Will Joslin of Joslin Book Enterprises: “Remain friendly, but don’t compromise”

If you stand for faith, character, and integrity, don’t expect everyone to like you. Remain friendly, but don’t compromise. As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Will Joslin. Will Joslin was a self-described hedonist as a pre-law student at UNC-Chapel Hill. […]

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If you stand for faith, character, and integrity, don’t expect everyone to like you. Remain friendly, but don’t compromise.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Will Joslin.

Will Joslin was a self-described hedonist as a pre-law student at UNC-Chapel Hill. After a dramatic Christian conversion, his life trajectory changed. Accepted into law school, instead, he chose full-time ministry for 17 years. Afterward, he spent 25 years in business, mainly running his own IT consulting company, Joslin Computer Solutions, before recently starting another business, Joslin Book Enterprises. He and his wife Becky still minister part-time as he concentrates on writing. Aside from ministry and entrepreneurship, Will has taught leadership, led men’s groups, mentored young men, black and white, and coached basketball and golf. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, has a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and has earned an online Doctor of Sacred Literature (D. S. Lit.) from Wycliffe Theological Seminary. Will enjoys golf, swimming, and sailing.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Raleigh, NC. My parents were high character people, and, as a boy, I especially admired my father, who was a big supporter of President Kennedy. I’m six years old when President Kennedy is shot, and the whole country is reeling. Many of you weren’t born then, and to you I’d say the devastating magnitude of it felt like the worst days of Covid, condensed down to one intensely negative event. A few days after the assassination, I’m with my Dad watching the President’s funeral on TV, and JFK’s two-year-old John Jr., with tears streaming down his face, salutes his father’s casket. At that point, my dear father was shaken to the core. He cried out with such a tearful moan of hopelessness and despair that, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for him. At that moment he looked like he lost faith that God was in control of the world.

This event was a turning point for me because then I realized that, as much as I loved my father, I needed to look beyond his horizons to find God. Because even at age six, deep down I knew that faith in the living God, whom I believed existed, would enable someone to overcome JFK’s death. So I began searching for transcendent meaning — at first, subconsciously, then consciously. By my late teens, I was desperate for answers.

I went to college in the turbulent early ’70s, and my search was unfulfilled. I got to the point where I had no reason to study or even to live. I acted happily and partied hard, I but I was desperate inside, still searching for God. I needed hope, a life vision, and a mentor to show me what genuine faith and an honorable life looked like. As a freshman, I went to a guidance counselor at UNC and said: “I have no idea who I am, why I exist, or what will happen when I die. If I can’t answer these bigger questions, how am I supposed to know what subject to major in?” He thought for a moment and answered: “Well, Will — you come by it honestly — nobody really knows who they are or why they exist; don’t worry about it.”

What!? Nobody knows why they exist, and “don’t worry about it?” Well, I WAS worried about it. So with one of my first sincere prayers, I asked God to reveal Himself to me. He graciously answered a year and a half later when I came to know Christ personally, the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

So I had a glorious new hope, but there were still obstacles. I wanted to translate my new faith into a productive life that reflected the goodness of God and helped others find this great hope but didn’t know-how. I needed a mentor. The irony is that the whole time, the answers I so desperately sought were found in my own family tree, in the life of my great grandfather, Major James Lide Coker!

Well, Major Coker also came to know Christ in college — at the Citadel, and after maturing through fiery trials in the Civil War, he bravely shined out his faith in a grand life of and business and spiritual service that inspired and uplifted everyone who knew him. THE POINT IS- THE MAJOR’S LIFE AND PRINCIPLES ARE JUST WHAT I NEEDED BACK THEN — AND THIS BOOK IS WHAT I FEEL CAN HELP SO MANY NOW!

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Books about leadership, adventure and courage, such as JFK’s heroics in John F. Kennedy and the PT-109, and books on the Wright Brothers and their painstaking, victorious quest to invent the airplane against all odds. But the one that began to help me in my search was Run, Baby Run, by former Harlem Gang Leader Nicky Cruz.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was a young pastor, I visited a young couple who had recently joined the church. We were having a good conversation about their backgrounds, and I asked the wife what her father did for a living. She said he worked for the NC Department of Transportation. I asked what he did for the DOT and she said he moved dead animals out of the road. I instantaneously laughed out loud. Immediately realizing my faux pas, I apologized profusely for being so rude. She said she forgave me, and I think she was sincere, but that prideful act taught me that I wasn’t as humble or as down to earth as I needed to be, and that I had to grow in humility of character if I were going to serve God and people effectively. Really, I think all of life is supposed to be about growing in humility — and character.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Author Patrick Morley well described the social need I’m trying to remedy by revealing Major Coker’s life in the book:

Our society is trying to tip the scales away from Judeo-Christian values to individual rights. Focus on personal peace and affluence has largely replaced deeply held, self-sacrificing convictions and the resulting community-building causes which benefit the human condition.

