In June 2000, I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to take Old Testament Prophetic Literature taught by Dr. John T. Willis.
I'm dedicating this Lenten Prayer Guide to Dr. John T. Willis, because he introduced me to the world of Isaiah, considered to be one of the greatest prophets and writings of all time, but until I met Dr. Willis, it was a writing still cloaked in mystery to me.
I can close my eyes and be in that classroom 16 years ago with African brothers and sisters and several expatriate missionaries like me taking the 10-day intensive class. I can still hear Dr. Willis's laughter, his enjoyment of the prophetic metaphors and backstory that brought Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Hosea, and Jeremiah to life for me, in many ways for the very first time.
We ate meals together, and Mrs. Willis was there, always joyful and conversational. We all were invited (Ok, required) to share a brief speech about a particular prophet we were studying for our term paper. We took walks in the late afternoons and I will never forget something vital about the most notable, intelligent, and wise Old Testament scholars I've ever had the pleasure to know: when we were discussing a particular religious group in church history on the road one day, Dr. Willis simply said, "I don't know much about [that topic]." I was struck by his candor and discretion. He showed me you don't have to spout what you know or don't know about everything.
I can also hear Dr. Willis one day reading one of my exam papers and becoming amused at one of my answers. I had gotten the answer wrong but had tried to make something up that at least would get a laugh, and it worked. I still smile today thinking about him laughing, rather than stoically slashing it with red. He did that as well, but not before having a belly laugh.
So I'm dedicating this Lenten guide, using texts from Isaiah, to Dr. John T. Willis. Much of the background and understanding of this incredible prophecy, Isaiah, that I owe to Dr. Willis, I am now passing on to you. Any errors I make as I go along are not Dr. Willis's fault but mine.