MARION, La. (BP)–Gerald and Rosie Cole are claiming Jesus’ promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, HCSB).
After almost 40 years as a pastor, Gerald had decided it was time to go home to Louisiana to retire. He and his wife Rosie went to visit Springhill Baptist Church near Marion, where Gerald had his first pastorate.
But they found a locked building in disrepair. Gerald looked at Rosie, who knew immediately that retirement was not going to be an option.
“Gerald decided if we’re retired, we’ll just come back up here and start it [the church] again,” Rosie says with a smile.
They bought the church property and converted the small general store next door into their home.
Gerald and Rosie resumed the roles they had left many years before — Gerald preached and Rosie played piano.
“I preached real plain. That’s the way I am,” says Gerald, who was pastor of several churches in the Southeast. While the location changed, the message was the same: “There are lost people all over the world, and we need to do something about it.”
As Gerald faithfully stood by his calling to preach, a small group of members returned. The church resumed its giving to missions. Under Gerald’s leadership in the ’60s, the church had never missed a missions offering. Even when budgets had been tight, Gerald made certain that money was continually going to international missions.
The church regularly received certificates of appreciation for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Gerald hung them proudly on the walls so everyone who entered the church would know its missions heartbeat to reach the lost.
Though the church had begun to rebound, economic hardships contributed to fewer and fewer families making the trip to Springhill to attend services on a regular basis.
As membership declined, so did Rosie’s health. She suffered a severe stroke and underwent surgery for breast cancer within a short span of time. Doctors urged Gerald to put Rosie in a nursing home, but he refused. Gerald, 79, nursed Rosie back to health.
Every Sunday that Rosie was able, they walked arm-in-arm to the church. Rosie played the piano and sang when her body was strong enough. Then she took a seat on the front row to hear Gerald’s message. Many Sundays, Gerald stood at the pulpit and looked out over empty pews as he preached.
Springhill’s membership count has now dwindled to two. With their health declining, Gerald and Rosie no longer can walk to the church building for services. Instead, they sit in their living room dressed in their Sunday best. Gerald reads Scripture as Rosie plays the piano — they never miss a Sunday.
They still tithe weekly and give to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This year they mailed in a missions offering check of $2,000.
Gerald developed his missions heart and call to preach while overseas in the Army in the mid-1950s. Shortly after arriving in Seoul, South Korea, he started encouraging a group of soldiers in a nearby town to attend chapel. When they told him the chaplain wasn’t going to come to their town to preach, Gerald prayed that God would send someone to the soldiers.
His prayer was answered. “The Lord said to me, ‘You preach to them next Sunday,'” Gerald recalls. “Well, I said, ‘All right.'”
An International Mission Board missionary heard Gerald preach. They began a friendship that helped foster Gerald’s passion for missions. He went with his friend on many trips to the surrounding rural areas to minister to the people of Korea. Years later, many faces of those he visited are still etched in his memory.
“They needed someone to love them,” Gerald says. “That made me see the need. I had my calling then.”
Rosie has played a significant role in helping her husband realize that calling. As a high school senior, Rosie invited Gerald to church after his family moved in across the street. Within a few months, Gerald got down on his knees in the boiler room of the paper mill where he worked and asked the Lord to be his Lord and Savior.
Five months later, he got on his knees once more to ask Rosie to be his bride. That was 57 years and five children ago.
Today, as Gerald and Rosie reminisce over a lifetime of love for God, each other and the world, they are also looking toward the future — living each day in service to Him.
“We haven’t quit … we’re not through,” Gerald says.
He prays, “Lord, when each day is finished we want to feel that we have done what You wanted us to do.”
Ashley and Justin Veneman, freelancers in Memphis, Tenn., contributed the information for this story and photographs to the International Mission Board. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, with a goal of $170 million in gifts through Southern Baptist churches, will support the ministry of more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide appointed by the International Mission Board. Gifts to the offering can be made at www.imb.org/offering.