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Bayou Sara church members go fishing to help Jasper areacomment (0)

September 8, 2011

By Kathy Dean

Jack Gatlin loves to fish. Combine his passion with a chance to help people still feeling the effects of the April 27 tornadoes that raked across Alabama, and this fisherman is ready to jump aboard.

Gatlin had heard members of his church, Bayou Sara Baptist, Saraland, tell about traveling to New Prospect Baptist Church, Jasper, to help with tornado relief efforts.

“I knew from the people coming back to our church and giving testimony about what was going on up there that those people are still hurting,” he said. But “I’m retired on disability. [Bayou Sara members] kept going up there as a ministry to help and work and I couldn’t do that.”

Neither could many other church members who do shift work and couldn’t take off to help clean up debris and repair buildings, said John Blackwell, associate pastor and minister of music. So he and Pastor Dennis Dunn asked Gatlin to help the church host a benefit fishing tournament.

“I wanted to do something that I could do. And fishing is something I knew about,” he said.

But while Gatlin had fished in many tournaments, he had never actually put on one.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Gatlin said.

But word got out about the tournament, businesses in the community stepped up to help sponsor prizes and 30 boats carrying 60 participants put into the Mobile Delta on July 30.

“It was a good fellowship time, and it was a ministry to people,” Gatlin said.

Several church members invited unchurched friends, and many father/son teams used the opportunity to spend time fishing together. Most teams donated their winnings back to the benefit so it raised $2,650. Combined with other donations, Bayou Sara sent more than $5,000 to New Prospect Baptist.

Dwayne Norman, pastor of New Prospect, said the funds are being distributed to provide supplies to people in neighboring communities as they recover and rebuild and to help sponsor a couple who are uplifting communities through old-fashioned tent revivals in a ministry called TOP — Tornado of Praise.

The connection between the two churches isn’t new. Norman and Blackwell knew each other as students at the University of Mobile. While a student, Norman served as a part-time youth minister at Bayou Sara and considers Dunn a mentor and friend.

When the tornadoes hit, New Prospect and the neighboring community “really dodged bullets,” Norman said. There was damage but nothing on the scale of what occurred in some other communities.

But many in Norman’s congregation had family and friends who were deeply impacted.

And the day after the storms, he received a call from his friend and mentor.

“Brother Dunn said, ‘We want to help.’ A week later, they brought a trailer load of supplies for us to give out,” Norman said.

When New Prospect needed some experienced extra hands to help with raising trusses on a house it is building for a family of 11, it put in a call to Bayou Sara.

“We have such a bond with the people of that church,” Norman said. “Some of the young adults that came (on a relief team) were my youth when I was at Bayou Sara. It was really awesome to see how much they had grown, matured, and how they are on fire for God.

“It’s pretty awesome to see what God is doing in the midst of this tragedy,” he added.

Blackwell said the tournament helped Bayou Sara members draw together and get to know each other in new ways. And it gave people an opportunity to serve in a new way.

Funny fishing videos featuring Gatlin and his fellow fishermen made the congregation laugh together and “created a different environment for our people to appreciate what mission work is,” Blackwell said.

With one successful tournament behind it, Bayou Sara is looking to use future events to raise funds for missions needs while strengthening fellowship and providing a way to draw in unchurched friends.

“We are even talking about starting a bass club at the church,” Gatlin said.

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