TOLEDO BEND, La. – For spunky, fast-talking, fast-walking Mary Gore, it’s just another Saturday in bass-fishing paradise. Gore is busy doing what she does best. She’s out fishing – not for largemouth bass, but for souls.
By Mickey Noah
North American Mission Board
TOLEDO BEND, La. – For spunky, fast-talking,
fast-walking Mary Gore, it’s just another Saturday in bass-fishing
paradise. Gore is busy doing what she does best. She’s out fishing –
not for largemouth bass, but for souls.
To say “Miss Mary” – as she calls herself – has a
passion for winning others to Christ, is like saying seafood prepared
by Louisiana chefs is just another meal. Both fall into the “gross
On this particularly gorgeous Saturday afternoon,
she’s making the rounds of about 70 campsites at North Toledo Bend
State Park, just outside Zwolle. At each campsite, she’s inviting
campers – who’ve come from across the nation – to be her special guests
at an 8:30 a.m. worship service the next day. Some Sundays, Gore 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 – Gore 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 nation’s largest man-made reservoirs.
Now in her 13th year at Toledo Bend, Gore works across four parishes and in five Baptist associations.
“You know, people aren’t sitting still, waiting on
me to show up,” Gore said. “There are people all over this lake.
We’ll probably have 30,000 people through this weekend. 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,” Gore
explained. “We take the church outside. We want to give people the
chance to not only know His creation, but also to meet the Creator.
Sometimes, you just have to take church to where the people are.”
Inviting campers to a church service is only one of
Gore’s methods designed to draw people to Christ. She may conduct
backyard Bible clubs for children. Dressed in her “Jesus: That Is
My Final Answer” T-shirt, she wows kids with puppet shows. She quenches
the thirst of campers by distributing bottles of water with the plan of
salvation imprinted on them.
“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,” Gore 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.”
According to “Miss Mary,” the only thing some of the
children in her “Fun in the Son Clubs” know about Jesus is what she
“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. 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, Gore’s work hours are not the typical 9 to 5,
Monday-Friday. Sometimes, she holds a “service” around a toasty
campfire on a chilly, pine-scented Louisiana night – a service heavy
with the strum of guitars, soft singing and casual conversation about
what it means to be a Christian.
“I try to show folks that being a Christian is not a
list of things they can’t do – that it’s not something that’s dull and
boring and where fun is outlawed,” Gore explained.
“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
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.”
Mary’s passion extends to those folks who wouldn’t
darken the doors of a church – Baptist or any other denomination — to
hear about Jesus or how to have a relationship with Him.
“As a resort missionary, I try to get the Gospel
outside the four walls of the church building,” she said. “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. It may be at the campsites,
at a restaurant or at a store. I can’t just sit back, I have to talk to
“I’m not going to tell people they’re bad and do
things we Baptists don’t approve of. I tell them they don’t have to
suddenly become good enough to know Jesus. I just tell them they‘ve got
to admit they can’t always run their own lives and that they’re not
always going to get it right – that they need help. I tell them that I
don’t get it right all the time. Sometimes I just slap dab
mess up. I do tell them they need to confess their sins, commit their
lives and give Him control,” Gore said.
“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 everyday that Southern Baptists will let me do this and
even pay me to do it,” she said.
Mary believes God wants Southern Baptists to leave their “comfort zones.”
“He wants us to get out there and be in the world
and not of the world. He wants us to get out of our comfort zones and
to go where the people are. Use the things they like to win them to
Christ. I grew up with people who hunted and fished and hung around a
lake all the time. Today, that’s how I relate to the people at Toledo
“Without the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for
North American missions, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I would have to
worry about how I was going to pay my next electric bill!”