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Old and new wise tales: Our Neighbor Rusty Mullins

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Last week, a former employee of The Southwest Times decided to stop by his old stomping grounds.

Rusty Mullins, who worked as a reporter at our newspaper in 2015, had been visiting his family in Wise County over the holidays and had offered to drop off one of his newly published books on his way back home to Richmond.

Always willing to make new friends, I readily agreed.

Rusty Mullins is a man who seems very comfortable in his own skin. Like many writers, he converses easily on a variety of topics, but he is somewhat unique in reporting circles, as he also happens to be a pastor.

“I’ve always been a minister, but I’ve always had to have other jobs to support my family,” said Mullins. “I have supplemented my family’s income over the years writing sports and just freelancing and writing stories for newspapers. I think I’ve written for a total of eight newspapers over my career.”

Mullins graduated from JJ Kelly High School back in 1987 and then attended Clinch Valley College. Neither of these places exists anymore. School consolidation likely spelled the end for JJ Kelly, but Clinch Valley College has since transformed into the University of Virginia at Wise.

Mullins began writing sports stories for the “Highland Cavalier” college newspaper and while still in college began contributing to the “Coalfield Progress,” Wise County’s local newspaper.

Rusty met his wife Jennifer at Clinch Valley College and both went on to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

The Mullins and their children ended up in Wytheville in 2004, where he was hired as the Pastor for the Wytheville Baptist Church.

What’s the best part about being a minister?

“Seeing a person take that big step of faith and proclaiming themselves to be a Christian … that’s the ultimate.” Rusty responded. “But the other part is being able to disciple and seeing people grow in their spiritual life. Being there as a pastor every week, you get a chance to see some people who take their faith seriously and start growing in it. So being able to see that is also a big thing for a pastor.”

As is the case for any occupation, there are drawbacks.

“The pastorate takes it out of you,” he admitted. “When you’re a pastor, everything you say or do is observed. While it’s a blessing to be able to do the calling that you have. You’re under constant scrutiny. I have 250 people that I answer to. So, all the members of the church look to me to answer their needs and if I don’t, I have a situation that I need to rectify to meet that need.”

Hs wife Jennifer was at this point working full time as a Baptist Campus Minister at Radford University and in 2010 the Mullins family moved to Radford. Having relinquished his post in Wytheville, Rusty found work as a hospice chaplain. Ministering to people in their dying days would be tough duty for most of us.

“I actually enjoyed it,” said Mullins. “Being a pastor and doing sermons every Sunday and being with the people every week … sometimes you don’t know if you ever make an impact. But when you’re doing hospice work as a chaplain, you see your impact immediately. You see your impact with the patient and their appreciation for having someone come and share with them spiritually. You see the impact on a family, for having someone to come in and talk to them and to give them encouragement and uplift them. So, while it was sad, it was fulfilling in the way that I got to see the immediate effect of what I was doing for them.”

By 2015, the company that Mullins worked for decided to cut back on staff, which made him a part timer. It was then he saw a Help Wanted sign in the window of The Southwest Times. He was hired on the spot.

“One of my biggest stories is when Volvo announced that they were going to build a racetrack and the governor came to town,” recounted Rusty.

Rusty’s favorite writing assignments were what he called Sunday Specials. One of those stories focused on his wife’s ministerial work at RU. It sounds like a Neighbors story, doesn’t it?

For one reason or another, funding for Jennifer’s ministry at RU dried up, so Rusty began sending out resume’s around Richmond.

“It had kind of been a dream to get back to Richmond because my wife is from Chesterfield County, which is south Richmond,” said Mullins.

Fortunately, Rusty Mullins was hired as pastor at New Highland Baptist Church in 2016. Six months later, Jennifer Mullins was hired as Associate Pastor at the church.

As was the case everywhere, COVID restrictions altered church operations in 2020. Pastor Mullins found a way to stream his sermons while also maintaining in person services.

“We’ve had five baptisms in the midst of the pandemic, which I think is wonderful,” said Mullins. “So, our church has not stopped.”

Rusty Mullins also rediscovered his inner author during the pandemic.

“I’ve always been a writer,” said Mullins. “Before I was a pastor, before I started doing any kind of ministry, I’ve been a writer. That’s just my DNA.”

Mullins began posting a series of “nostalgia stories” on Facebook, which focused on his childhood in Wise County. People began telling him that that he ought to publish these stories and put them in a book.

So, he gathered his stories together and figured out how to self-publish through Amazon. The result is a collection of 23 short stories entitled “Old Wise Tales.”

It was this book that Rusty handed me when he came to visit and, in truth, I was not looking forward to reading it. After all, I had my own childhood experiences growing up in central Appalachia, why did I need to read about his?

Of course, in doing a story about an author, one should, at least in theory, go through the effort of reading their work.

So, I did … and I’m glad I did. “Old Wise Tales” is eminently readable, as his writing style is simple and to the point. Admittedly, I didn’t initially think I would be interested in tales from Rusty’s childhood, but I found these short stories to be quite entertaining and found myself starting another story just as soon as I’d finished the last one.

“Old Wise Tales” is divided into two sections, one featuring Rusty’s family life, the other focusing on his early schooling. At the start of every tale, there is a photograph that relates to the story. These poignant little slices of life from Rusty’s past, average about three and a half pages a piece and yet each contains a healthy dose of humor.

“Old Wise Tales” is definitely worth the read.

Rusty Mullins has published two more books, as well. The second book, entitled “Old Wise Tales Holiday Edition” features 11 short stories centered around the holidays.

His third book is called “A Christian Carol” and Rusty describes it as a reworking of Dicken’s “A Christmas Tale,” but instead of being visited by Christmas past, present and future, Scrooge experiences the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Readers may order printed versions of the books from Amazon or order e-editions. When we spoke at the end of last month, Rusty Mullins had already collected $400 in royalties and his books had only been available since the beginning of December. Those who have Kindle Unlimited may read his books for free with Mullins receiving .0045 cents for every page that someone reads.

“You’re kind of giving that away but it allows you to get your name out there and allows people to give you a chance,” Mullins said of his Kindle deal.

In addition to tending to his flock, Rusty Mullins plans to start doing grief coaching.

“Going back to the hospice thing,” he said. “That seems to be one of my fortes.”

He also plans to keep writing more Wise Tales as well as Christian oriented fiction books.

Rusty and Jennifer Mullins have three children. Twenty-two-year-old Joshua graduated from Radford and lives in Mechanicsville working as a receptionist at a doctor’s office. Bethany Mullins is a sophomore at Randolph Macon and 16-year-old Rebecca Mullins is a junior at Atlee High School in Mechanicsville.

Since these names are relatively traditional, one might wonder how Rusty became Rusty … after all, his hair isn’t red.

It turns out that Rusty’s real name is Freddie Paul Mullins Jr. His father is Freddie Paul Mullins Sr.

But Freddie Paul Mullins Jr. has always been called Rusty. This is all explained in “My Name is a Lie,” which is the last story in “Old Wise Tales.” If you’re extra curious to how he came to acquire his moniker, feel free to read that story first. Old Wise Tales is the kind of book where a reader can jump in at the start of any story without missing a beat.

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