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Vassallo Interviews: Rev. Eddie Willis Inspires All

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The Director of the Wesley Foundation is an individual who inspires students as well as adults with his passion for Christian values. He is also a Rebel at heart having graduated from Ole Miss and now he truly occupies the “best of both worlds.” Eddie Willis is a treasure and knowing him will increase each one of ours!
HottyToddy.com: Tell us about your previous history and what led you to the Wesley Foundation.
Eddie Willis: I am a native of Oxford, graduating from Oxford High School in 1987. Following that, I attended Ole Miss and became involved in the Wesley Foundation as my campus ministry. While at Wesley, the director Rev. Wade Holland and his wife Ginger Holland told me about a youth ministry position available in Tula, outside of Oxford. (This put me on a path toward ministry as a vocation).
Though I have served as youth minister at several churches, I was previously the Wesley Director at Delta State University. When the job opened up at Ole Miss, I sought to fill the director’s position at my alma mater.
HottyToddy.com: How did you and your wife meet?
Eddie Willis: My wife and I met at Camp Lake Stephens, the United Methodist Camp outside of Oxford. We were counselors there and after 4 years of dating I took her back to the camp on a chilly, February day and proposed in a canoe on the lake there.
HottyToddy.com: Eddie, tell us what the Mission Statement of Wesley is.
Eddie2Eddie Willis: “The Wesley Foundation at Ole Miss is dedicated to raising up generations of dynamic Christians who lead. We seek to share the love of Jesus Christ in order to see students come into authentic relationship with their Creator.”
HottyToddy.com: How many students are actively involved currently?
Eddie Willis: This year we have 90 to 125 actively involved through Bible Studies, activities, and our Thursday Night Worship in the Paris-Yates Chapel. Sixteen students serve as leaders on our “Leadership Team.”
HottyToddy.com: How are students recruited or do they find you?
Eddie Willis: We spend a lot of time putting out posters, setting up a table in the union plaza on campus twice a month, and getting our students to reach out to other students. We use a lot of social media, where students can find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and through our website.
HottyToddy.com: How are you funded?
Eddie Willis: My salary comes from the United Methodist Conference in Jackson, and the rest of our programming funds are raised through donors and our Football Parking Program each fall. We have so many people cheering us on in the Oxford community. We have picked up a great deal of supporters from around the country who are alumni or have seen what we’ve been doing.
HottyToddy.com: Tell us about the history of Wesley at Ole Miss.
Eddie Willis: The Wesley Foundation has been a campus ministry affiliated with the University of Mississippi since the 1930s. It’s weekly meetings began in the Oxford-University United Methodist church, moved to the Wesley Foundation parsonages for a time, in the 1980s was housed in the Beta house on Fraternity Row, and then found its home in its current location on Wesley Jackson Avenue in the late 1990s. (I know that Warner Alford and Robert Khayat were members during their time as students.)
HottyToddy.com: What are your immediate goals for the Wesley Foundation?
Eddie Willis: My immediate goals for the Wesley Foundation are striving to provide the most relevant programming to the campus through guest speakers, concerts, events and one-on-one discipleship. I am looking forward to expanding our Football Parking Program in 2015. (It has been very successful in supporting internships and our January mission trip to the Dominican Republic.)
One of my goals is to see a new and larger facility constructed on the Wesley property. We currently have our main “Wesley Night” on Thursdays in the Paris-Yates Chapel. This is due to our current facility being too small — it is an older home. This structure was renovated and reconfigured in the 1990s by Rev. Wade Holland with the help of volunteers. (The brunt of the work was led by Andy Peacock and Morris Holland.)
HottyToddy.com: What inspired you in accepting this position?
Eddie Willis: I’m an Ole Miss graduate and an alumnus of the Wesley Foundation. I’m passionate about developing young leaders and establishing a creative program wherever I go. I’m inspired to follow in my former campus minister, Rev. Wade Holland, from the late 1980s and early ’90s.
HottyToddy.com: What truly motivates you?
Eddie Willis: I’m motivated and driven by wanting students to know there is a God that loves and cares for them during such a new, tough, growing time in their lives. I’m also motivated by wanting to teach and grow young spiritual and community leaders. It’s such a privilege to be given access to young minds and hearts.
HottyToddy.com: Describe the makeup of your students currently.
Eddie Willis: We are made up of 15 students plus our Associate to Students. Our Wesley “population” of college students is made up of around 40 percent greeks and 60 percent non-greek students. We’re pretty much spilt down the middle as to male/female attendance. This year we’ve seen a rise in our minority attendance, which is a goal I’ve been striving for. It is very important to me to have a campus ministry that looks like the Kingdom of God: diversified. (If we all looked alike, we would not be able to exercise “one body, many parts” that is found in 1 Corinthians 12.)
HottyToddy.com: What do you want the students to gain form their involvement in the Wesley?
Eddie Willis: My goal as a campus minister is to ensure that I’m training young hearts and minds. I believe they gain a sense of spiritual leadership to take with them, whether it be the working world or a life of ministry. I also hope they gain a sense of confidence. The “confidence of Christ” to be exact, so they can face life knowing they don’t have to do it alone.
HottyToddy.com: Are the separation issues between church and state concerning?
Eddie Willis: They are not a concern to me. I would actually be more concerned if the state dictated to me how I lived out my faith. However, I do think we should look to our founding fathers and their stances on faith and religion. They may be shocked at just how far our tolerance of social and religious issues have gone.
HottyToddy.com: How can we all learn to make Jesus Christ a greater part of our lives?
Eddie Willis: At first the hymn “Only Trust Him” comes to mind. But I may change my answer to “Only Seek Him.” I can say that if someone is looking for a great example of living and showing others a life of love, the best example is that of Jesus Christ. There is just too much historical and archaeological evidence of Christ’s impact on this world to ignore it. Many have tried.
Eddie can be contacted at (662) 402.2427 or by visiting Ole Miss Wesley Foundation or M28 Camps Youth Conference websites.
Steve-Vassallo-Photo-Oct-20131-150x150Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. In addition, he is a certified economic and community developer and currently, a highly successful leader in the real estate business with Premier Properties of Oxford. Steve’s lifelong dream has been to live in Oxford full-time. “I am now living my dream daily as is my wife Rosie, who works with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce,” Steve said. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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