By Jamari Jordan
Often, religion is a touchy subject. When God, Jesus, or the Bible enter the conversation, people begin to get uncomfortable and they try their best to steer the conversation in another direction as quickly as possible. Why is that?
As a society, why do we shy away from talking about religion amongst our peers? Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions don’t have to divide us. Instead, they should bring us all to the table for a long, overdue conversation and understanding of one another.
Gary Hawkins Jr. is at that table waiting for others to join him. I have known Gary since we were 7 years old. We were teammates on a little league baseball team at a local park in Stone Mountain, Ga. Our team was awful. The Bad News Bears would’ve been salivating at the opportunity to play us.
Gary is a preacher’s kid. His dad, Gary Hawkins Sr., has a church in Stone Mountain called Voices of Faith. Growing up, a lot of my classmates and neighbors went to their church, and I always wondered how Gary, and any preacher’s kid, deals with growing up in the church.
“You had all eyes on you,” said Hawkins. “You couldn’t put anything on social media because it would get back to the pastor. You get a lot of attention in good ways and bad ways. It kind of kept me sane, put God first, and molded me into the man I am today.”
Everyone has heard a story or two about preacher’s kids. Usually, they tend to rebel and act out when they get older, but not Hawkins. He stayed grounded. While the attention at times overwhelmed him, he learned to use it to his advantage.
With all eyes on him, Hawkins decided to lead by example. Whether it was in Sunday school, in the classroom, or on the basketball court in high school, he rallied the troops. Instead of the spotlight changing him, it revealed his true character. He used all the lessons he learned in church, and Hawkins applied them in his daily life.
Even he would admit, being a Christian wasn’t always easy for him. Hawkins attended Fort Valley State University, and like most college students can attest, college is an adjustment period you can’t be prepared for. On most Sundays during his freshman and sophomore year, Hawkins was not present in church.
He would go to a party late Saturday night and sometimes, not even make the effort to attend church the following morning. For Hawkins, he felt if he didn’t have to attend his own church back home, he didn’t have to attend anyone’s church Sunday morning.
During his junior year, Hawkins found his way back to church. He remembered the way he felt walking through the Lord’s doors every Sunday. He missed that feeling in his chest after hearing a good sermon.
“So, I matured and stopped thinking what my friends would’ve thought of me,” said Hawkins. “I started bringing other people to church, and before I knew it , I had a car full of people with me. I was still myself, but I was in the sunken place in college partying and hanging out with everyone.”
College humbled Hawkins. He grew up in the suburbs of Gwinnett County, 30 minutes outside of Atlanta. Living in the Metro Atlanta area, Hawkins believed everyone was similar to him, that they had his background and experiences. Quickly, he learned college is a place where you are exposed to another viewpoint of the world.
Fort Valley State’s students come from a wide range of areas, many from Macon and small rural surroundings. Hawkins had to check his privilege and realize that his peers may not have had the same access to all the things he did.
They had a different outlook on pop culture, music, and recent events. He became more considerate of others and their beliefs. His ability to listen and not judge his peers made him a better Christian. A journey Hawkins is gladly enjoying today.
Last year, Hawkins graduated from Fort Valley State, and he finally stopped denying his calling, ministry. He talked with his father and he encouraged him to join MIT, minister in training which is an 18-month course at Voices of Faith.
Now, four months into the courses, Hawkins is still learning about God and his word. He’s spent his entire life in the church, but he still finds something new about the Lord everyday. That is what keeps him going. That intrigue and fascination birthed the Timeline Preacher.
Through social media apps like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, Hawkins shares his journey and the Lord’s word with his followers. He hosts a hour-long Instagram Live bible study session every Wednesday at 10pm.
The topics have covered sex, relationships, and how to deal with those who doubt your faith. Additionally, Hawkins’ followers get a chance to interact with him through a Q&A portion he has at the end of every broadcast.
Often, young adults are maligned for their actions as they are seen as less than ideal. Hawkins is changing that narrative. Here he is, a 23-year old, using social media in a positive manner, a story we don’t get to hear to often when it comes to millennials.
Instead of preaching at or talking down to his peers, Hawkins invites them in every Wednesday for a conversation. Each of his followers get a chance to sit next to him at the table and they chat about Christ, the bible, and any other questions they may have.
“I call it bible study, but I didn’t want people to dread it like going to church or something,” said Hawkins. “I want it to be something where people can relax, have fun. We can interact with each other, and just be down to Earth.”
Finally, people are joining Hawkins at the table. Now, he’s the Timeline Preacher, and Hawkins is spreading God’s word to anyone who’s willing to listen.