God's call from Alabama to Alaska, 27 yrs. & counting
So he applied -- for something else.
"It's kind of comical in hindsight," McKee said. "I felt specifically like my call to missions was a call to Juneau, Alaska. I didn't question it. But it was like my fleece at the time -- I wanted the decision to be God's, not mine, and I wanted Him to confirm it."
So that day in 1991, in the lobby of the Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) at the University of North Alabama (UNA) in Florence, McKee wrote down his top three choices for short-term missionary jobs -- and none of them were Alaska. And then he waited to hear from the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board).
Weeks later, the phone call came.
The phone was quiet.
"Why didn't you tell us that?" he was asked. "And I said that I had wanted God to orchestrate it" -- and "God had confirmed it with that phone call."
It might've been a turning point, but McKee's journey didn't start with that phone call -- but much earlier.
Childhood missions learning
His exposure to missions goes back almost to the cradle roll at First Baptist Church in Rogersville, Ala., where he grew up.
"The missions education there was tremendous," he said. "RAs [Royal Ambassadors] was a big deal then, and all the way through they made sure we understood the Cooperative Program and how it supported the mission boards."
Then McKee got to UNA and his missions education found its feet.
"I truly realized my desperate need for Christ in college, and when I surrendered to whatever God wanted me to do, I realized that everything before that had been preparation," he said. "Then when the opportunity came to go to Alaska, in my spirit and in my heart, it was very clear that it was the step God wanted me to take."
Not to mention that Walt Disney World terrified him.
"Send me out in the woods with the bears," McKee said with a laugh. "I'm happy with that."
In Alaska ever since
Twenty-seven years later, he's serving as director of church planting and missions for the Alaska Baptist Convention. After his three-year missions term was up, he married Carole, a young woman who had been the first baby on the cradle roll at the first church he was sent to in Juneau -- Glacier Valley Baptist Church.
"She grew up there and we met at the church's 30th anniversary," McKee recounted. "God was really working in all that to get me right where He wanted me to be."
The fishing and hunting he had loved in Alabama came in handy -- he and Carole moved to a remote area where he worked part time as a big game and fishing guide. He volunteered over the years with Baptist churches in the area, then eventually joined the staff of First Baptist Church in Anchorage.
"We served there full time for a little over 17 years as our kids grew up," McKee said.
His son is in Fairbanks in college now, and his daughter is back in his old stomping grounds at UNA. It's a blessing for McKee to see her in the place that meant so much to his own spiritual journey. "The BCM there was a big part of my life. The week-in-week-out ministry opportunities really made a difference in my life," he said.
Eddy Garner, UNA's Baptist campus minister at the time, said McKee's willingness to go anywhere was memorable.
"Jae was a committed Christian while in college," said Garner, now director of missions for Alabama's Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association. "I always admired his adventurous spirit and willingness to follow the Lord wherever He might lead."
McKee stepped out in faith and "never looked back," Garner said. "It is exciting to see what the Lord is doing in Jae's ministry in Alaska."
In serving with the Alaska Baptist Convention, McKee works closely with church planters for training, encouragement and missions involvement. He also is working to establish strong missions partnerships with Alabama Baptists. This summer several state missionaries from the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions will travel to Alaska to talk about ways the two states can partner together there.
And McKee is recruiting interns from UNA, just like he was recruited years ago.
"It's been overwhelming to see what God has done," he said. "Who would've thought that a kid who ran through the mud of Alabama and loves to go fishing would ever have a place in Alaska? And on top of that, who would've imagined that God would open doors to build relationships with people who are hard to reach and open doors to share the Gospel with them?"
He didn't see it coming, but McKee said it's possible his mom did at least a little bit.
When he was young, he drew a picture of a mountain, a cabin, a stream and a sheep and told his mother that one day he was going to live in Alaska.
"I don't remember doing it, but she tucked that picture away and has always kept it," he said.
God's hand has been guiding his path since before he can remember, McKee said.
"He's worked in a lot of ways I can see now looking back," he said. "It's amazing how He orchestrated the last 20-something years of my life to put me in a place He had prepared for me."