By Steve Achord
TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)--It's the mid 1970s and John Hopkins is in a Topeka,
Kan., truck stop with Richard Melton, a man who had just been released
from prison and was trying to get a fresh start with his life.
Melton's rap sheet was more than 20 pages long when he had last seen
it. The 212 counts against him included assault and burglary, but here he
was having a cup of coffee with Hopkins and talking about a brighter
future as a long-haul trucker.
"I have my eyes on a big rig like that one," Melton points
out the window toward a gleaming steel truck sitting in the parking lot.
Smiling and cupping his coffee, Melton is happy and thankful that a man
named John Hopkins took the time to care about him.
When the two men met, Hopkins was responsible for Christian social
ministries in the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. Before
becoming a missionary, though, Hopkins had a first career with the
Criminal Investigation Division of the Army. His career in the Army put
men behind bars, his second career dealt with helping rehabilitate men and
women in prison.
When Melton was offered employment training in prison, he answered,
"Hang it -- I'll do my time. I don't want any part of
do-gooders," But he became an assistant to the prison chaplain.
Through the chaplain, Melton met Hopkins, who agreed to be his sponsor.
When Hopkins first signed Melton's visitor card, the card was blank. No
one else had been to see him. "John was the first man in 29 years to
come at me fair and simple and say, 'Rich, let me help.' He didn't have to
take an interest in me, but he did."
Melton got out of prison several months later with $35.65. Hopkins
arranged for new clothes and paid the deposit on a trailer for Melton to
"Now, I'm free, I have nothing to hide, I owe it to John. I'm not
on parole now; there are no warrants out for me. I can look any policeman
in the eye and not be scared."
To hear about his compassion for people, the number of times he has
helped someone who had given up hope, someone who just needed someone to
listen, well, you won't hear it from Hopkins. Reluctant to talk about
himself, the always-humble Hopkins tends to shy away from publicity or
anything that would tend to give him credit for his good deeds.
Despite shying away from publicity, Hopkins, along with his wife,
Shirley, received recognition during last fall's Kansas-Nebraska
convention annual meeting for 26 years of service. Hopkins formally
retired from his ministry with the convention on Dec. 31.
Many Baptists have seen the results of his ministry and those close to
him have been fortunate to see his heart.
"I see incredible passion he has for people. Unless you really
know him, you miss the compassion he has for people," said Bob Mills,
whose relationship with Hopkins began in 1971.
When Mills, now a North American Mission Board missionary to
Kansas-Nebraska, came to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Hopkins
was his ministry supervisor. Through the years, the two have worked
closely in many roles and at one time, Mills was also Hopkins' pastor.
As Mills reflects about Hopkins and the relationship the two have had
over the years, there is a debt of gratitude for what Mills has learned by
knowing and working with "Hop," the name those close to Hopkins
use when referring to him.
"Hop is so compassionate and he has done much to shape my view of
ministry," Mills said. "He has been my mentor in so many ways.
What I have learned about ministry, I have learned through John
Following his career in the Army, John, Shirley, and their children
moved to Omaha, Neb., so Hopkins could finish school and begin a ministry
through the Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board.
After graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the Hopkinses
moved to Kansas City, Mo., so he could attend Midwestern. While in
seminary, John became HMB director of youth and family services in Kansas
City and Wyandotte County.
Using his expertise in the court system, Hopkins, with the help of
Shirley, began working with the Wyandotte County juvenile court system to
help the growing number of children who were coming into the judicial
system. Viewed with suspicion, the two persevered and showed those in the
court system they truly had a heart for people and honestly wanted to see
Shirley and several other church members offered to revamp the badly
outdated court filing system. Many afternoons were spent pouring over the
pile of folders, and a more efficient and updated filing system and their
hard work impressed county officials. This new system and their continued
persistency brought credibility and respect for the work John and Shirley
were doing with the court.
Hopkins' idea was to develop a Christian approach to the problem of
juvenile delinquency. He wanted to build a framework in which a volunteer
could show concern for youngsters coming into the juvenile court system.
In 1970, he suggested a Special Services Section, attached to the court,
which could test, evaluate and counsel children and families referred
through the "non-judicial" route of the court system.
Through the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA), the Kansas governor
gave Hopkins' idea the go-ahead. For two years, LEAA matched $3 for every
$1 the Home Mission Board contributed.
The SBC agency paid Hopkins' salary as director of youth and family
services for the Kansas City Baptist Association. The money from LEAA
provided office space, a consulting psychologist, administrative assistant
and training for volunteers.
These early years in the court system were just the beginning for John
and Shirley Hopkins and their work in Kansas and Nebraska. It is probably
easier to list the areas of ministry that they have not been a part of
than to recall the longer list of ministries they have started, worked in
or contributed countless hours of service.
One of the things most people think of when they think of Hopkins is
his work as editor of The Baptist Digest, the state paper for
Kansas-Nebraska. Hopkins steered the paper through some of most political
periods of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"He never embarrassed us with the Digest and saw the Digest as a
publication to support the purpose and objectives of the convention,"
said Peck Lindsay, executive director for the KNCSB. "John honestly
reported the news and was never divisive to our churches. He never took
one side of any controversy; he was always fair."
With Hopkins at the helm, the convention decided the paper should
report on missions, ministry opportunities and provide information of
activities taking place around the world, anything that would impact
"We wanted to make a paper that would float in any environment
with saved or not saved people," Hopkins said of the Digest. "We
accurately portrayed Southern Baptists and have always tried to be
As an editor, Hopkins said, "I am most proud of the fact we stayed
As a leader, Hopkins has always encouraged volunteer and lay
involvement, letting people use their gifts to serve the Lord.
"People in the Midwest are stable, hearty souls; they are out of
pioneer stock," Hopkins said. They're willing to be involved and help
their neighbor, he said.
Most of the ministries in which he and Shirley were involved had strong
volunteer support, and the two helped match people and their gifts to the
needs of that ministry. With nearly three decades of service to the
convention, between the two of them they have been involved in literacy
training, Baptist Men and boys' missions groups, Baptist ministry centers,
disaster relief and Red Cross disaster training, consultant for Christian
social ministries, editor of The Digest and editor of the KNCSB Leadership
Hopkins' leadership has helped in the growth of the Kansas-Nebraska
Convention of Southern Baptists. Bob Mills likes to use the word
"catalyst" to describe Hopkins' work, especially in getting new
But when you ask Hopkins to describe his role in the convention, he
would want someone to simply say that he was fair and that he helped
people. "I try to see what the real need is in a person's life. I
want to take them where they need to be, not always where they are,"
Shirley said of her husband, "He has a tender heart and the
ability to size up a situation and know how to interact with it and not be
authoritative or pigheaded. Because of that, he has helped so many people,
more than anyone will ever know."
Hopkins was quick to jump in and say Shirley is a "good partner. I
think a lot of wives don't get the credit for their work; the same can be
said of Shirley. She is retiring with me."
Recognizing they have seen their ministry calling as a team, the
convention's recognition of them last fall noted, "John and Shirley
Hopkins Ministry Recognition for outstanding service in meeting the needs
of the convention."
Simply put, many needs have been met because of their work within the
Richard Melton was able to move on with his life, countless lives have
received food and clothing thanks to a disaster relief ministry in the
state convention, boys and girls have grown into men and women able to
read and respond to the Word of God, homeless people who at one time
needed shelter and a job have homes and careers now, and most importantly,
people who needed a Savior, now have Jesus Christ in their hearts.
Thanks to John and Shirley Hopkins.