While praying with a woman last year, the Rev. Wynston Dixon, a much-traveled United Methodist preacher, was told by her: “The Lord is showing me that you will be assigned to a church.”
Even from God, that was as newsworthy as the Steelers beating the Bengals.
Then she dropped this nugget: “This church sits on a little incline. But when you’re driving up to the church, there is a split in the road with green grass in the middle of the road.”
Dixon’s interest was piqued. He quickly turned on his office computer and searched the Methodist churches in the West Ohio Conference for possible leads. All 1,300 of them.
“I had to see through a picture if this was a reality,” Dixon said with a smile.
Several months later, Dixon was assigned to Christ United Methodist Church in Middletown, and even through he had spent much of his career serving churches in Toledo and Cincinnati, he knew nothing of Middletown.
Between Dayton and Cincinnati, he was told.
So when he got off Interstate 75 on Exit 32 and drove on Ohio 122 this summer to meet the church’s leadership committee, Dixon looked for this church on an incline, the one near a grassy median.
“I don’t see it,” he told himself.
Then he veered right and onto Grand Avenue, where God’s vision became clear. Welcome home, reverend.
“I had to pull aside and take a picture of it,” he said. “A year ago, God revealed this.”
Dixon started at Christ United Methodist Church on Sept. 1, and in the six weeks since, he has rented a Middletown apartment, met his congregation, and, of course, got lost. While exploring the city, he drove downtown, across the Great Miami River bridge, and through the rolling hills of Madison Twp.
He turned around before he drove to Indiana.
That would have been a short trip compared to the one from his homeland. Dixon was born and raised in Liberia, West Africa, and after earning his bachelor’s degree, if he wanted to further his education, he had to move to the United States because he said there are no master’s programs in West Africa.
He lived with his brother and sister-in-law in Cincinnati and attended Gaines United Methodist Church for one year. He lived in Cincinnati, he said, because his brother was one of the few people he knew in the U.S.
That was 1982.
The plan was to earn his master’s degree, then return to West Africa. But five years of military rule by the People’s Redemption Council and five years of civilian rule by the National Democratic Party of Liberia were followed by the First and Second Liberian Civil Wars. These resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people, or about 8 percent of the population, the displacement of many more and shrunk Liberia’s economy by 90 percent.
So after earning his degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Dixon stayed. Since then he has served churches in Toledo, Columbus, Milford and now Middletown.
Only the Bishop knows how long Dixon will remain here. Or as he said: “If the Bishop gets up on the wrong side of the bed, he may say, ‘Wynston, it’s time to go.’ There is no formula, no system.”
Until then, Dixon, who is divorced with a 25-year-old daughter, Wynlita, and 5-year-old granddaughter, Jalayah, living in Alexandria, Va., plans to immerse himself in his congregation and community. He believes the church must collaborate with the school system, city government and law enforcement.
“The church is just part of the community as is the mayor’s office or the police department,” he said. “All of us are working together for the same good, except we are working in different areas.”
Then he added: “If we are going to educate children, they need the church, they need the school and they need law enforcement. All of us have to work together. Each of us has a piece of the pie.”
Dixon, who looks much younger than 63, doesn’t have many outside interests, he said. He’s not very active and has no hobbies. He enjoys a quiet night at home, listening to Gospel music and meditating.
In just six weeks, he’s “getting to love” Middletown, he said.
“God has a reason for bringing me to Middletown,” he said. “I don’t think it’s by accident.”
He has lived more years in the U.S. (36) than he did in West Africa (27).
“Life is so unpredictable,” he said.
Dixon said he enjoys preparing his Sunday morning sermons. The goal is to read the Bible, take God’s road map and write a sermon that’s applicable to the lives of his congregation.
For him, the toughest part of being a pastor, is delivering a mother’s eulogy. His mother, whom he jokingly calls “an unofficial” United Methodist pastor, traveled with him throughout his journey. They lived together until Dixon got married, then she lived near his parsonage.
She died in 2001, and every mother’s funeral, digs up those 17-year-old memories.
“I don’t care whose mother it is,” said Dixon, suddenly somber. “I live through that whole thing again. Mothers are just special people.”
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