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A clear call to lead

Former Georgia BCM intern becomes state's youngest campus minister



Fro Joe Wood, this mihgt apepar nomrla.

Not because he speaks a different language, though. Wood, campus minister at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus and Darton College in Albany, lives with dyslexia.

Take the extra four seconds it took to make out the first sentence of this article. Considering that, think of how long it took Wood to slosh through a 500-word story in elementary school, a 3,000-word textbook chapter in high school, a 212,400-word novel in college.

Dyslexia, a learning disability that causes difficulty in reading and writing, typically results in someone viewing letters in a word or sentence out of order. An estimated 5-15 percent of the population lives with various degrees of the condition. Wood was diagnosed with dyslexia in the third grade while attending Ore City Elementary School in Ore City, Texas.

“I was having a hard time at school,” said Wood. “I wouldn’t read at all in class or Sunday School. I’d rather disobey the teacher and not read and get a paddling in the office. I’d blow up because I was so frustrated.”


Determined to fly

In the sixth grade Wood’s mother enrolled him in a Christian school 30 minutes away in Longview, near the Louisiana state line. Wood said he was functionally illiterate, but by the time he finished the eighth grade his teachers had pulled him to his appropriate reading level.

Heather Burgess

Joe Wood, middle, and Tracie Palmer, at right and a member of the BCM at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, eat with students Sept. 7. The weekly meal is hosted by the BCM and sponsored by different church groups in the area. The Sept. 7 meal was sponsored by the WMU of First Baptist Americus.

The Christian school only went through the eighth grade, so his freshman year Wood went to a different school. He continued to struggle academically, though. Upon graduation, teachers and counselors tried to steer him toward a trade school.

A fan of planes, Wood checked out a school in the Dallas area specializing in aircraft mechanics that summer. It was also during that time he went to a youth camp and felt a call to ministry.

“I thought that if I was going into the ministry I needed to go to college,” he said.

Wood enrolled at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. as an aviation major, determined to one day fly. Academic struggles continued, though. Tests revealed he was still at an eighth grade reading level.

Remedial programs helped, but Wood points to another factor that led to eventual scholastic success.

“Once I got involved in BSU, the director, Bill Collins, really encouraged me. He would stay in contact with people around campus to make sure I got the help I needed. He stayed on top of me to make sure I did my work. He was a constant presence.”

Collins remembers Wood as a determined student who’s “flaw” made him a leader.

“He started coming here as a freshman and was very energetic,” recalled Collins. “One day he got serious with me and said how no one in his family had ever graduated from college. He said it may take him eight years but he would finish.”

It took six years for Wood to become the first in his family with a college degree.

“Joe ended up being our BSU president and was one of the first where I could just hand things over to him and he could run with it,” said Collins. “Because of his dyslexia, he was able to approach things so creatively. What we would call a disability was something God allowed and it led to some of the most creative programs we ever had.”

He was flourishing in BSU, but the term papers and textbooks remained. Wood continued working – most days spending up to six hours on homework to comprehend the material. After graduating from Northwestern, he went on to earn a Master’s in Education in collegiate ministry degree from Southwestern Seminary.

It wasn’t until he was in seminary that Wood told Collins of his calling to work in campus ministry.

“He told me I had all the tools and believed in me, but I had looked up to him so much that I was embarrassed to tell him,” said Wood. “I guess I was afraid because I honestly didn’t think anyone would want to hire a dyslexic campus minister, thinking I was handicapped and couldn’t get the job done.”

Those fears were alleviated by something told to Wood by Joe Graham, specialist for collegiate ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

“He told me that if someone didn’t want to hire me as a campus minister because I was dyslexic, then I didn’t want to work with them anyway. That really encouraged me,” remembered Wood.

In giving his testimony, students who are dyslexic – and many who aren’t – have told Wood how he encouraged them. Wood hopes that don’t-give-up message resonates with his students.

“My favorite thing to do is to personally show students how to do outreach,” said Wood, who completed a two-year internship at Columbus State College before his current position. “My goal is to expand their horizons and show them how to make an impact. I want to put them in situations that stretch them.”

Collins remembers when Wood was at NSU and pursuing his dream to fly. Wood was already flying planes when school officials learned he had dyslexia. He wasn’t allowed to fly again.

“He was able to fulfill a goal (flying) even though it was taken away,” said Collins. “Everyone said ‘no, you can’t fly’ but he proved them otherwise.

“You weren’t going to stop Joe from doing something. God hard-wired him to be a fighter, and to succeed.”