I woke up early this morning with a heavy heart. I grabbed my phone and turned to Facebook to see what my heart already knew had happened. Rev. Jesse Ogden left this life and entered eternity with Jesus. I laid back down in the bed and emotions and memories started flooding through my mind. It was just a few days ago that my family visited him in the hospital and Rylee taught me a thing or two about faith and prayer as after leaving the hospital and getting in the car she prayed a little prayer from the depths of her heart, "Dear God and Jesus, please help Brotha Oggan feel better. I love you Jesus. Amen." Then she looked at me and said, "Dada, I prayed and he's better." Today, he's better than he's ever been . . .
He was known by many names, but for me, he was always Bro. Ogden. It sounds so formal and common, but I never thought of him that way. To him, I was always his "other Ryan." I first met him when he came to pastor my home church, Hazlehurst Church of God, when I was 12. It's probably safe to say that had I never met Bro. Ogden, I may not have made it into ministry. If I would have, I would have missed many ministry and life shaping memories. Growing up, I'd always heard that God was going to do something with me, but it was Bro. Ogden that put it into words. He pulled me aside at 12 and told me God had called me into ministry. Bro. Ogden's first assignment for me in ministry was teaching a Sunday School class at the age of 12. I started teaching 1st and 2nd graders and stayed on as their teacher all the way to 5th grade.
He started taking me under his wing and talking to me about ministry. At ages 13 and 14, he would have conversations with me about the Bible and the Holy Spirit as if I was a young adult. He started encouraging my involvement in ministry. He supported me as I worked with the youth drama team as a teenager. He even had enough confidence in me to let me lead worship on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights when my Dad couldn't be at church. It's hard to believe looking back that a 15 and 16 year old boy lead the Hazlehurst Church of God choir on a few Sundays and led praise and worship on Wednesday nights. When he found out that I was teaching myself to play the drums and the only way I could practice was to come to the church, he signed off on me having a key to the church. When I decided to start singing in a small quartet that we put together at the church with Kevin Rewis, Shawn Giddens, and Chad Hall, Bro. Ogden was encouraging in that as well. I remember one day we were at the church practicing when he came to study. He called us in his office and pulled out some of his old tapes and spent the next hour or so playing them for us and asking us to learn some of them. He even volunteered to join the group so we could sing, "Since I Met You Jesus."
He continued encouraging me in every way he could and at 16 he had me preach my first sermon. I don't ever remember being more scared. I worked and worked and worked on it and I'd go and talk with him about my sermon. I went over it with him to get his approval and he told me I would do fine. Nowadays I don't have any problem filling up an hour, but for my first sermon, I was done in about 20 minutes for so. He went on and on about my first sermon like it was a masterpiece. I know it wasn't. I'm actually a little embarrassed of it in some way, but he encouraged me. He used me a few more times after that night and he was there when I received the baptism of the Holy Ghost in the altar on the right side of the sanctuary. When I told him, he hugged me and prayed over me and I'll never forget what I felt that night.
The Ogden's left Hazlehurst shortly after I graduated from high school. On his last Sunday, he hugged me and said it wouldn't be the last time we saw one another and that we would work together again someday. He was right as he hired me as his youth pastor at the West Ward Church of God in Douglas, GA. He worked with me and we spent tons of time together. I spent hours and hours in his office talking about life and ministry. Before I knew it, he appointed me Children's Pastor and then Education Director. He told me over and over again that he truly believed there was nothing I couldn't do with the anointing of God I had on my life. I faced some very tough situations at the end of my time in Douglas, but Bro. Ogden never quit believing in me and praying for me.
In 2006, Billie and I were being considered for the youth pastor position in Vidalia, GA with Rev. Joe Q. Smith. When we got to Vidalia for the interview, Bro. Joe Q. told me that he was already very impressed with me and my ministry. He didn't explain why, but after the interview when he offered the position to us, he told me that Bro. Ogden had spoken with him and told him he would be crazy if he didn't bring me on board as he shared his experiences with me.
When I started pastoring in 2007, I leaned on Bro. Ogden for advice many times. He was a forward thinker. His heart beat for the lost and for discipleship. He was big believer in prayer and spiritual disciplines. I saw that the whole time I knew him and worked for him. Now as a pastor, I wanted to duplicate many of the things I saw while working for him. I took a few trips down to Jesup to visit his home to talk to him about ideas I had and get his advice. I remember taking Travis Bennett to his house to talk about small groups and I remember Travis' reaction when we were on our way home to Perry. He couldn't believe the wisdom and love that Bro. Ogden displayed.
When Bro. Ogden was tasked with being the Prayer Coordinator for South GA, he was called upon to appoint a team to work with the prayer initiative in the state. Though I didn't meet the qualifications of those he was told to select from, he pushed until I was able to serve on his board with him. I so enjoyed working with him again on the prayer initiative. I knew it was near and dear to his heart. I loved being with him again too. I had him come preach at our church about the prayer initiative along with having him come for Pastor Appreciation Day, Homecoming, and our Legacy Campmeeting that we started. I didn't want him to be a stranger to my church.
The church as a whole lost a mighty warrior today. People like Jesse Ogden don't come around that often. He was a mentor and father figure to so many. He was a man of conviction and yet great love and patience. He was sincere and true. He had integrity. He loved his family and he loved the people in his churches. He wasn't afraid to go against the grain if he felt strongly about something. He loved Jesus. You could feel the presence of the Lord radiating out of his life just by being around him. He was easily one of the greatest men that I've ever known.
Bro. Ogden, I know you weren't aware that I came to see you the other day, but I wanted to see you at least one more time should the Lord choose in His sovereignty to take you home. You are the reason I made it into ministry to begin with. Every one of my failures are of my own doing, but every success I have in ministry has to be attributed in some way to you for you recognized God's call in me and cultivated it without stopping regardless of how off course I would get. In many ways, you were another father to me. Already having a son named Ryan, I loved to hear you affectionately refer to me as "your other Ryan." I'll never forget the advice you've given me. I'll never forget our times together. I miss you already and I regret not taking that drive to Jesup more often. I'll keep working to make you proud in ministry and I look forward to the day I see you again. Thank you for all you did for me and my family. You'll never be forgotten and your memory will always be treasured. I love you.