“Of course there are some among the vulnerable and desperate ones seeking sanctuary! Such places are where predators often hide. And this fact alone should not lead to neglect of the vulnerable. In fact, it increases the urgency.”
Today I share with you the life of Jayson Rowe. His life was short, tough, twisted and tragic. Here is a brief overview in his own words, published on his blog:
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Thy Will Be Done
This has been one of the best months of my life, and it’s only 14 days in as of writing these words.
I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story, but I wanted to sit down and share deeply about who I am, and how I got to where I am right now.
Let me start by rewinding 19 years.
In May of 1998, I was a high school dropout. I had been working as a concrete finisher for a couple of years by this point. We lived in an old mobile home in a very small town about 40 miles from my hometown. Going out to McDonald’s would have been an expensive, and extravagant outing. My mom became seriously ill, and almost died. Because she wanted to be closer to her family we moved back there. We were then living in an even older mobile home that only partially had working running water, was missing some windows, and leaked like a cardboard box when it rained. At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.
On a whim, I walked into Florence-Darlington Technical College in July of 1998. I asked to speak to a guidance counselor and I told her my story. I’m sad to say I do not remember what this lady’s name was, but here is what she did: She went and got a placement test of some sort, and had me take it. Something in me must have impressed her. She rushed me through the financial aid process, and I got a full ride based on need. She told me I could start classes in August, but I had to take and pass the GED at it’s next offering in September. I took the GED and passed with flying colors.
I continued at FDTC for two semesters, and I transferred into Francis Marion University. I still had a full ride based on a need-based financial aid. Things were going great, until I turned 21. When I turned 21, I discovered alcohol, and it was not good. My grades plummeted, and I dropped out of college in October of 2001.
Let me fast-forward to where I was in 2004.
Many, if not most days of that time in my life, I can guarantee that I drank copious amounts of alcohol. In June of 2004, I would walk out of a job I had fought to get, with no real experience nor a college degree at a software company that served the faith based community.
After I left that job, there were a few months of drinking more heavily than usual. I finally got a job at a national electronics store. After being in that job for about a year, I had a major health crisis. I was out of work for 8 months, and almost died. I won’t go into details here, but it wasn’t good, other than the fact that as a result of the illness, I stopped drinking.
I managed to get myself, and my life back together, somewhat, and I was able to go back to work at that electronics chain. Once I started back, I worked my way up the “corporate ladder” of that store, and I held several different leadership positions.
Now, fast forward to the where I was in 2007.
You see, I really loved the job and the company I walked out of in 2004. Even though I was being successful at my new job, I continually emailed my former boss. He finally gave me a new interview in 2007, and I was able to start back at my old company, in a better position than the one I walked out of.
Let me fast-forward now to where I was in 2012.
I was working for that same company that served the faith based community, but I hadn’t regularly attended church for years. I had drifted from the zeal for Christ and the church I had in my childhood and youth into some sort of agnostic fog of uncertainty. I was earning a good salary, and I had every reason to be happy, but I wasn’t.
In May of 2013 I bought a house and moved next door to one of my co-workers. In July of 2013, I went to an event at a church these neighbors invited me to, and I really felt God working in my heart. I knew that I had to get back into church, and I did.
At some point in that year, my pastor was out of town and as a guest preacher was the music minister’s son-in-law. All I knew about him was that he was in Seminary “up in Wake Forest”. I felt a a very strong twinge in my heart when he was introduced. Instantly and completely out of the blue, what popped into my head was “I wish I could go to Seminary.” Almost as instantly as I thought that, I was confused as to why I would think that. It’s funny to think now, but then, I did not even know that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary existed. To me, “up in Wake Forest” meant at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem (I was at least smart enough to know that WFU was not in Wake Forest).
I felt a call to ministry when I was very young. I used to preach to people in waiting rooms, in line at the grocery store…wherever people couldn’t get away from me. Everyone thought it was cute then, but it was real. When I was a bit older, about 14, I felt the call again, and did nothing to act on it. This time, it was back, it was real, and it was insatiable. I hadn’t read anything longer than a blog-post in years and I was devouring every theological book I could get my hands on, and most importantly I was devouring the Bible.
I did eventually find out that the young man that preached that Sunday did not go to WFU, but to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. By this time I had already researched, heard about, and been recommended to other schools, but I knew without a doubt I was going to Southeastern. I had a clear and definite call to come here, and I came.
I never came up for a campus tour, a preview day or anything. I applied in June, was accepted in July and I drove to Wake Forest for the very first time on August 8, 2014 and lived in a small room in a house set up as dorms for older, single male students. As I mentioned above, my mom hasn’t been in good health for years. She is doing better now than she has in years, but I still did not want her to stay by herself. Plus she has very limited resources, and wouldn’t be able to support herself alone. So she’s here too, we now live in a campus apartment in family housing, and she’s our building’s Grandma of sorts. She loves having all the children around.
