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The passion of Bishop Bill

Sunday, October 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:27 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Every morning, Bishop Bill Rogers wakes up about 4 a.m. He prays, reads the Bible, takes a walk and eats oatmeal and a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast. At age 80, his cholesterol is an impressively low 125, and his doctor jokes that the only way to get rid of him would be to shoot him.

Rogers, the preacher at the one-room Church of God in Fulton, has devoted himself to his faith — and after 53 years of preaching and 88 missionary trips, he has no intention of slowing down any time soon. His has been a life of passion for his work, in which he has been nudged by a machine gun in Cuba, run for president of the United States, and prayed for hours at a time for a single soul.

Born in May 1923 in North Carolina, Rogers grew up on a tobacco farm during the Depression.

“I grew up in extreme poverty, like many other children in the South and ... all over the nation,” he said.

He remembers having only two pairs of shoes: one pair for work and one for school and church. Rogers and his four younger siblings spent their days working on the farm and attending school.

In high school, Rogers played right field for the school’s baseball team. His team went to the state championships two out of three years but never won a title.

Toward the end of high school, Rogers begged his father to let him join the Navy. Rogers’ father had served in World War I and insisted that his oldest boy was too young. One November morning after graduation, his father told him he was free to go. With $14 in his pocket, Rogers hitchhiked to Raleigh, N.C., to enlist.

After serving in World War II, Rogers returned home in 1948 and worked as an umpire for minor league baseball. It was then that his life began to change.

Love and a new vocation

Violence erupted during a game in which Rogers threw the hometown manager out of the game. Through the din and chaos, Rogers heard a voice telling him he should be in church — but he chose to ignore it.

Then he met his wife.

In January 1949, Rogers escorted his mother to church on a Sunday evening; there, he met Becky Burch. Rogers said he noticed her sparkling eyes as soon as he was introduced to her, and he remembers thinking that she could be the one. For their first date, she wanted him to take her to Wednesday night church. He did, and nine months later they were married. It was his love for her and her dedication for church life that placed him squarely on the preacher’s path.

In 1956, Homer A. Tomlinson, the oldest son of a founding member of the Church of God, and J.H. White, the denomination’s state overseer of North Carolina, ordained Rogers as a bishop. He and his family traveled around the United States, pulling a house trailer from church to church. In 1958, the family settled in Fulton, in the house in which Rogers still lives. Modest and white, the house is next to the church he serves; his front yard is mostly a blacktop parking lot for congregants.

Two years after he settled in Fulton, Rogers was called by Tomlinson and asked to travel to Cuba with him on a missionary trip. Before boarding the plane, officials from the Pan American Air Transit Co. offered to refund their money, hoping to persuade them to cancel their trip because of the potential for danger.

But Rogers and Tomlinson refused. In his pamphlet-style book, “The Country Boy That God Called to the Nations,” Rogers wrote: “I will never forget how one of Castro’s soldiers held a machine gun within a foot of my stomach with his finger on the trigger as I walked down the gangplank at high noon on Nov. 11, 1960. I have never felt so much love and power in my life. I had no fear.”

Since that first trip, Rogers has visited almost every continent, spoken at 327 colleges all over the world, talked with inmates on death row in Siberia and preached to foreign armies. He has survived four wars, one hurricane, two typhoons, 18 to 20 earthquakes and nine floods.

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“I’m a miracle. I’ll say that, just a miracle,” said Rogers. “... God has taken care of me. He’s preserved me.”

On his trips, Rogers makes it a point to lodge and eat with the local people. “I’ve been told by many pastors in Haiti and all over Africa that I was the only white man that ever stayed in their homes,” he said.

To help pay for his trips, his wife made crafts and held bake sales. Money was tight. Rogers once had to sell his favorite shotgun to cover a last-minute increase in the price of his airline ticket.

“We’ve had our trials and tests. All that’s ceased,” said Rogers. “God lets those things happen to see what you’re made of.”

