At 28, with a wife, a young son and a good job, Joe Perry heard God’s call to share the Gospel.
He was a layman, working for ServiceMaster Industries, when he gave up the life he had known and joined the staff at the Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
In the years since, Joe has never lost his love of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. And even though he’s retiring as Minister of Missions & Evangelism, Joe still has plenty on his to-do list.
His 18-year tenure at Prestonwood traces back to his first days at Putnam City, where Joe struck up a friendship with a young minister in the office across the hall.
Joe Perry and wife, Linda, with their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren
Executive Pastor Mike Buster still remembers that first meeting, and the friendships the Buster and Perry families have shared ever since.
“We became close friends then and Joanie (Buster) and Linda (Perry) as well,” Mike recalled, and they remained close even as each man moved to other churches in other states.
Mike left Putnam City to join Pastor Jack Graham at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Fla. while Joe moved to First Baptist Church of Bossier City, La. as minister of education.
“He would be there for many years and then he went to Fielder Road Baptist Church (in Arlington) at about the time I came to Prestonwood with Dr. Graham,” Mike said. “Really, I’d been trying to get Joe to come to Prestonwood to be our education minister, but the timing wasn’t right.”
Joe and Mike remained close, though, and one day, Joe called to put in a good word for a young man who worked at Fielder Road while completing his studies.
In the course of the conversation, Joe said Mike mentioned Prestonwood was ready to begin a youth and adult sports ministry.
“We needed a servant leader to direct this outreach,” said Pastor Graham.
“That night, Linda said, ‘That’s what you wanted to do!’ But I said, ‘I’m 50—they wouldn’t hire me.’
“But I called Mike and he said he’d already talked with Dr. Graham about me and he said we really had to get going on this. So I came to Prestonwood to do the church’s sports program.”
From the beginning, it had been Pastor Graham’s goal to establish a sports program that would serve as a powerful evangelistic tool in the communities that surrounded Prestonwood.
“We needed a servant leader to direct this outreach … someone with a heart for God, a love for the church and community, and a call to sports ministry,” Pastor Graham said. “God gave us that man in Joe Perry.”
In the beginning, the facilities and fields at the new Plano Campus were still in the dream stage. But things changed in a hurry. Soon, hundreds of kids and adults filled the grassy fields. And they and their families heard about God’s gift of Salvation, many for the first time.
But when Joe arrived, the church property included just two ball fields that weren’t in the best shape.
Joe Perry serving in Haiti
Drainage was an issue—home plate was often under water—but Joe had no idea where to find the money for repairs. God took care of that.
A Prestonwood member called one day and told Joe he was dropping off a gift “because we know you have to fix those fields.” It turned out to be a check for $300,000.
That took care of the drainage problem.
Then Prestonwood launched a $2 million campaign to complete the Sports & Fitness Center. But outside, on the far corners of the church property, the planned football and soccer fields were empty ground—rough and bare.
Joe searched for someone who might be able to grade the sites, and he found the Weir Brothers.
Joe Perry providing information during Discover Your Mission Weekend
“It was a miracle of God,” he said.
At about that time, some nearby city football programs were having issues, and NFL greats Craig James, Thomas Lott, Bill Bates and others met with Joe and Dr. Graham to discuss what they saw as an opportunity for the recently created Prestonwood Sports Organization.
“I went home that night and told Linda, ‘We’re going to start football on those fields,’” Joe said.
Within days, Weir Brothers’ crews began shaping and grading the land. When a new drainage issue arose, they took that on, too.
“I’d say they had done $5 million worth of dirt work for us” by the time the project was complete, Joe said. “They saved us so much money.”
But while Weir Brothers handled the bulldozing and grading work, they told Joe, “We don’t do grass. We don’t even know where you can get grass.”
A man Joe knew in Bossier City owned one of the largest turf grass operations in country, and when Joe contacted him, the man said his brother grew grass in Texas and suggested that Joe give him a call.
He did, and one of the first questions he heard was about the budget.
“He said, ‘How much money do you have?’ and I said, ‘We don’t have any money.’ He said the job would cost $40,000, and after we talked a while he came down to $33,000,” Joe said.
Joe Perry speaking to hundreds of children at a PSO rally
Even with that discount, Joe had no idea where he’d find the money. But God had a plan.
“(Longtime member) Butch Steely asked me to come in and teach the Bible Fellowship class he directed, and he said, ‘I know you have some needs,’” Joe said. “And when the class ended Butch said to stand by the door with my Bible open, and the people in the class put $12,300 in my Bible as they walked past.”
The next day, Joe called the grower in Tyler.
“He said, ‘How much?’ I said, ‘$12,000.’ He said it costs more than that to grow the grass. But then he said, ‘I haven’t been able to sleep all weekend’ … and he said, ‘Be ready, we’ll be there on Thursday.’”
The grass arrived as promised, but from then on the grower kept his distance, Joe laughed, recalling the guy’s reluctance to help again.
After leading PSO for 10 years, Pastor Graham asked him to become Minister of Missions & Evangelism, and since then, Joe says “this good ole’ boy from northern Louisiana has gone all over the world.”
One particular trip, to train pastors in Sudan, touched Joe deeply.
“We were training pastors, and I was preaching at a church. And when we walked in, there were 35 to 40 pastors there, a group from Darfur. The pastor in charge told me that half of these guys would die for their faith in the next four or five years.
Joe Perry ministering in Haiti with Victim Relief Ministries
“So I’m talking with one of the pastors and I said, ‘I understand you could die for your faith.’ And he said, ‘Pastor Joe, to die for Jesus, is that bad?’ That was really impressive for me to hear.”
As he looks back over his career in ministry, and particularly his 18-plus years at Prestonwood, Joe called it “a dream come true.”
Dr. Graham described it as “a faithful man giving his life in service to God.”
“We could never say thank you enough for all the blessings Joe Perry has shared with our dear church,” Pastor said. “Only eternity will reveal the lives changed through his ministry.”
And in semi-retirement, that ministry will continue.
“I love speaking at men’s events,” he said. “And I plan to work with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to teach evangelism—how to share your faith.”
In his retirement letter to Pastor Graham, Joe looked both forward and back.
“So now the time has come for me to move on to what God has for me next, and to enjoy some time of reflection and relaxation,” he wrote.
But his time at Prestonwood, Joe added, “has been an absolute joy.”