Teacher at heart: Seminary leader’s death prompts reflection on his deep legacy

Ray Easley shares the story of the night of Jesus’ birth during a live nativity at Brandywine Community Church in Greenfield. The longtime seminary leader, who died July 31, was a perennial part of Night in Bethlehem at the church. He was involved in other events there, helping teach children on Sunday mornings, calling out baptismal candidates at an annual outdoor baptism service, and serving on the board of the Wellspring Center mental health ministry. “He was an incredible gift to our church family,” said senior pastor Mark Wright, “and we’ll be forever grateful to the Lord.” Photo provided

GREENFIELD — In the days following the death of Ray Easley, people on four continents texted one of his sons to see if the funeral would be streamed so they, too, could share in celebrating his life.

Easley — who for decades devoted his life and career to educating, training and mentoring new generations of Christian leaders around the globe — died July 31 following a cancer diagnosis this summer. He was 70.

The Greenfield resident was a seminary professor and administrator for decades. Most recently, he was serving as a dean of Emmaus University of Haiti.

His longest tenure, though, was at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He started there as a professor and administrator in student affairs and later became vice president of academic affairs, a post he held for more than 20 years.

Easley was born in Oklahoma, the sixth of 10 children. He earned a degree from the since-closed Covenant Foundation College, which was located in the 4400 block of Fortville Pike north of Greenfield. He would later serve as its academic dean for nine years.

Along the way he earned another degree from Anderson University and an Ed.D. from the University of Arkansas.

Those who knew him speak of the passion he had for investing in others, whether he was developing programs for a seminary in West Africa or teaching children on Sunday mornings at Brandywine Community Church, where he was a church elder.

Mark Wright, Brandywine’s senior pastor, recalled when the Easleys began attending the church about 10 years ago and Easley asked the children’s pastor about joining the group of volunteers teaching the children.

“You just hit the jackpot when you have Ray Easley come in and join your church and make himself available to serve,” Wright said to those gathered at the church Wednesday morning. “Our children adored him. He is an amazing teacher — and he adored them.”

Matt Ayers, now president of Wesley Biblical Seminary, met Easley years ago when he picked Ayers up at the airport for a residency at WBS. Ayers was touched that the dean himself would come. Easley became a mentor and encourager to Ayers during the years Ayers served as a missionary in Haiti, and today Ayers’ desk in Mississippi is one Easley once used.

“Ray’s deep relationship with Jesus simply overflowed into all that he did and was,” Ayers said. “I am just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of people that God’s warm grace touched through Ray Easley.”

Lucner Pierre, vice president of development of Emmaus University in Cap Haiten, Haiti, said the school has been receiving donations since Easley’s passing; with those, university leaders will choose from a list of projects they’ve hoped to complete and do one in memory of Easley.

“There is no way we can talk about the growth and what Emmaus University is today without talking about Dr. Ray Easley,” Pierre said. “There is no way.”

Easley’s survivors include his wife of nearly 50 years, Dianne; sons Bryan and Bradley; daughter Kerry; 11 grandchildren; and several siblings.

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Those interested in contributing to a project at Emmaus University in memory of Ray Easley can visit the school’s website. Go to https://emmaus.edu.ht/donate-now/ and mention Easley’s name in the comments.