Growing up without a father around to teach me the things that fathers teach their sons is something that, for me, I see as a blessing. I got to choose my father-figure-mentor to mold my life, and I have been richly blessed to have had some incredible men fill that spot for me. No one in my life did more to help guide me, teach me, help me, and inspire me than Jon Hazelip did. As a thirteen year old kid from Washington, D.C., I found myself in Dasher, Georgia in 1964, attending Georgia Christian School. He immediately became someone I watched and learned from. During my six years of school at GCS, living in the dorm and being far from home, he was someone who I always looked to for answers, approval, and towards the end, shepherding. He was my football, basketball, and track coach, the teacher of various classes, my debate and speech coach, Bible teacher, and mentor for nearly every area of my life in those formative years. During my last two years at GCS, after I had made a serious spiritual re-dedication of my life to God and made a commitment to preaching the Gospel, he was the single biggest supporter and encouraging force of my life. Let me share two quick stories. In the fall of my senior year, I was asked to speak in chapel. I studied, prayed, and prepared. I did a lesson about a new saying that was popular, “Do your thing!” I applied that phrase to Philippians 4 that talked about “…think on these thing” and “I can do all things through Christ…”. When I finished, he got up, and while complimenting me on doing a great job, he grabbed my lesson notes that were still on the stand, folded them up, and stuck them in his pocket. His affirmation cemented my decision. A year later, I returned to GCS just days before my classes started at Harding College. He insisted that I preach at the Quitman Church of Christ, where he preached, that Sunday. I did, and the huge affirmation I received from him and the members caused me to return to Harding and change my registration from Pre-law to Bible. I had been planning to preach, but I wasn’t sure of the route to take. He gave me the direction I needed, and I’ve been doing it for four and a half decades now.
Jon was a lot of things to me. A friend, a spiritual mentor, a dependable and loyal brother in Christ, but he will always be Coach. He officiated our wedding, he sent me books to read, and he kept me challenged with thoughts, insights, and reasons to pray! He loved people! He loved souls! He loved our Father with every ounce of his being! He set the standard for so many of us. He was passionate, funny, caring, and a servant to everyone he met. I loved him for all these things and for all the many great memories he gave to me, but what I loved most about Jon/Coach, was his passion for learning and growing! Since 1964, he has been one of the greatest examples in my life, and these many years later – he still is! God give me his passion for learning and growing! Give me his passion for souls! Most of all, Father, give him a gym in heaven that is big enough to hold all of us who want to be in the same room with him again. And Father, don’t try to match free throws with him! Thank you for a life well loved and well lived!