Finding Gods Will in the Children
Discovering God's will for your life can be quite an education, Ed Waldron will tell you. It seems he has spent his entire life looking for it. When he graduated from RTS as President of the student body in 1973, he was probably the only Master of Divinity graduate who had no interest in pastoring.
In fact, he has never pastored a church. But he is certainly the shepherd of a precious flock of sheep, the eighty children who live at Palmer Home for Children in Columbus, Mississippi. Not that he actually parents the children. Surrounded by a professional staff of twenty, plus seven couples who are houseparents, he sees himself as the guy who makes it possible for them to be the real ministers to the children. "I see that all the joints are oiled and that the money and the resources get here," he insists. But don't let him fool you. His role is not purely administrative. He has spent hours reading to the children at night and keeps candy in his office to lure preschool visitors daily.
Even though Ed has been executive director of Palmer Home since 1990, it took twenty years, three graduate or post-graduate degree programs, and a few jobs for him to realize that each opportunity was God's preparation for this job. And it seems a perfect fit.
Blessed with Christian parents who led him to Christ at a young age, Ed also had a grandmother who taught him the children's catechism and great grandparents who prayed for him before he was born. Now he is driven by the desire to provide that same type of home atmosphere for the Palmer children. "We believe in the covenant here at Palmer Home," Ed explains. "We want to restore the promise of a covenant home to children who don't have that opportunity and for children who come from broken and abusive home situations."
Growing up in the seemingly idyllic fifties. Ed was a good student who played a little football but was a lot more interested in band, in which he played first trombone. And he headed up his youth group at church.
In the early sixties, he spent his summers working in the citrus groves his father and grandfather owned and operated. "I worked with foremen who had gone through the depression. They taught me a lot about work ethics. I tell the Palmer children some of those lessons I learned from those men. I remember one of them asking me, 'When you go to the store to buy a loaf of bread, what do you expect to get?' I told him a loaf of bread. In a simple but profound way, he told me that I was giving the company only half a loaf - I wasnt working hard enough and doing my job right. It did matter that I was the boss's son."
However, none of those lessons from Ed's childhood really prepared him for what he experienced in his early college years. He became wrapped up in college life in the turbulent sixties and remembers testing whether or not the values he grew up with were going to be owned by him. He left the tropical Florida climate and headed north to Clemson University in South Carolina hoping to study agricultural engineering. But it wasn't long before he returned to his native Florida to finish his college education.
When he transferred to the University of Florida, God, in His sovereignty, knew what Ed needed. "I was living with some football players," he recalls, "who invited me to come to a College Life meeting sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. I saw in those young men and women a quality of life that I didn't have. I also found a genuine acceptance that I had not seen anywhere else in college."
So he attended those weekly meetings regularly. Later he became involved in a small group of ten men called an Action Group. Of those ten, eight ended up going to seminary, Ed recalls. He spent the summer before his senior year on a Campus Crusade beach project in Cape Cod, where he worked during the day and shared his faith on the beach in the evening. "That was a great experience, learning to share my faith and to articulate the hope that was in me." From then on, when given the opportunity to share Christ, Ed had answers and a method.
In 1970, after graduating from Florida with a degree in journalism, Ed came to RTS "to learn and grow in his knowledge and perhaps to become a part of Campus Crusade for Christ staff." One of forty entering seminarians at RTS that fall, he recalls that many of his classmates came from secular universities; "we were all ignorant, but we were excited and anxious to learn."
"RTS was a wonderful experience for me," Ed acknowledges. "I have since gone on to study other disciplines at other locales, but the seminary formed my thoughts; it created in me a Christian mind."
While a student at RTS, Ed met his wife Linda on a blind date, and they were married in August before his senior year. Ed didn't have a clear picture of what God wanted him to do after graduating, so he took some psychological preference tests in an effort to discover God's will for him. It helped, but not enough.
"I have done a lot of reading about discovering the Lord's will for your life," he says, "and the bottom line is that I finally agreed with what Martin Luther said, 'Love God, and do what you want.' I think that is the best prescription I can give: Seek the Lord first and open your heart before Him, and then do as your heart tells you to do. I don't think you will miss it. He will direct our hearts. I think the Lord has a greater interest in seeing that we do His will than we have of even seeking it."
CARING FOR THE CHILDREN
In January of 1990, after several beneficial work and educational experiences, including a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Florida State University, Ed and his family arrived at Palmer Home for Children. About his varied career moves Ed says, "I am a generalist. Someone told me once that I am a patchwork quilt. I have used everything that I have ever learned. And I wish I had learned more.
