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No amount of labor in travel, whether on horseback or on foot was ever regarded. He would travel as many as twenty miles Saturday, on foot, to his appointments, leaving his horse in the field plowing,” wrote Settle. “Neither cold, nor heat, rain nor snow, nor any circumstance of his own person or that of his family, except alone that of sickness, would keep him from his appointments.”
Benjamin rarely ceased preaching, according to Settle said, “It was his life, his meat, his drink, to honor and glorify God, and on his death-bed about his last audible words were, ‘I want to glorify God as long as I live.’”
Bill Keith says he’s overwhelmed in discovering the succession of his forefathers in ministry and anticipates they prayed for God to be glorified and for the Gospel to be spread.
“I just pray that we will be able to carry the torch, carry the message into the next generation,” Bill said. “Sometimes you serve and you wonder if you have any kind of an impact.”
When he was 12 years old, Bill was sure he wasn’t going to have any impact at all—at least the right kind. The youngster told his father he was headed to bartender school. His father threw his head back and laughed.
“We came from Otter Creek in 1959 and one tiny school house, to inner city Gainesville in the bad section, and there were five children—moving from a warm tiny community to an inner city church—and they had run about 4-6 preachers off,” Bill remembered. “My dad was just a young guy, not quite 30, and people rallied behind him and loved him” but “I just watched this all happen and made up my mind I will never go into ministry.”
It took awhile, but listening to Christian radio on the way to a construction job, Bill said, “One day God reached down into the cab of that truck and said, ‘I just want you to help me buddy.’”
Bill said he packed his family and left for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to prepare for the ministry with wife, Vonnie and children in tow. Seven years later, in 1983, he had a massive health issue on the way to Tarpon Springs Baptist Church, and his father convinced him to stay and minister with him at Countryside as associate pastor.
From Countryside, he was “on loan” as interim pastor to First Baptist Church in Otter Creek as an interim pastor. Meanwhile Bill, like his father before him, continued to start and serve as a principal for Christian schools. In 2010 he took on the role of senior pastor at Countryside when his father retired.
Like the Ten Mile Church in Virginia, which after the end of the Revolutionary War was said to be located in the newly designated Washington County, Penn., Countryside Baptist Church is the new “Fort Keith” for the Gene Keith family. With the exception of Billy, Bill said Gene’s six children, 30 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren as well as sibling and other relatives are in the Countryside church—which runs about 200-250 in attendance in regular worship. And a second-cousin of Gene, Tim Campbell, has started another Florida Baptist cowboy church, River Cross Cowboy Church in Trenton.
“We are definitely a family church,” Bill said. And the family turned out for the special legacy celebration. “It was a once in a lifetime,” Bill sighed. “We never know. Dad will be gone in a few years. I’m sure he has a big oak tree to be under. It’s been awesome serving the Lord together—and I pray every day, ‘Lord, don’t let me mess up. Let me stay close to You and win souls and build them in the faith.’”
Thinking back to John Keith, Benjamin Keith, A.A. Keith, “Wally-Pop” Keith and others, Bill said his grandfather taught his father to be a soul winner and his father taught him to be a soul winner, and so maybe God has used that plan all along.
“As much as we love the Lord and have tried to serve Him, I wonder sometimes if we are the answer to his prayers,” Bill said of A.A. Keith, who finally settled in Florida. “I feel like we are the answers to his prayers. He prayed for Florida and the people of Florida. He prayed that God would send forth laborers but he probably never dreamed it would be his own grandchildren.”
Information compiled from various sources including Judith Jolly for the 125th anniversary of Richland Baptist Church in Zephyrhills, Kentucky Genealogy Organizaton, A History of Kentucky Baptists from 1769 to 1885.
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