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Service in the sand and the South


Scott Barkley

Arthur Gunn goes over some figures with Alicea Clemmons, a customer service representative for Exchange Bank in Milledgeville, where Gunn is senior vice president. Gunn serves as pastor of Island Creek Baptist Church in Hancock County.

VALDOSTA — Rick Parsons had been the bivocational pastor at Elam Baptist Church in Quitman a scant two months before he found himself under fire and dodging a rain of bullets.

The pressure wasn’t coming by way of which hymns to sing or the appropriate color of carpet, though, but from the barrels of weapons brandished by insurgents on a dusty road outside of Baghdad.

Parsons, who was recently promoted to Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, was on his second deployment to Iraq when his 14-truck convoy came under insurgent attack in March 2004.

During the attack, Parsons got out of the humvee with the five soldiers with him. Moving to the

back of the vehicle to avoid enemy fire, he was injured during the chaos when another humvee sandwiched him into his own.

“When that happened, I knew something had definitely happened and I was hurt,” Parsons recalls. “My ribs had been bruised and my elbow had been popped out of socket and shoved up to beside my bicep.

“My arm was 38 inches in diameter, but it’s not the kind of fitness program I’d recommend.”

After some recovery time, Parsons was sent back stateside a month later. Within a week of getting home he was back in the pulpit at Elam. Since then he has gone on a third tour in Iraq. He leaves for a fourth later this month.

“When Elam called me to pastor, I explained to them that my military responsibilities require me to be away at times with deployments and training. Their response was that they had been without a pastor for 18 months and could manage when I was gone.”

Scott Barkley

Donnie Berry, pastor of Mallorysville Baptist Church outside of Washington, speaks with Connie Campbell, middle, and Marsha Scott, right, at the Department of Family and Children Services in Lincolnton. Berry serves as Economic Support Services supervisor for Lincoln County DFCS while Campbell and Scott, both members of Lincolnton Baptist Church, operate as Family Independence case managers.

Another pastor told Parsons he’d fill in while Parsons was gone, saying, “You’re fighting for our freedom, surely I can watch your church.”

“The church takes great care of my family while I’m away,” says Parsons, husband of 21 years to Lynn and father to Rick Jr., 21, Amanda, 18, and Amy 17. “They support me through prayer and financially, even when I’m away.”

While in the desert, the bivocational pastor established a Bible study that began with three or four participants and grew to 20. Parsons said a separate study for men led by another soldier has around 25 participants.

“We had at least seven professions of faith and a couple of baptisms through that,” he says.

“These are missionary trips to me,” adds Parsons, who maintained contact with members of his congregation weekly via email. “I feel my church is sending me out on missions. Anyone who has an occupation is considered a minister the day they accept Christ. You minister through your occupation.”

Scott Barkley

James Bowen, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church in Greene County, prepares packages for shipping for Essex Manufacturing in Washington, where he is shipping manager.