"At Palmer I use my theological training every day. I use my Christian education training every day. I use my fund raising training every day. And I use my administrative training every day. I am grateful for all those experiences. But, in coming to Palmer Home, I really feel whole. This job calls for every type of training that I have had. I have also realized that my niche is childcare. I really wanted the opportunity to work in that area for a valid Christian institution. Palmer Home offered that to me.
Ed has spent eight years leading Palmer Home, the longest time he's spent in any one job or locale. What is its holding power?
"I like the challenge of building the organization," reveals Ed. "But the real challenge is to communicate the imperative of this ministry to the church at large. "There is a very clear biblical mandate that goes all the way back to the Old Testament about caring for the fatherless and the widow. The Old Testament called for a separate tithe to care for the fatherless and the widow. Why were these two classes of people singled out? I think because they are largely invisible and powerless in society. Children don't vote and they can be easily ignored. But not by Jesus, who said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me whoever receives one little child like this receives me.'"
And that is what Ed and his experienced staff at Palmer Home do. They receive children who need a home. "We do more than residential care," Ed explains." We do adoption, foster care, and we also reunite children with families when possible. Meanwhile, we try to shore up the brokenness and to be the part of the family that is not here. We deal with the impact and effect of sin. The gospel is supposed to go where the hurt is; it is a shining light. It shines best against the darkness, the sin, and the hurt.
"Palmer Home is filled with opportunities to become all that God wants a person to be. We are an opportunity center to work on the future. We don't think that anyone's past disqualifies them from a full and passionate walk with Christ. We are champion of the underdogs here."
A quick look at several students will show how successful Palmer's approach is. James Ingram was at Palmer for more than ten years. A hard worker at anything he tries, he joined the Boy Scouts at age sixteen and became a Life Scout. He would have been an Eagle Scout but he reached the cut-off age of eighteen before he finished his last two merit badges. Indicative of his character, he completed the badges anyway, even though he could not be awarded the Eagle Scout Award. Ed remembers attending a dinner in James' honor where a general from the Pentagon presented him with a medal for heroism for saving his brother's life in a drowning incident. Later he won Palmer's Presidents Award, given to the person who most represents Palmer's ideal Christian student. James recently graduated from Mississippi State University with a marketing degree and is now a manager-trainee with Fred's Department Store in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
"James has worked hard for all he has received," says Ed. "The older I get the more I think that perseverance and tenacity are critical predictors of success in life. It's not where a person starts from but how hard he works with what he has."
Ed also recalls a very bright student named Mary Black who is now in Japan teaching English as a foreign language. She applied on her own and was accepted to the Mississippi School for Math and Science, where she was a National Merit Finalist. After graduation she attended Furman University on a full academic scholarship. When she returns from Japan, she hopes to go to graduate school in art.
And then there is James Stennis, who came to Palmer when he was only four months old. Even though school has always been hard for James, he has just finished his second year at East Mississippi Community College, where he is a cheerleader and exhibits a true heart for the Lord.
Perhaps the most poignant story involved four little girls who came to Ed's office late one afternoon, determined to run away. The youngest was four and the oldest was nine. They had been to their housemother and she had told them they had to see Dr. Waldron because "we do things by the book at Palmer Home." They each had packed a grocery sack full of belongings, even including toothpaste.
Two of them had some serious questions. Why, they asked, could they not go live with their daddies, who loved them as much as the people at Palmer Home? Ed knew about these girls' daddies, about all the broken promises, about the fact that both of them were dying. He separated the girls, and was able to console the first with the fact that her daddy had wanted her to be at Palmer when he signed over permanent custody to them. Just knowing that her father had participated in the decision brought her a measure of comfort.
But the second little girl, after being led into Ed's office, sat in front of him and began to weep. "In all my years of training, I didn't know what else to do except hug her and cry with her," remembers Ed. "Then we went to my house and made a bologna sandwich together, which is very therapeutic when you think about it. We made a big production of it. She played with our hamster for a while, and then we walked hand in hand back to her cottage.
"All those girls are still at Palmer. Indeed we do have promises to keep. We want every child to grow up with the sweet innocence of childhood, but at Palmer we know that some children are exposed to the harshest realities life has to offer. We try to teach our children that one of the chief goals of the Christian experience is to learn to deal with adversity, to learn that all things work together for good, and to learn that we can trust God's promises through the fire. We serve a Savior who redeems our lives from destruction; Palmer Home seeks to be His agent and restore the full promise of covenant hope for our children."
Looking back, Ed can now see God's clear hand of guidance in preparing him for and leading him to his current ministry at Palmer Home. Passionate about the cause for children who have no where else to turn, he looks forward to many years of helping his "sheep" discover truths about God's love and care for them and His will for their lives
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 3