Monday, February 27, 2023

Moose: Mentor of Men

It was in the early 1980s. One of my great-uncles died, and my mom, dad, and I were at a funeral home in Anderson County, SC, with the rest of the Wilson family. Morris Keller, a distant Wilson cousin, met me in the foyer of the funeral home.

"Heyyyyy Rhett!" (I would hear that many times in the future.) I had seen this big man at our church in Greenville. "I saw you the other Sunday night at church doing the Bible Drill. That was great. You did a good job finding those books of the Bible and sharing those verses you memorized. Keep it up. You keep memorizing Bible verses, ok?"

That was the first of countless exhortations I would receive the next almost forty years from this man. And I didn't know it at the time, but he was a fisher of men. And in that funeral parlor, he was fishing for a ten-year old boy.

Morris "Moose" Keller, nicknamed for his large frame, played football for Greenville High School in the 1950s, was a Clemson Tiger under Coach Frank Howard, including playing in the Bluebonnet Bowl, and played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 60s.

Moose married the love of his life, Charlton, who he met at a dance around Thanksgiving in 1957. Next to Jesus, he most loved Charlton, his three daughters, and their families.

In their adult life, Moose and Charlton spent fourteen years in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where they met and were mentored by Gene and Irma Warr. Gene, an Oklahoma oilman, later received a lifetime discipleship award from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for his tremendous investment in making disciples of men to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Gene and Irma went on to write the discipleship courses The Godly Man and The Godly Woman.

Moose began attending a men's Bible study at church led by Gene, who had been trained in Navigator style discipleship with people like Charlie Riggs of BGEA.

Spiritual Disciplines

Moose and Charlton's daughters share, "Sharing their testimonies in large group settings and leading others to a personal relationship with Christ were highlights of their lives. Morris was committed to scripture memory. He enjoyed reviewing scripture and having one ready for any need."

Indeed he did. Moose commanded a handle on Scripture memory better than any person I've ever known - including any seminary professor or pastor. Driven to know God's Word, he committed probably hundreds of verses to memory. He could tell you the passage - which Navigators call "the handle" - and the translation or paraphrase.

I don't know how many times through the years I heard him ask about any specific verse, "Do you know Matthew 6:33 in the Living?" Or the Berkley, or the Phillips, or the Message, or the New King James. 

Every year he read the Bible through from cover to cover in a new version, until he caught up with them. 

Moose led countless Bible studies through the years. At his funeral, two men shared first meeting him in the 1980s when he taught single adult Sunday School at Edwards Road Baptist Church. He would fish for men in those classes, then taking a few on to keep developing in small group Bible studies and one-on-one relationships.

At his funeral, I asked for men to stand up who had ever been in a small group or Bible study led by Morris Keller. About thirty men stood to their feet. I don't know I've ever been to a funeral where I saw as many adult men visibly moved by a man's life.

Fishing for Men

Moose loved to fish for men, and life was his fishing pond. Whether he was on the job, at the grocery store, at a restaurant, or in church. His signature line was, "Can I ask you a personal question? Do you know if you died today, you would you go to heaven?" And then, often using a "Steps to Peace with God" gospel track, he was ready to tell them about King Jesus who died on the cross for their sins.

That day in the early 1980s, standing with a boy in the parlor of a funeral home, he was fishing. About ten years later, the same boy - then nineteen - was beginning to get serious about walking with the Lord and practicing spiritual disciplines as a young adult. One day I ran into Moose and Charlton at our local KMart. He asked me, "Are you still memorizing Scripture?" And I'm sure he gave to me his often used closing line, "Call me if you need me."

Something sparked inside of me, and before long I gave him a call and asked if we could get together and talk about the Lord. For the next couple of years, during my college days, he and I would get together every couple of months. I'd drive from Clinton to Greenville and meet him for a lunch at Stax Omega.

The Wheel of Life displayed at Moose's funeral

We enjoyed great, biblical fellowship, talking about things that matter. That's what mentoring is. Spending time with someone connecting over important things, listening, helping them grow and learn.

Moose trusted God. His faith was consistent. I - and many others - learned much from his life about leaning on the Lord.

Going to Heaven

Some friends come into your life for a short while. A few others last much longer. Something connected between these distant cousins, though almost forty years apart in age, and our friendship continued for more than thirty years.

About a month ago, with Moose in his hospital bed and gown at his house, I went to see him, which I knew would be the last time.  I drove the more than two hours to his house in Taylors. Pulling up the white house, I recalled the days in college I would pull up to that same house to visit him. I remember coming to see them five years earlier one afternoon and how delighted Charlton was with the bouquet of roses I brought.

We shared another wonderful hour of real fellowship. His body frail but his mind bright, he quoted Scripture after Scripture to me, telling me how he was learning to trust God, and sharing how he led one of the hospital nurses to faith in Jesus Christ a few weeks before. Moose asked me about my wife and three children - all by name. He talked about my father, who has been gone for fifteen years (they used to sometimes eat breakfast together). He talked about old times at the church we participated in during the 80s. And he talked about his current church and pastor, whom he loved. 

He got out his IPhone and said, "Ooooooh. I have to read to you what I read in my quiet time this morning. I read it in the Message and I've never seen it say it quite like this." He proceeded to read his morning reading to me. The last several years, I could expect almost daily an email sent to several dozen people outlining the notes from his daily quiet time. 

He told me, "We've been through a lot, buddy."

This time was probably the only one he ever ended our conversation without, "Call me if you need me." He knew he was about to cross the river and go into the other side.

And a few days later, Moose was with Jesus. 

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  1. What a beautiful tribute to Moose and his faithfulness to the Lord.

  2. Hey Rhett, I just read this again and again this story gave me chills. He was always “Daddy” to me, but so much more to so many he encouraged. He invested everything into discipleship, not just teaching but also invest in their lives, birthdays, funerals. He was a faithful friend. I miss him terribly. Thank you for reminding me how incredibly wonderful and unique he was.