Behind the Song Sunday: Wherever He Leads I’ll Go
Baylus Benjamin McKinney was at the top of his career when he traveled to the Alabama Sunday School Convention in January 1936. The year before the Heflin, Louisiana native was named editor for the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
At the convention, the author of such hymns as “The Nail Scarred Hand”, “Speak to My Heart”, “Let Others See Jesus In Me”, and “Satisfied with Jesus“, met with his good friend of many years R. S. Jones. Mr. Jones had been a missionary in Brazil.
As the two men visited and caught up over dinner, Mr. Jones revealed that his doctors would not allow him to return to South America due to his recent ill health. After a lifetime of serving God in Brazil, imagine how foreign a concept this must have been to the missionary.
“I don’t know, but wherever He leads I’ll go,” the missionary answered in earnest.
Baylus McKinney was unable to get his friend’s words out of his mind. Before the convention session that evening, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumni and faculty member, had expanded his friend’s words to write both the lyrics and melody to the hymn, “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.”
When Mr. McKinney shared the previous conversation with the congregation. He then premiered his new hymn as he began to sing, “Take up that cross and follow me. I heard my Master say.”
Mr. McKinney also lived out a life that followed the words of his famous hymn. When the Great Depression sent the seminary into a financial crisis, Mr. McKinney became the assistant pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
On Sunday, September 7, 1952, Mr. McKinney had just left a conference in Ridgecrest, NC and was headed for another engagement in Gatlinburg, TN. While near Bryson City, NC, Mr. McKinney was killed in a car accident. In addition to his wife, two sons, and several brothers, he left behind a legacy that included numerous hymns.
Falls Creek Baptist Encampment in Davis, Oklahoma named their chapel in his honor.
His hometown of Heflin, holds an annual McKinney song service each July to celebrate his 149 hymns and gospel songs.
According to the Baptist Press, Mr. Jones served on the Southern Baptist convention Foreign Mission Board for thirty-seven years. He and his wife served as missionaries to Brazil from 1920 until 1930. He retired from a life of service in 1958, having served as treasurer to the Foreign Mission Board for the last decade of his service.