Many people today don’t realize until it’s too late that their selfishness not only diminishes themselves, their families, and their communities, but ultimately just makes them miserable. I wrote this book to offer a sterling model of someone who joyously lived for others and for causes higher than himself, and was still incredibly successful. Major Coker shared profits with his workers and looked out for them. In his enterprises, he sought ways to empower and prosper all faithful employees, not just the ones in the boardroom. He also provided spiritual, and educational leadership to his entire region. As he blessed others, he was blessed. We need to know about this man, learn from him, and redeem people and society the way he did. I think we all need heroes and that those who say there are no heroes don’t know where to look. While not perfect, the life of Major James Lide Coker of Hartsville, South Carolina can inspire anyone!

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Young James Coker matured rapidly through fiery trials in the Civil War. His left leg was almost shot off at the Battle of Lookout Mountain. He became delirious with fever, and three doctors told him he should have died. But by his Christian faith and courage, he not only survived not only his injury but lived through ten more months as a Yankee prisoner of war.

He came home to northeastern South Carolina only to find that Sherman’s men had burnt everyone’s crops in the region and that his own farm was in shambles well how would we react?

Undaunted, the Major grabbed a crutch in one hand and a hoe in the other and went right out and planted 60 acres of cotton and restored the fortunes of his farm. As a master entrepreneur and consummate leader, he wasn’t done. Over the next several decades he went on and founded 20 highly successful businesses and industries and became the wealthiest men in his state. All the while, his intended to uplift the prosperity of everyone else in the region with his own, and he did just that by providing gainful employment for blacks and whites who desperately needed help after the war. The Major also led spiritually, educationally and in racial progress after the war.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

My mother was a Coker from Hartsville, SC. On a visit south to my grandmother, Miss May Coker, in about 1969, I distinctly remember exploring the streets of Hartsville with my brother David. We could not help but notice Coker College, then the Coker Department Store, and a little farther, the Coker Pedigreed Seed Company. The huge Sonoco Products plant was a few blocks away, founded by our great grandfather, Major Coker. As we absorbed the cumulative impact, my brother and I looked at each other with amazement, wondering how our ancestors had accomplished so much. There was also a challenge — that we in turn live useful lives.

Miss May died in 1976, and the Hartsville memories receded as my wife Becky and I raised three children, and served in ministry and business for over 40 years. Then it happened. Early one morning in June of 2018, just before waking from a restful night’s sleep in Raleigh, I had a stark and compelling dream. I was back in the 1960s, walking the streets of Hartsville with my brother. Suddenly that old aura was magnified a thousand times. A burning curiosity to investigate these fascinating roots, and a consuming desire to rise up and be a faithful conduit of Major Coker’s legacy, ignited in a flash that burned into my brain. When I greeted my wife Becky a few minutes later, I told her that something transcendent — a “God moment” — had just happened.

I believed God was calling me to undertake an important work: to get to the fountainhead of the river of Coker accomplishment. I realized that such an undertaking would mean carefully searching out the history and legacy of my great grandfather, Major James Lide Coker.

Usually, I don’t make much out of dreams, but in this case, the compulsion in the dream was grounded in scripture — specifically, the example of Luke being called to document history. I would never claim inspiration in the same sense that it came to the writers of the Bible. However, I think I felt like Luke did when he opened his gospel with these words: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us … I too decided to write an orderly account… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (from Luke 1:1–4 NIV). I had to write this book.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

