day—breakfast and lunch. Dinner was leftovers. Late every evening, I’d slip along the ditch about 300 yards to Granny’s house where she would give me a handful of hot biscuits for my supper.”
The 30-30 Man knows about keeping divine appointments. The first one came in 1949 when tent evangelist Oliver B. Greene took Wilson (NC) by storm, and 17-year-old Gene Waddell walked the sawdust trail to salvation.
After the revival, young people began to meet on Monday night to fellowship and pray for the lost. The prayer meeting led to larger youth rallies and his second divine appointment.
An enthusiastic, young preacher named Ronald Creech told the teen youth group in 1950, “the only place to go to college is Free Will Baptist Bible College.” A few weeks later, a shy freshman who could still taste Granny’s biscuits stood in a long line to register for the fall semester.
As they stood in line, one bored boy began humming a hymn. Another harmonized. Gene grabbed the first tenor notes, followed by a bass man’s velvet growl. It sounded good. Fifty-six years later the Gospeliers quartet still sing together.
Ministry and Marriage
The 30-30 Man answered the call to preach in 1950. After graduating from FWBBC in 1954, he enrolled at what is now Columbia International University, and began a 26-year career as a pastor and church planter in South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
He and Leah Nichols married in 1954 and had four children under the age of seven by 1962 when Leah died of cancer. Not long after, another divine appointment happened. Gene was asked to be the first editor of the Free Will Baptist Witness, the official publication of North Carolina Free Will Baptists. He needed someone to write a children’s page.
“I went to a Bill Gardner–Herman Hersey concert where I met this beautiful college girl from Smithfield named Genevieve Johnson,” he says. “She was a writer and could provide content for the children’s page. She must have gone crazy, because on her 22nd birthday, she married a pastor with four children—me!”
Gene and Genny Waddell added two children, and she continued to write, publishing numerous articles and authoring two books. Besides founding the Mayor’s Office for Handicapped Persons, Genny created the logo for and worked on the Join Hands with the Badge neighborhood watch program in Nashville. She also taught 10 years at Free Will Baptist Bible College.
Heart for the World
During his 17-year pastorate at Cofer’s Chapel FWB Church in Nashville, TN, Gene was elected assistant moderator of the National Association of Free Will Baptists (1979). He had been a member of the Foreign Missions Board since 1959. That’s when another divine appointment redirected the 30-30 Man.
He was asked to serve as associate director of the Foreign Missions Department in 1981. When Director Rolla Smith retired in 1986, the board tapped Gene to lead the agency. During 12 years as general director, he saw the annual budget soar from $2.9 million to $4.9 million, commissioned 56 missionaries, and opened new fields in Russia, Mongolia, China, and Central Asia.
His travels to far-flung mission stations frequently encountered the unexpected. In an African village, a Lobi chieftan presented him with a royal robe and bow and arrows. Then he bestowed on Gene the name “Sogouri,” which means “one who calms problems and resolves differences.”
After retiring on December 31, 1998, Gene went back to work at Cofer’s Chapel FWB Church as minister of care. He moves a bit slower as a result of an automobile accident, but he’s also practicing on a new guitar the kids gave him for Christmas so he can play for nursing home services.
And just last week, the 30-30 Man kept another divine appointment. “Twin 14-year-old orphan boys moved into our neighborhood,” he says. “Those boys are real hosses and will play football this fall. I look forward to leading them both to Christ.”
John Arlon Hawke is a freelance writer and journalist with a wide range of publishing experience. He currently makes his home just south of Nashville, TN. To find out more about the Board of Retirement, call (877) 767-7738.