Published Saturday, January 12, 2013
By ED CROUSE
Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
Pastor Joel Dover, senior minister at Heatherwood Baptist Church, took up the study of karate when he was in elementary school.
“I was the second smallest kid in school, so it was get tough or get bullied.” By his late teens, the pastor had earned black belts in Carucado Karate and Tae Kwon Do.
More than the belts, however, was the deep appreciation he gained for the real merits of karate: self confidence, personal discipline, fitness and respect for others, among other qualities.
Then came a 15-year hiatus from karate while Dover attended seminary, earned a doctorate of ministry, crusaded in preaching/evangelism ministries, founded or served several churches and, most importantly, pursued and married wife Kimberly, now mother of their two children, Megan and Jake.
While serving as senior pastor for Central Baptist Church in Athens, he became interested in Yoshukai Karate, a discipline that expresses traditional Japanese style that traces its roots to the founders of karate in Okinawa more than 300 years ago.
With characteristic determination, the pastor dusted off his Gi (uniform) – and in three years earned his third black belt. And, of late, he has undertaken instruction in Yoshukai, offering classes to youngsters ages 8-14 and adults ages 16 and up in Heatherwood’s expansive gymnasium.
Classes, taught free as a ministry of the church, are open to the community as spaces become available.
Sensei Dover is quick to explain the short step he recognizes between the martial arts and Christian religions.
“Remember that karate was developed in Japan centuries ago – mainly for training the military. But it was taught by priests and elders of their religions, men of peace who also recognized the inevitability of war. Both in the martial arts and Christianity,” he continued, “you find the fostering of high moral standards, learning, respect, discipline, honesty and a spirit that avoids confrontation wherever possible.”
Before and after every class, Sensai Dover has prayer with students, a brief devotion that reflects on a variety of Christian beliefs: to love thy neighbor, bless those that curse you, turn the other cheek and set a good Christ-like example for others.
“As this is the way of the Gospel, so is it the way of karate.”
The symbol on the back of the Gi is the Michi, which translates in Japanese to “The Way.” Although karate is the way to many desirable personal qualities, it is not the way to all things.
So Pastor Dover reminds his students, “Jesus is The Way to the Father in Heaven. As the apostle Paul admonishes us, be all things to all people so that we may win some to Christ.”