While researching the book, I met a young man who was a history major. He knew of Major Coker and volunteered to help me with a bit of the research. Later, I asked him to be one of my manuscript readers. Afterward, he said our meeting was providential, that the book’s full story of Major Coker inspired his life and faith, opened his eyes to his own potential for service, and enlarged his vision of his life’s purpose. That made me so happy — that’s why I wrote the book!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. If you train a cannibal to eat with a fork, knife, and napkin, he is still depraved. So, beyond the high tech skills, train young people in faith and character, not just a craft. English statesman Francis Bacon said knowledge is power, but Major Coker’s perspective was that knowledge is the power to help people. That’s just what he did with his schools and business ethics — he uplifted the civility of each individual and the whole culture. In his schools they taught these same timeless principles from the book of Proverbs: The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. (Prov. 11:25). Ill-gotten gains do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death (Prov.10:2).
  2. Regardless of one’s course of study, a required part of college training should be that each student should run their own business for at least a year. Some initial seed money might be provided, but ultimately, the profits or losses should be the student’s to gain or lose. The practical life and service lessons learned from that experience are worth more than 100 classroom lectures.
  3. Supplementing PE classes, Colleges should require four years of exercise like swimming, running, soccer, or some kind of physical fitness for all able-bodied students, not just “athletes.” President Kennedy said: “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, itis the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” This regular physical training should be customized according to each student’s abilities and capacities, but it should be required, perhaps in conjunction with a friend who is a mutual accountability partner. Even some handicapped students could have a customized plan within their capabilities. Unbelievably, Major Coker, even with his shattered femur, set aside time for vigorous exercise — walking briskly on one leg and a crutch. This discipline teaches a most important character principle — to do what’s right even if you don’t feel like it. Most students will see and feel the benefits of exercise, and will likely develop good lifetime fitness habits. Furthermore, exercise goes a long toward curbing depression and improving mental health, as studies have shown.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The world’s way of thinking about leadership is usually self-centered. Many “leaders” see themselves as above their team, a “big boss” exhibiting authority and power. Or like a big dog that grabs a bone a runs off to horde it all for himself. The truth is quite the opposite — leadership is about building grassroots relationships by knowing and serving others first. As John Maxwell says, leadership is not position, but building trust and influence. That’s what Major Coker did. He was humble and started out first farming on a crutch, then teaching Sunday School, then running a store and multiplying businesses. He built relationships and served the people. They naturally trusted him, and he so he gained leadership influence. Then people didn’t have to think about whether they wanted to work with and follow him — they were attracted. The Major went on to mentor and built other leaders, such as Hartsville, SC’s J.J. Lawton, Josephine Erwin, and others, enabling them to find their best-suited place in his region’s economic and cultural life, and empowered them to go on to help others reach their potential as well. That’s successful leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Find a trustworthy and mature older person, whom you respect, and who shares your values. He or she should also be experienced in your field, or in a related one. Ask them to mentor you (most will say “yes”), and do not be afraid to share your life struggles. Your mentor can help you with perplexing problems at work and home, and with managing ethics and relationships honorably. You can meet either regularly, or just on an as-needed basis. Make it structured enough to be productive, but also flexible and friendly. With your mentor, and in general, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, even if you might think it sometimes makes you look ignorant. The payoff in personal growth is worth it a hundred times over. Also, try to give back some, and thoughtfully encourage your mentor.
  2. If you are married, honor your relationship with your mate, and put in the thought, creativity, and time it takes to let them know that you continually love them. I strongly believe it’s best not to check work emails or take work calls at home after 6:00. Your correspondents and colleagues will adjust to your habits, so watch your precedents, and set your boundaries upfront. And if you realize you’re beginning to drift from your mate or family — don’t blame work or temptation! Own up and blame yourself, and fix it! If this means changing departments, locations, or getting a little less pay, so be it.
  3. Learn from people who have a better computer and/or social media skills than you do. Ask questions and remember the answers. And don’t forget that you can look up your computer or software problems on Google — often that’s all you’ll need to conquer a problem. If your work training and Google searches still prove to be inadequate for you to perform well with technology, by all means, get private tutoring in specific areas. Hire someone who forces you to learn. I’ve done this to improve my social media skills, and it’s really paid off.
  4. If you stand for faith, character, and integrity, don’t expect everyone to like you. Remain friendly, but don’t compromise.
  5. Trust that, in time, hard work, clean hands, and the kind of leadership that serves others will be rewarded. Remember that David started as a conscientious shepherd, and became the king of Israel. Major Coker started as a farmer on a crutch and became the wealthiest man in his state.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A reasonable quote that comes to mind is “Yard by yard — it’s hard, but inch by inch — it’s a cinch.” Break down a large task into small daily goals and put in the honest effort each day. Progressing in this manner has helped me accomplish things that seemed impossible at first, such as starting two businesses, earning my doctorate, and writing this book. Part of it is that when you are faithful in the little things, you get more and more skilled as you go along, and one day, you realize your abilities have increased exponentially. You suddenly believe: “I can do this,” and you can!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Leadership expert John Maxwell. I would like to talk to him about how to engage and build young leaders of faith and integrity, and to change America. In other words, how to reproduce sterling macro-leaders like Major Coker today to help lead our society out of its present funk. We desperately need a renaissance in character, creativity, and redemptive social leadership. If John Maxwell didn’t work out, it would be NC Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My author’s website is www.willjoslin.com. There is a lot there, including book discussion questions that raise it from a book to a course in entrepreneurship, character development, and history. There is also a link to purchase the book and a tab to contact me, the author, directly.

And exciting YouTube video series on Major Coker and the book may be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkPeAgLHJ9qdsYEIiXnqnJQ/videos

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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