Innerviews: Ministry calls across the miles
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Apparently, God doesn't care a whit about the cost of gasoline. The Gospel trumps everything.
Which is why the Rev. James H. Mosley Jr., commutes 1,000 miles each month from St. Albans to Logan, every Sunday and Wednesday, to tend to his flock at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. Factor in funerals and home and hospital visits and you've got a Lincoln pushing more than 200,000 miles.
But God called "Bimp" Mosley to this ministry, and who can argue with God? He tried to fight it. He wanted to be a chef. He wanted to join the Marines. Eventually, like always, God won.
His affable manner and quick smile works well in the pulpit. But his ministry goes far beyond preaching. He's the ultimate Good Samaritan, cutting grass for those who can't, providing food for those who need it, anything he can do to better the lives of others.
When he isn't taking care of God's business, he's on the links. He has three holes-in-one to his credit. Apparently, somebody up there likes him.
"I grew up in Vandalia, which is between Fort Hill and South Charleston above the Patrick Street Bridge. My father worked at Union Carbide. He was the first black that ever got to eat in the cafeteria.
"I had a great childhood. I played football and ran track. In the summer of the ninth grade, I got a job at South Charleston Junior High helping the janitor clean the school for the next year.
"In 10th grade, I got a job at Charleston General Hospital in the dietary department. I thought I was going to be a great chef one day. I went to Carver the first year it opened and took commercial foods.
"In the 10th grade at Charleston High, I got saved. I didn't go to church often -- Christmas, Easter, Bible school -- just when they were handing things out.
"We would watch Rex Humbard out of Akron, Ohio, and his wife, Maude Amy. We would laugh at them because of the country music and the twang. He'd always give the same invitation: 'If you die today, would you go to heaven? Let me see your hands.'
"At that time, it seems like everyone in my house would hear the doorbell ring even though we didn't have a doorbell, or they'd have to go to bathroom or get a drink. Nobody wanted to hear that invitation.
"One day, I heard it, and I couldn't leave the room. He said, 'If you didn't raise your hand, I want to pray for you. If you are at home, put your hand on the radio or television screen.' I put my hand on the TV screen and gave my life to the Lord that day.
"I didn't see lightning flashing or the thunder roar, but I just felt a peace, a calmness, that I had made the right decision. I started going to church. We didn't have a big youth program, but Ben Toliver Sr., and his son, Tom, started taking me to the Bible Center. We would go to Bible class on Mondays. From there, I got the call. I ran from it for several years.
"I wanted to join the Marines. My mother had different plans. I was in Roanoke visiting my cousins for a farewell because I was joining the Marines. My mother snuck and signed me up for West Virginia State College. She said I had to come home for freshman orientation. I had no idea what that was.
"Here's how naïve I was. I stood in the registration line. When I got to the cashier, she said, 'That will be 125.' I threw a $10 bill on the counter. She said, 'No, it's 125.' I said, 'Take it out of the 10.' She said, 'I meant $125.' I had to go home and come back the next day to register for college.
"I majored in health, phys ed and safety. I was at State from '71 until '76. I did two years full time, got married early and had a family early. I took day classes sometime and night classes sometime, but I was a chemical operator at Carbide, and working shift work and going to school don't mix.
"When I told my pastor I'd been called, he reminded me that I'd just bought a house and had two little children and a good job at Carbide. So I forgot that idea. He wanted me to see the big picture and not make an impulsive decision.
"A year later, I told him that even if I failed and lost everything, I wanted to do it and it would just be part of my testimony.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5173.