By Dylan Edwards
College can be a difficult transition for students and their families when the move away from home the first time.
Husband and wife duo Eddie and Allyson Willis are two Oxford residents that aid students in that life change.
Eddie Willis is the campus minister at the Ole Miss Wesley Foundation. The Wesley Foundation is a ministry of the United Methodist Church open to all students at Ole Miss.
Since he took over the role of campus minister five years ago, the Wesley Foundation has swelled from about 15 students to the current count of more than 100.
“I have sought and found leaders,” Eddie Willis said. “I’ve been able to grow the Wesley under their leadership. The deeper and more serious the leaders are, the more attracted students are to that.”
Allyson Willis is the coordinator of college ministry at the Oxford-University United Methodist Church. She oversees the worship of about 75 students at the church.
“For me, it involves a passion for helping students grow deep in their faith and become a part of a larger spiritual body, the church,” Allyson Willis said.
The age group of college students was appealing to the Willis family.
“They’re moldable, they’re shapeable and they listen,” Eddie Willis said. “They’re at a point in their life where they are searching, and it’s like I can be a potter if I’m allowed to be.”
Eddie Willis grew up in Oxford. He attended Oxford High School and then Ole Miss. After 20 years away from Oxford in various cities like Cleveland, Mississippi, at Delta State and Starkville at Mississippi State, he returned to Oxford.
Allyson Willis is from Jackson, where she attended Millsaps College. It’s fitting that the two met at Camp Lake Stephens, a United Methodist Camp and Retreat Center just outside of Oxford.
When the Willis family returned to Oxford nearly five years ago, it was for Eddie’s position at the Wesley Foundation. However, Allyson was able to find a position she enjoys as well.
“Often (college) students take a hiatus from the church for four years,” Allyson Willis said. “A lot of times, they skip four years, and when they get to real life, they’ll jump back in. I enjoy being able to draw students in to enjoy a church life while they are at college.”
Since the two pour so much into helping college students, the family takes a personal hand in the schooling of their four children. It’s about making sure everyone in their life gets the proper amount of their time.
“One of the reasons we decided to home-school is because our ministry schedule with college students is so varied,” Allyson Willis said. “There are so many early morning and late evening activities, we wanted to be sure that we had time to be with our kids.
Eddie Willis began as a youth minister and didn’t believe he would leave that path. However, life took him in a different direction.
“After 16 or 17 years in youth ministry, there was a job opening at Delta State for the campus ministry,” Eddie Willis said. “I thought I would spend my whole career in youth ministry, but now I think I will finish my career out in college ministry.”
Oxford has given the family a place to do their work, but the family has given much more back to Oxford.