Family and candidacy

Perhaps his biggest trial yet was the death of his wife on Sept. 7, 2001, four days before the terrorist attacks. He said that before she died, she joked about the fact he can’t cook. Now, the only thing he cooks is his morning oatmeal. He usually eats lunch at nearby William Woods University.

While he was away on trips, Becky Rogers took care of their three children and — because she too was a preacher — assumed responsibilities at the church. Rogers said his family rarely worried about him on his trips because they understood what he was doing.

Vicky Giboney, the youngest of the three, said having her dad gone was just a part of growing up. “It was kind of an accepted fact,” she said.

Giboney, who lives in Carrington, a town southwest of Fulton, said their mother proved to be a stronghold, and Becky Rogers’ example kept the kids at ease with their father’s travels.

“I don’t remember worrying about him,” said the oldest, Sheila Bruner of Columbia. “I worry about him now that I’m older.”

Rogers returned from his most recent missionary trip, to Zambia, in early September. He has no specific plans now for future trips, but Rogers said his missionary work is not over. “I’m sure I’ll go somewhere next year,” he said. “But I’m sure I’ll have to go to Australia before it’s all over to fulfill what God has called me to do.”

In 1968, Rogers ran for president of the United States on a Theocratic Party ticket. Theocrats believe in a government run by the direction of God. Rogers began campaigning in September 1965 and, by 1966, had already been to 32 states. He said that he did not expect to be elected president but that campaigning was a positive experience in his life.

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“Some of the greatest miracles I had were in the days when I was running for president of the United States on the Theocratic Party ticket,” he wrote in his book. “People would call me from all over the nation for prayer. I would pray for them over the telephone, and God would heal them.”

Longtime friend the Rev. Paul Barden remembered meeting Rogers when Rogers preached in Salisbury, Ind., about 20 years ago. Barden said that at first he thought Rogers’ message was off — but after looking into the theology behind it, Barden found that he agreed.

Since then, the two friends have spoken regularly by phone. The last time they saw each other was two years ago when Barden preached at Becky Rogers’ funeral.

Rogers said that Barden’s church, in Palmyra, Ind., has been one of his greatest financial and spiritual supporters. Barden described his friend as “a little man with a ball of fire.”

Later writings

Rogers still pursues an active role in government through letter writing. He spends afternoons sending letters to political leaders in the United States and all over the world, as well as to newspapers. He usually warns officials that they will be caught if they aid corruption.

In one letter, published in the Columbia Daily Tribune on Sept. 1, 1998, he wrote:

“Editor, the Tribune: Bill Clinton should be impeached as president for his not telling the truth. If I understand the news right, he said he did not have sex with two different women, then later confessed to having sex with them. Proverbs 16:12 says it is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness. Proverbs 29:2 says when the wicked are ruling the people mourn. Revelation 21:8 says whoremongers, all liars, shall have their part in the lake of fire.

“I am sending the president a copy of this,” Rogers concluded.

Rogers said he tells people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. “I don’t cut it nice,” he said. “I call black, black; white, white ... I don’t try to be popular.”

He has sent his book to a number of government leaders all over the world. He has a black binder filled with responses he received to his letters and book: from presidents, prime ministers, congressmen, governors and mayors. He recently received a picture of the president and Laura Bush after sending them a copy of his book.

Every Saturday morning at 8, Rogers preaches for 45 minutes on KFAL/900 AM. Sunday mornings at 11, he holds a worship service at the Church of God, 201 Westminster.

Mike Dunbar of Holts Summit has attended the Church of God every Sunday for about a year. He said that he has struggled with a drug addiction and that the church has helped him overcome trials and temptations. He has also been spending more time with his family.

“My life is going good,” Dunbar said after church on a recent Sunday. “Things are falling into place.” He thanked God and Rogers for the changes in his life.

During the week, Rogers keeps busy by visiting people, praying for people and writing letters. He is still entirely devoted to his work.

“I expect to break 100,” he said. “I don’t know if the Lord will let me or not, but I’d like to.”


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