By Richie Beeler

One of the greatest privileges of my life was afforded me eight years ago by my longtime friend and mentor, Steve Hunley. I was offered the job of starting a sports section in a fledgling newspaper called the Fountain City Focus. That meeting essentially began my career as a columnist.

I covered high school sports in North Knox County until the paper went county wide in late 2007. That was when I turned the sports section over to more capable hands and settled into the routine of writing a weekly opinion column about, well…pretty much everything.

I suppose to call this a career would be a bit of an overstatement. It’s more like a platform to express my viewpoints to those willing to take time to read them. I sometimes refer to it as my weekly rant. But to have the opportunity to put that rant in the newspaper has been an honor and a privilege for which I am profoundly grateful. Not everybody gets to express their views quite so publicly.

But as passionate as I am about writing my column and articulating my opinions, there is one passion that exceeds all others in my life: spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to today’s generation of young adults.

If that sounds unusually specific to you, just know it is not a passion I acquired overnight. I began doing ministry, primarily to high school students, when I was in college some 27 years ago. I worked in youth ministry for the biggest part of the next two decades. But in 2005, God clearly spoke to my spirit that my ministry was about to take on a new direction.

What became evident to me in 2005 is still crystal clear today. God has called me to preach the gospel, teach the word, and be a pastor to college students and young adults. Many of you know from references in my columns that I work for Knox County. I have been an employee in the Register of Deeds office for 27 years. I say without reservation that I have worked for the two best bosses in the courthouse. Steve Hall was my boss for 21 years, and Sherry Witt has been for the past six. In an era when county government has taken a beating in both the media and the eyes of the public, these two individuals have done things right and have managed the Register’s office with integrity and transparency. I am incredibly blessed to work there.

In 2007, Corryton Church gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, bringing me on staff to work with college students. For the past six years I have managed to do both jobs, while still finding time to write a column every week that did justice to the space the Focus reserves for me. But early in 2011 God began to do a work in young adult culture that was beyond anything I had seen or experienced before.

The past two years – and particularly the past 12 months – have been a whirlwind. We have seen God bless our college ministry beyond measure, but more importantly we have seen lives radically transformed for the glory of God. Drug addicts have been delivered, drug dealers have been changed, convicted felons have been saved from a life of hopelessness. The list goes on and on and on.

Doing ministry with these young adults has changed my life in ways too profound to describe. It has also placed demands on my time, energy, and passion that have made it increasingly difficult to write. It is for that reason that this will be my last column for a while.

I have no intention of parting ways with the Focus. I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of this paper and the conservative values and principles it unashamedly upholds. But for now, my focus has shifted to a different calling.

I still hold my opinions and convictions firmly. But sometimes expressing them in a forum as public as the newspaper can incite emotions and feelings in people that I really don’t intend to inflame. In the end, there is one message I have been made to deliver, and I know I must devote my whole heart to delivering it clearly and passionately.

So from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to those of you who have taken the time to read this column. Even if you disagreed with some of my views, at least you were kind enough to indulge me. I covet your prayers as I take this new direction in my journey. God bless you all.

Till we meet again.