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Missionary angling for souls in bass-fishing paradise

TOLEDO BEND, La. (BP)–For spunky, fast-talking, fast-walking Mary Gore, it’s just another Saturday in bass-fishing paradise — Toledo Bend, La. Mary is busy doing what she does best. She’s out fishing –- not for largemouth bass, but for souls.

On this particularly gorgeous Saturday afternoon, she’s making the rounds of about 70 campsites at North Toledo Bend State Park, just outside Zwolle, La. At each campsite, she’s inviting campers who’ve come from all over the country to be her special guests at an 8:30 a.m. worship service the next day. Some Sundays, Mary may lead 30-minute worship services in as many as five different campgrounds. The services may take place in one of the lake’s gazebos or in a local bait and tackle shop.

A native of Silsbee, Texas — with the east Texas drawl to match — Mary is a North American Mission Board resort missionary for Toledo Bend, a mecca for professional and amateur bass fishermen alike. The lake -– located in the west-central part of Louisiana -– actually makes up 70 miles of the Louisiana-Texas border. It includes 185,000 acres of surface water, 1,200 miles of shoreline and is one of the country’s largest manmade reservoirs.

Now in her 13th year at Toledo Bend, Mary is always on the go -– working across four Louisiana parishes (counties) and in five Baptist associations. She’s one of more than 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. She’s among eight missionaries highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 5-12. The 2006 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $56 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like Mary.

“We’ll probably have 30,000 people through Toledo Bend this weekend,” Mary predicts. “Now, I can’t talk to all 30,000 of them in one weekend, but I’m going to talk to as many as I can.

“We have to go where the people are,” Mary says. “We take the church outside. We want to give people the chance to not only know His creation, but also to meet the Creator.

“Jesus, when He gave the Great Commission, said, ‘Go, and make disciples.’ I’ve yet to find a verse that said, ‘Come and invite them to your air-conditioned, padded pew church building.’ Jesus went out with the fishermen. He preached on the seashore and He preached from a boat. He went to the marketplace. He preached up on the side of a mountain. He didn’t always stay in the synagogue. We’re just trying to follow Jesus’ example -– trying to be His hands and feet to reach a lost and dying world.”

Inviting campers to a church service is only one of Mary’s methods designed to draw people to Christ. She quenches the thirst of campers by distributing bottles of water with the plan of salvation imprinted on them. Or “Miss Mary” may conduct a backyard Bible club for children. Dressed in her “Jesus: That Is My Final Answer” T-shirt, she wows kids with puppet shows.

“Our ‘Fun in the Son Club’ is a day camp for kids, which we conduct in parks, private marinas, neighborhoods around the lake and even in some of the local housing projects,” Mary said. “It has all the ingredients of a church’s Vacation Bible School -– Bible lessons, music, crafts, recreation and snacks. We just do it outside.”

The only thing some of the children in her Fun in the Son Clubs know about Jesus, Mary said, is what she tells them.

“They never get to go to church or Sunday School. In fact, some of them think God’s last name is a four-letter word. That’s the only time they hear about God. So we try to show them the cross and let them know that Jesus came and lived and died for them -– and rose again so that they could have a relationship with Him.”

Because she sees her role as a calling and not merely a job, Mary’s work hours are not the typical 9 to 5, Monday-Friday.

“People like to fish and camp. So I try to emphasize how fishing and camping are good things. I have a ball coming out here at all hours and visiting with the campers. Hey, maybe they’re frying fish and I may get a piece of fish out of it, who knows? I’ve been known to eat three lunches a day out here.”

Reflecting on her passion to reach folks who wouldn’t darken the doors of a church -– Baptist or any other denomination, Mary said, “As a resort missionary, I try to get the Gospel outside the four walls of the church building. Whether people are camping at the lake, fishing in a tournament, attending one of our local fairs or festivals, or whether they’re just passing through Toledo Bend, I try to tell them about Jesus -– that He has a plan for their lives and cares about them.

“Letting people know that God loves them and has a great plan for their lives is the most fun anybody can have. And it just amazes me every day that Southern Baptists will let me do this and even pay me to do it,” she said.

“Without the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, I wouldn’t be able to do this.”

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  • Mickey Noah