LOCUST GROVE, Georgia
Bob Howard didn’t set out to be a pastor. Bob, an insurance agent who owned an eponymous agency, spent much of his free time working with the Gideons International ministry, best known for its Bible distribution in hotel rooms and schools.
That service opened the door for him to speak in many churches across his hometown of Thomaston, Georgia. As it turned out, the Lord showed Bob that his ministry wasn’t in insurance but in the pulpit.
“We announced to our church, Clarks Chapel Baptist, that I had accepted the call of God to be a preacher,” Bob recalled. “I did not have a clue what was next. The Lord opened speaking opportunities to preach in many local churches in the Centennial Baptist Association, of which I had served as the clerk.”
In July 1976 — the month of the nation’s bicentennial — Antioch Baptist Church in Butler, Georgia, called Bob to be their pastor. The pay was $80 weekly, equivalent to $425 weekly in 2023. Bob said his family was “very grateful” for the church’s support.
“The Lord miraculously sent a buyer for my insurance agency without advertising it,” Bob recalled. “Proceeds were given to the Gospel ministry in tithes and missions and for living expense.”
Bob’s wife of 61 years – Annie Ruth, better known as “Sweet Pea” – was a model pastor’s wife, he said.
“My wife has been my helpmate the Lord provided,” Bob said. “She loved and followed in her servant’s role in each church we served.”
After 43 years of service in five Georgia churches — 18 in his final pastorate — Bob decided to retire as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Stone Mountain due to his and Sweet Pea’s declining health.
Mission:Dignity came alongside the Howards upon their retirement to provide financial assistance as they had been unable to save adequately. Mission:Dignity is the Southern Baptist ministry of GuideStone that offers financial aid to retirement-aged Southern Baptist pastors and their wives or widows near the poverty line. The ministry is supported through gifts from individuals, foundations, Sunday school classes and local churches; Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program allocation. Monthly honorariums often allow pastors to continue serving — in Bob’s case, as a Sunday school teacher in his grandson’s church.
“We are so blessed to be able to serve through Glen Haven Baptist Church in McDonough, Georgia, where I am teaching a life group called the Promise Keepers,” Bob said.
Mission:Dignity recipients in Georgia receive an extra blessing thanks to the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, which is a supporting organization of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Thanks to the joint efforts of these Georgia ministry partners, some health expenses incurred by Georgia Mission:Dignity recipients can be reimbursed fully. This endeavor — launched in 2007 — means additional assistance to these dear soldiers of the cross like Bob and Sweet Pea as they navigate increasing health care costs.
“When I visited with the Howards, they were so thankful for the medical bill reimbursements Mission:Dignity provides due to the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation,” said the director of Mission:Dignity, Aaron Meraz. “Because of our cooperative efforts over the last 17 years, over $2 million in medical bill reimbursement has been disbursed to Mission:Dignity recipients in Georgia.”
GuideStone President Hance Dilbeck said the generosity of God’s people is always a blessing to both the giver and the recipients.
“I’m thankful personally for the foresight Georgia Baptists had in supporting these dear retired servants of Christ,” Dilbeck said. “It is a true blessing to Georgia retired pastors, ministry wives or widows who are the beneficiaries of this generous ministry. On behalf of them, we give thanks for Georgia Baptists.”
To learn more about the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, to make a tax-deductible gift or legacy gift, visit GABaptist.org/gbhcmf.
To learn more about Mission:Dignity, to make a tax-deductible gift, to apply for assistance, or to refer someone in need, visit MissionDignity.org.
Roy Hayhurst is the director of denominational and public relations at GuideStone.
Director of Denominational and Public Relations
GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention
Roy.Hayhurst@GuideStone.org | (214) 720-2141