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Opal W. Eubanks joined the Mississippi Highway Patrol during the race riots of 1964. A large, broad-shouldered white man, he relished the opportunity to strike fear in the hearts of African-Americans who were in trouble with the law. By his own admission, he was a foul-mouthed sinner who liked “rough stuff.”
A radical conversion to Christ in the early 1970s altered the course of Eubanks’ life, and his hardened heart became tender toward African-Americans in his rural community. He and his wife, Thelma, ultimately pioneered an Assemblies of God congregation consisting mostly of African-Americans, which they pastored for 21 years. He shared his story in the Feb. 8, 1976, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Eubanks’ conversion occurred in the midst of deep personal suffering. His 20-year-old daughter had recently been killed in an automobile accident, and he had been experiencing excruciating back pain. He realized that he was far from God, and his father-in-law, a Pentecostal preacher, encouraged him to seek the Lord and repent of his sins.
Eubanks began attending an Assemblies of God church, where he accepted Christ, was healed of his back pain, and was baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was a new man, and everyone could see the difference.
After being filled the Holy Spirit, he started witnessing to people. His Bible became his constant companion in his patrol car, and he never grew tired of sharing how the Lord changed his heart and life.
One night, at a roadblock on Interstate 59, he stopped two African-American men who had beer in their car. He had to charge them with illegal possession of liquor, as it was a dry county. He also witnessed to them about the Lord, telling them that “liquor was a tool of the devil.”
One of the men, Joe Pickens, came to see Eubanks several days later. He tearfully confessed that his life was messed up and accepted Christ. Before long, Pickens and his four daughters all had made definite decisions to follow the Lord and had experienced Spirit baptism.
News of the conversions spread through the largely African-American rural community of Bay Springs, Mississippi, where racial segregation still held sway. Patrolman Eubanks had been known for his tough ways, and people took note when he began ministering Christ’s love to African-Americans as brothers in Christ.
In 1974, Eubanks started holding a Bible study, which developed into a thriving congregation. In the first two years, about 45 people accepted Christ under Eubanks’ ministry. The congregation, Bay Springs Assembly of God, was organized in 1975. The Sunday School superintendent was a redeemed bootlegger.
At the time, it was unheard of in that community for a white man to pioneer or pastor a church of African-Americans. Eubanks realized that he was breaking cultural mores. However, he insisted that God’s values must trump cultural values: “If a man is a child of God, then he’s your brother. I don’t care what color he is, you have a duty to witness to him.” Eubanks recounted “grumbling and opposition to the church,” but noted that it was “nothing that God couldn’t handle.”
Eubanks served as pastor of Bay Springs Assembly of God until 1996. Sammy Amos, an African-American, followed Eubanks and is now in his 20th year as pastor. Amos, in a recent conversation, echoed Eubanks’ vision for the church: “We only care about souls, we don’t judge people according to their color.”
Amos noted that Bay Springs Assembly of God continues to be an interracial lighthouse in the rural community, where most churches are still segregated. The congregation has about 115 adherents, including blacks and whites, and is known for its outreach and deliverance ministries. The largely African American church started by a white highway patrolman continues to demonstrate to the world that God can indeed change hardened hearts.
Read the entire article by O. W. Eubanks, “Highway Patrolman Pastors New Black Church in Mississippi,” on pages 8-9 of the Feb. 8, 1976, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The New Bedroom Evangelism,” by C. M. Ward
• “Don Argue Named Vice President of A/G Graduate School”
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.