Called to Faith is a monthly series profiling leaders of local congregations.
As a young boy growing up in rural Warrenton, N.C., the Rev. Ben Williams said he hung around a lot of troubled kids. But while his friends were wreaking havoc on the town, Williams said he was trying to be a good influence on them.
"God gave us all free will," the Hilton Head Island pastor said. "You choose whether you want to be good or bad."
Williams chose to be good. And he didn't give up on his friends for taking the other route.
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"If Jesus didn't have the patience and tolerance for us, where would we be?" Williams asked.
Now 73 years old, the longtime Hilton Head resident continues to show patience to a troubled world.
For the past 36 years, Williams has led the congregation of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. Of all the religious leaders on the island, he said he has been preaching here the longest.
But Williams, who is affectionately known as "The Rev," has led more than just his church over the past few decades. He has been a leader in the community, as well. He has worked to unite people of all races and religions, inviting them to his church, speaking at their services and even organizing the island's first celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. He also helped launch the nonprofit Volunteers in Medicine, a free clinic run by retired health care professionals.
Of all the work Williams has done in the community, his focus has always been on children. Williams said that around 1974 he took a job driving a school bus on Hilton Head for the Beaufort County School District. He quickly moved up to bus supervisor. A few years later he took a new job with the schools -- monitoring attendance.
During that time he came up with a new form of discipline. Instead of suspending students from school and giving them a chance to get into trouble, Williams suggested an in-school suspension program. Teachers could send misbehaving students to what became known as ISS, a classroom where they would spend a day or two writing essays and reflecting on their wrongdoings. Williams, who has a degree in counseling, would talk to the students about their mistakes and encourage them to straighten up.
Williams presented his idea to the board of education in 1985. The board liked it, and he ran the program at H.E. McCracken Middle School until retiring in 2008. He said he thinks the program is now used by schools in the Beaufort and Jasper County school districts.
"If you don't restrain them and educate them ... they're going to be a nuisance to the community," Williams said of troublemakers. "And they have the ability to corrupt so many other kids."
But Williams' work at McCracken wasn't his only method of reaching out to children. About 15 years ago, he started the Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Achievement School in an effort to prepare children for kindergarten and give them a basic Christian education.
The school is open to children ages 2 to 5. While it is not free, Williams said it is intended to be affordable for most families and the church has a scholarship fund.
"Some parents just don't have the means and the resources," Williams said. "I've always had a compassion for that at-risk kid."
Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church also runs an after-school program. Hilton Head resident Jamal Edwards, 25, attended that program and has known Williams his whole life. He grew up in Mt. Calvary's congregation and said his pastor is a great example of a patient, caring, selfless human being.
"He would do anything to help anyone," Edwards said. "He was the one you could go to if you were in trouble. ... You could talk to him about anything."
Name: The Rev. Ben Williams
Church: Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, 382 Squire Pope Road, Hilton Head Island, 843-681-3678
Favorite Bible stories: Joseph forgiving his brothers after they sold him into slavery; the story of Moses' life
Biggest influence: His father
Little-known fact: Williams said he is fascinated by animals and likes to watch animal shows on TV.
Hobbies: Hunting, fishing, watching baseball