"I preached my initial sermon at St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church here in St. Albans. I was almost in a trance. I felt great up there. I knew there was a crowd out there, but all I could see were shadows, not a single face.
"Our pastor left in December 1980 and they called me to be interim pastor in 1981. I filled in for a year. In 1984, they called me to pastor New Covenant Baptist Church on the West Side. I was there until 1989.
"In 1991, the church over in Logan where I am now, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, called me to preach because their pastor had retired. They were only having church twice a month. They invited me for the second Sunday in July. I went back in August.
"They sent a letter and asked me to be the pastor. I told them no way. Corridor G wasn't built. It took me an hour to get to Chapmanville and another 30 to 45 minutes on the back roads. If someone got sick, it would be too far for me to drive.
"Deacon Fields, an old, feeble man, said, 'Well, if you can't do that, what can you do for us?' I told him I was going to Texas in October and I would commit to his church from November to April. After April, I didn't want to be committed anymore. In April, I was going to Charlotte for a revival.
"I was in Texas doing a revival at a small country church, and every night, it was packed. I'm thinking, these people have never heard of me and yet they are traveling big distances to be here.
"On the last night, a bus came in with people in Army uniforms and they were putting on choir robes. They were from Fort Hood, an hour and a half away.
"That night at the motel, I was thanking God for the success of the revival and all the people who had driven all these miles. I was looking in the mirror crying and thanking God, and I could see Deacon Fields saying 'If you can't do that, what can you do for us?' And God told me, no matter what the distance, everybody needs to hear the word.
"I sent a telegram saying I would accept that church if they still wanted me. That was October of 1991 and 22 years later, I'm still there. I go every Wednesday and Sunday. It's 1,000 miles a month. On average, I fill up every three or four days driving back and forth. But I know it's the right thing to do.
"My biggest ministry is visiting the sick and shut-ins. I go to homes, hospitals and nursing homes.
"I grew up with [Bishop] T.D. Jakes. He was three or four years younger than me. I used to deliver their papers. He always watched the news and would tell me what was going on. He was always telling some story. He attracted people even as a first-grader.
"We're still in contact. I went to Dallas for 14 years to do revivals, and I would go over and spend time with him and Wes Womack, who is on his staff. We were best friends from the first grade on.
"I play golf only on days that end in Y. A preacher friend was laid off from his job as a mechanic. I let him work on my car. When he opened his trunk, he had a set of clubs in there. He grabbed a club and told me to hit one. I said I was left-handed and couldn't play with that club. He said he was left-handed, too. He put a ball down, and I swung and missed it several times.
"He said he would sell me the clubs for $50. I said I didn't want them, that I didn't have time for golf. I came home after the midnight shift one day, and the clubs were sitting in the living room. My wife said he'd left them and I owed him $50. I figured he needed the $50 since he was laid off. So I started playing golf.
"One day, you feel like you invented the game, and the next day you think you should have stuck with bowling. I play a minimum of three times a week. There is no bad weather. You know it never rains on a golf course.
"I made a hole-in-one on Aug. 20. I had another one on June 11 of last year and another one on Columbus Day in October 2009.
"I retired from Carbide, now it's Bayer CropScience, in 2010. I feel good about my life, but I have one regret. When I first got saved, Inez Strickland from Vandalia -- she lived to be 100 -- came up to me and said, 'Mr. Jimmy, you are going to have one regret about today.' I said, 'What's that?' She said, 'You are going to regret that you didn't do it sooner.' So if I have any regrets it would be that I didn't do it sooner.
"I've seen all I want to see. God has been good. He made a way out of no way. I've had my share of ups and downs, but I always come out on top. I'm like a cat. You throw me off the roof, I might flip and flop in the air, but I'm going to hit on my feet and get up running."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.