This past Friday, on May 12 was probably the most emotional day I’ve ever had.
Now I don’t show emotion much. I guess that’s the introvert in me.
My emotion usually comes out in writing, or tweeting, but it’s been strong.
I’ve never graduated from anything in my life, but on Friday, May 12, 2017, I graduated from college.
God can and does work miracles, and the fact I am here is clear evidence of that. I’ve now got my B.A. and I’m starting on my M.Div.
I’m still listening to, and discerning God’s call, and His will, but I do know one thing: He wanted me at Southeastern, and I am here, and here I am going to stay. I will gladly tell anyone considering Seminary to come here too if you feel God calling you.
This place is special. The leadership and the faculty continue to not only educate, but inspire and encourage me. I still, after three years get excited walking onto campus every day. I love this place, and I know I am where God wants me. I can’t wait to see what is ahead, but I know it will be great, because God is great.
At our graduation ceremony, Dr. Akin preached from Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (CSB).” I’m living for Christ now, and I know that when I die, I will gain because I will for eternity be in the presence of Christ.
If God is calling you somewhere, to do something, listen. I earn far less of a salary now than I did when I left my old career, but I now know the joy of following God’s will for my life. It’s amazing. God can, and will do amazing things if we just listen to him and come when he is calling us.
In the story above Jayson Rowe understandably left out a darker side of his life. He mentioned that in July of 2013 God was really working on his heart. What he didn’t mention was that he was also arrested on July 23, 2013 for filing a false police report. Jayson claimed he had been a victim of a carjacking by a black man with a knife and forced to drive to a bank and take out money.
After investigating the Police found out there was no carjacking and the “encounter with an alleged suspect was entirely consensual and not related to any violent act.”
There is much left unsaid, but reading between the lines I am guessing Jayson hooked up with a male prostitute. I don’t know why he felt compelled to make up a story about a carjacking; perhaps his neighbor whom he worked with at a “faith based company” witnessed him and the other man together at an ATM machine.
This incident was, in my opinion, a huge red flag in Jayson Rowe’s life. I doubt it was a single incident.
Jumping ahead a bit, here is what a spokesperson from Southeastern said about this incident:
“Rowe disclosed the arrest in 2014 as part of his enrollment application, noting that the incident was a misunderstanding and charges were dropped. He had “good references” and “no other warning signs said a seminary spokesperson.”
I’m sorry, but SEBTS needs to do better. It seems they were not very thorough in their investigation, if there even was an investigation. In my opinion, many institutes of higher education place a higher priority on bringing in dollars than ensuring they have quality students.
So Jayson Rowe got himself accepted into Southeastern, graduated from college and enrolled in SEBTS. He seemed to love his life in school, his professors were great, his fellow students were great, and perhaps living on campus surrounded by Christians helped keep him off the bottle and on the straight and narrow.
Jayson Rowe mentioned several times in his blog his respect for Danny Akin, likewise his respect for Bruce Ashford, the Provost.
Jayson Rowe finishes his Seminary training and in December 2018 obtained a job as Pastor of Conway Baptist Church in North Carolina. Nine months later Rowe married Heather Vann Knight, a single mother raising 3 boys.
Rowe is very active on Twitter, commenting on SBC matters, and frequently praising well known SBC leaders. In one Tweet he comments on the rampant sexual abuse by pastors in the SBC. You will see that this is quite ironic, and yet a clever way to keep people from realizing he himself is a sexual predator. (Former Wartburg Watch contributor, Wanda Martin, commented on his Tweet.)
On June 3, 2020 tragic news broke – Pastor Jayson Rowe had unexpectedly died the previous day. Danny Akin was stunned and stated Rowe was “one of the kindest and most encouraging men I have ever known. His death is heartbreaking and I am overcome with sorrow by it.”
The following day, June 4, 2020 new details were revealed about the death of Jayson Conway. He had committed suicide. Tom Collins,the Chairman of the Conway Baptist Church Deacon Board stated that “a teenage church member had brought forward a credible allegation of “inappropriate contact” committed by Rowe.” Collins later told the press that the victim was a 17 year old male.
Unfortunately, Conway Baptist Church knew of the arrest of Jayson Rowe in 2013 when they hired him in 2018, but they were satisfied it was “an isolated event that had occurred in his past.”
Meanwhile, back at SEBTS I would imagine that Danny Akin was embarrassed that he had published such a strong, albeit heartfelt, statement of praise for Jayson Rowe. SEBTS quickly responded by publishing the statement below on June 5, 2020.
This is obviously a very tragic story. Many were deeply hurt. I can’t help but think of Rowe’s wife, Heather and her three boys. Even now, 2 plus years later, we should all say a prayer for them.
The takeaway in this story is we must all do a better job in keeping predators out of churches. They are ravenous wolves that are attracted to the ministry and can blend in very well with the sheep. When we see an incident such as Rowe had in 2013 it should not be dismissed.