Just a little over a decade ago, Bill Russell had a set of keys jingling in his pocket — keys to a little white church building in the far edges of rural Bibb County.
The church — Marvel Baptist — had long been closed. Another denomination had met in the building for a while, then somewhere along the way it was used for Saturday night singings. Eventually the key got passed back to Robert Smith, then pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, West Blocton, and he had an idea.
“Robert called me and asked if we could have a county-wide mission Vacation Bible School in the Marvel building with the goal of a church restart,” said Russell, director of missions for Bibb Baptist Association. “The association joined in partnership with Mount Carmel and our VBS team to organize and conduct this project.”
And they had someone in mind to lead it — Stan Dawson.
Dawson himself had never attended a VBS as a child, or church at all for that matter. God got a hold of him at 46 after the death of a friend’s mother.
“I went to Bethel Baptist in Pea Ridge to honor his mother, and that Sunday I got under conviction,” Dawson said. “You talk about an ol’ boy hurtin’ — I was hurtin.’”
He was saved, and after that, he felt God calling him to take the message that had saved him to other people. Over the years, as he and his wife, Jo, continued to run their car repair shop and gas station in Montevallo, he served as a bivocational pastor for churches in the area.
And when Russell got those keys to Marvel Baptist, he thought they might belong in Dawson’s pocket instead.
“We asked Stan Dawson to teach the adult VBS class during this project, and he did,” Russell said. “The project was a blessing.”
Bibb County replant
So, they asked Dawson to pray about restarting worship services there, and again he did — and said yes.
“We handed him the key, and he has been faithful to the task of making Marvel a preaching point here in Bibb County ever since,” Russell said.
These days they run between six and 10 on Sunday mornings — a number that, for the most part, has been able to keep on meeting with some precautions even during the COVID-19 restrictions.
Among those are Bill Allenbaugh, who teaches Sunday School; Claude Heathcock, a “faithful member and a prayer warrior”; and his wife, Carrol, who’s earned herself the name “church lady” because she takes care of everything and everyone.
It also includes Eddie Beane, whom Dawson had known since he was a teenager and bumped into a few years back at a local auto parts store. He shared the gospel with Beane, and he and his wife, Karen, have attended Marvel Baptist ever since.
“We’ve got a loving little church,” Dawson said. “People can come in here and if they’ve got a problem or their heart’s hurting, we want to offer them solace and peace in the Lord.”
That’s what it’s all about, he said — leading people into the Kingdom of God. Sunday after Sunday, the members of Marvel Baptist have worked to show their community what it looks like to find unconditional love and acceptance.
The church has been a preaching point in the area, but it’s not Dawson’s only preaching point — he views his service station and wrecker as a pulpit too. He uses a gold coin with an etching of Jesus’ face to start a conversation with people, and over the years he’s had the opportunity to share with people of all ages as he’s worked on cars and responded to accidents with his tow truck.
Daily witness for Christ
Russell says Dawson views his job as an opportunity to be a witness for Christ every day of the week. “Stan will talk to anyone about Jesus at the drop of the hat,” Russell said. “He will drop the hat too if no one else does.”
But Dawson said it’s not about him — it’s just about God and what He wants to do through His church and His people.
“I’m just a vessel for God to use,” he said.