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Health & Spirit

A pastor drives 1,000 miles to get to his small church, and the people who need him

Tammy Smith, The Sun Herald on

Published in Religious News

"That's OK," she said, explaining that had circumstances been different, she wouldn't have been able to contribute in this way. "The Lord has delivered me through many things."

Another is Vicky Wesner, who has been a member of the church "33 or 34 years."

"My wedding was the first wedding in this church," she said. "I've been teaching Sunday School about 30 years and driving the church van about 30 years, too."

She's seen 13 pastors serve at Bayside.

Gilbert first came to the neighborhood a few years ago when he and several other volunteers arrived to help after Katrina. Part of their mission was to help rebuild the church. Later, providing Vacation Bible School for the community's children became a project.

"Last June, the pastor called and said he was leaving the church in the hands of another gentleman," Gilbert said. When they arrived in Hancock County to help with VBS a few weeks later, he was amazed to find that attendance had dropped dramatically -- to as few as three adults. The former pastor's plans had not worked out, and people were leaving the church.

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"They asked if I could help them," he said. Gilbert, 46, became an ordained Baptist minister in 2002, "but I actually started preaching at 19," he said.

His new missions work had begun. What had been an annual trip became an almost-weekly trip. The Gilberts and the Reeds absorb most of the travel expenses themselves.

"The offering is used to keep the lights on," Joey Gilbert said, and Kim Reed added, "and keep the van repaired."

The van picks up neighborhood children who otherwise wouldn't have a ride to the church on Sunday mornings. It doesn't hurt that breakfast, which usually features biscuits, coffee and juice, is served at 9 a.m. Sunday School follows at 9:30 a.m., with the service at 10:30 a.m. On this particular Sunday, two weeks before Christmas Eve, wrapped presents are piled under a Christmas tree in a front corner of the sanctuary. They're gifts provided by groups from the Carnesville area for people in South Mississippi whom they've never met and might never meet. A gift is waiting for each person there.

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