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Preaching sheriff: Greg White balances law enforcement, ministry Print E-mail

By Vicki Brown

Word&Way Associate Editor

A glance around the office of the Cole County sheriff will reveal what most folks expect: citations, diplomas, family photos and work piles.

But Sheriff Greg White's office contains something unexpected - a certificate of ordination. That's right - this sheriff is a preacher, one who insists that ministry has a place in police work.

Law enforcement played a large role in the sheriff's life and became the door to his conversion.

His father served with the Missouri Department of Corrections for 47 years, including a stint as superintendent of the Algoa Correctional Center. That's "probably" the reason for being drawn to law enforcement, the sheriff said.

"When I was young, about 4 or 5 years old, my first choice for a career was to be Santa Claus. My second choice was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," White laughed.

Also as a youngster, White began to wonder about God. Experiencing growing pains as a 6-year-old, he asked his mom if he would go to heaven when he died. His mother assured her son he would go to heaven because Jesus loved him.

But White's family only attended worship services sporadically. Wanting to discover more about God, White went to Sunday School on his own for a while. "I stopped going, but I kept looking for God," he said.

That search continued while he attended Central Missouri State University. He explored Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and transcendental meditation. TM seemed to meet the young man's need, and he "got into it pretty heavily," he said.

After earning an undergraduate degree in recreational administration and completing several graduate courses, White decided to head to Alaska in 1978. "I didn't have a job, but I knew where to stay for $50," he quipped.

The trained emergency medical technician landed two part-time positions, one as an EMT and one with the U.S. Geological Survey. Then in November 1978, he became a full-time officer with the Sitka Police Department.

He still fervently practiced transcendental meditation, until he had a "very negative spiritual experience." Although he did not share details, the episode caused him to give up TM altogether. And God started working on his heart.

"I was inundated with Christians," White said. "I couldn't go to the post office, go to the grocery store, go to a restaurant without hearing a Christian witness."

He couldn't work either without being confronted. An officer who rode White's shift with him for a month constantly talked about the Lord.

The sheriff can name the date and time he realized God was reaching out to him. "On March 31 at nine o'clock, I knew the Christians were right," White said. "I knew that if I died, I wouldn't go to heaven. But that was not the issue. I just knew I wanted to know Christ."

That night as he arrived at the station for the midnight shift, White stopped to talk with fellow officer Dale Hanson, who had just gone off duty. Hanson witnessed to White one more time, reminding him that an individual "has got to want Christ."

White wanted the Lord, "but I was too full of pride to ask him [Hanson] to lead me," he said.

Then at 1:15 a.m. on April 1, White pulled to the side of a lonely back road and began to pray.

"I prayed, 'I always knew there was a God, and I believe you are Jesus' and I confessed my sins and asked Him into my heart," the tough peace officer said, his eyes filling with tears.

That moment has been the base of his life since, asking God to lead his steps at every juncture.

Sensing the Lord's direction, White applied to and was accepted at the Juneau Police Department. He transferred in May 1981, and God led him to First Baptist Church.

A few months later, White returned to Sitka to help with a recreational school. As a condition of his participation, he asked for a church service. Conference leaders told him that if he wanted one, he would have to lead it.

White had never preached before and was unsure how to prepare. But he had a couple of gospel tracts from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Campus Crusade and his Bible. "I had to try to develop a sermon from that," he laughed.

White said God led him to appropriate Scripture, and he managed to lead the service. "I felt God calling me [to preach] at that point," he said.

He shared his call with pastor Jimmie Stringer, and the church licensed him to the ministry. "I have never lacked an opportunity to preach," he said.

While serving the state as a narcotics agent, he served as pastor of a small church, where he preached twice each month.

White later resigned from the force to become a church planter for First Baptist. The job included living in two rooms at the church "with the use of the kitchen," insurance and a "small salary."

While at First Baptist, White started six churches and a Bible study. "Some are still going, but others shut down because logging shut down," he said.

In 1991, the Jefferson City native felt God calling him home. "Dad had gone through cancer surgery, and I felt our move back was to honor Dad," he said.

Although he "didn't want to be a cop," he joined the Jefferson City Police Department where he worked as resource officer for Jefferson City High School, a post he held for 13 years. And he ministered through Open Door Community Chapel and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Sensing God's call to more law enforcement involvement, White ran for the Cole County Sheriff post in 2004.

But he lost the position to incumbent interim Sheriff George Brooks. After Brooks' unexpected death in January 2005, the county called a special election, and White won.

His pastoral skills are invaluable assets on the job in dealing with people and handling administrative details, White said.

And the sheriff often has public opportunities to express his faith. He prayed in uniform on the capitol steps on the National Day of Prayer this year.

Last year, he broke tradition by refusing to allow alcohol to be served at the annual Cole County Sheriff's Barbeque, an action many people said would hurt attendance. It didn't, and White plans a dry event this year as well.

Although sheriff's duties can be time-consuming, White continues to serve at Southridge Baptist Church, Jefferson City, where he teaches a college Sunday School class.

And he keeps on preaching. He supplies for pastors in the area and will officiate at a couple of weddings this summer.

"Right now at this moment, I am doing what God wants me to do," he declared.


 
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