Written Nov 2000


KNOXVILLE - During the Tennessee Baptist Convention annual meeting Nov. 13-14, 2000 and related activities here, Dennis Deese and Hal Fletcher both had responsibilities.  Deese, pastor of Hunter First Baptist Church, Elizabethton was president of the TBC Pastors Conference. Fletcher, pastor of Ridgeway Baptist Church, Memphis was second vice president of the TBC. 


The two men are close friends and  even during their busy schedule found some time to visit with one another.   Fletcher was instrumental in leading Deese to the Lord 19 years ago and since then they have formed a life-long bond of friendship. 


19 years ago

Deese was 24 and thought he was living a good life, married to his childhood sweetheart, Teri, and having had three children.  He had a top managerial position as a chemical plant operator in Live Oak, FL and his hobby was stock car racing.  Deese was raised by a loving grandmother, Mary Deese, who adopted him as her own.  Yet, he still felt an emptiness and spiritual need in his life.  He and Teri, his wife, decided to attend church.  On the way to a Nazarene  church they had chosen, they drove past small Baptist Church that was closer to their home and decided to visit there.


The Monday after their visit, the pastor, Hal Fletcher and one of the Deacons visited the Deese home. When Fletcher first went to their home they were gone; however, about an hour later they returned and found the family at home. When Fletcher returned for a second visit, Deese was in his backyard. Fletcher ask Deese, "if you died today, do you know you'd go to heaven?" Deese recalled that he told Fletcher he didn't want to be a A hypocrite and when he got his life cleaned up he'd get saved."  Fletcher told him he reminded him of Paul.  Of course, at that time Deese was unfamiliar with the Bible and did not know who he was talking about.  Fletcher explained that he needed to have a personal relationship with God, not just attend church.   Others had visited the Deese family, but stressed church attendance and had never really discussed the need of having a personal relationship with Jesus.  This visit led to Teri and Dennis both praying and asking Jesus, "to forgive them and save them."  Deese recalled, "an immediate burden lifted when I prayed to receive Christ". 


A transformation

Deese faced some choices now, he said.  He drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, and cursed often.  Now, for the first time in his life he began to experience conviction about many things he did that were wrong.


Deese and his wife made a public commitment to God by walking the isle of the church as soon as the invitation was offered two weeks after being saved.  Then he realized he had left his wallet at home.  Deese told Teri and the lady, who was assisted them in filling out the church membership card, about his predicament.  


Although it is funny now, he seriously thought he would have to pay dues to join the church .  He was assured he could make his decision without having to pay any money.  Jesus had paid it all!


A few struggles

Deese reported he had to basically learn how to talk again and he stopped drinking alcohol.  But the hardest struggle he had was giving up smoking.  He had smoked cigarettes for 15 years and although he prayed daily that God would help him stop, he couldn't.  He also was reading the Bible daily, especially during the down time on his night shift job.  He felt so burdened, he started trying to hide his cigarettes but a fellow worker saw him and chided him about smoking and professing to be a Christian.  After praying about one year, Deese realized he didn't have the urge to smoke.  He never smoked again.


His calling

Deese kept reading the Bible voraciously, often 30 chapters every night and memorizing scripture.  During the first year after he was saved, he memorized 100 verses.   His favorite verse at that time was James 1:22: "But be ye doers of the word, and not healers only, deceiving your own selves". 


About 30 days after he quite smoking, He felt God=s word burning in his heart to the point he had to get it out. He talked to his pastor about it and Fletcher suggested his feelings might be God calling him to preach.  Fletcher invited Deese to preach at his church.   Just two years after his profession of faith he was serving as pastor of a church and then went on to attend Florida Baptist Theological College.


His ministry

Deese has served Hunter First Baptist for nine years and has seen it grow from 300 to 500 in worship.  He explained his ministry is different from that of many pastors because of his experiences.  He encourages Christians to talk to people about their need for salvation rather than church attendance, just like Fletcher did when he visited him. 


"I'm not trying to build the church, but to build people," explained Deese.  "As much as God calls a pastor to the church, he calls a layman to the church."  "The greatest call in the world is what God calls you to be and you can't do what God wants you to do until you become who God wants you to be." He also tries to teach church members to be sensitive to people who may not be familiar with Christianity and church. 


Because he has been mentored by Fletcher and others, he tries to mentor other pastors and preachers and encourages mentoring.  Hunter First holds conferences for preachers which foster that.  He and Fletcher still talk regularly.   In fact, Deese says, "I call him often just to say thanks for coming by my home and telling me how to be saved."