A little more than 30 years ago, as he was crossing the bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard, Senior Pastor Roger Ratliff of Vansickle Baptist Church received a calling from God, reminding him to fulfill a promise he had made years earlier to join the ministry.
“I knew that God was calling me into the ministry,” he said.
When Ratliff was 10 years old, during a prayer session at Vacation Bible School, he had asked God to help his father, an out-of-work carpenter, to find employment. In return, Ratliff promised God that he would become a pastor.
That very same day, Ratliff’s dad came home with a job.
Years later, as he was driving to his job working the sound systems at a church in Dallas, Ratliff said he was praying to God, asking him what more he could do, when God reminded him of his promise.
If God would open the door, Ratliff said, he would fulfill his end of the bargain and join the ministry.
As it turns out, the Vansickle Baptist Church, then just a three-room facility which could hold a maximum of 100 people, was in need of a pastor for its next Sunday service.
One of the deacons at Vansickle Baptist passed the word onto the director of missions in Greenville, who then recommended Ratliff to preach at the Church.
Having preached just six times before, Ratliff took the offer, and on May 6, 1984, he officially joined the church as a full time pastor.
The church has grown tremendously since then, with seven major building projects and an average service attendance of around 350 people.
Ratliff said he preaches 100 percent from the Bible, but emphasizes on educating more than preaching.
“I think I’m more of a teacher,” Ratliff said.
Philip Farmer, worship and education director at Vansickle Baptist, said that Ratliff’s caring nature has helped bring in a lot more members.
“Brother Roger is a shepherd to everybody here, and he takes care of the flock,” Farmer said. “We have had many people join because of all the care that he has shown to our church members here.”
Aside from preaching worship on Sundays and Wednesdays, Ratliff also offers counseling and makes frequent visits to hospitals for families in need of a pastor.
Ratliff thoroughly enjoys teaching Sunday School at Vansickle Baptist, as the small class size allows for more interaction.
“We’ve had so much fun with the interaction in our Sunday School, that I’ll take whatever I preach on Sunday morning and add to it during the Sunday night service,” Ratliff said. “If you have a question, then it gives me an opportunity to respond to that, and you the opportunity to ask questions about that particular service.”
According to Ratliff, the church is also home to the only biblical-based cancer support group in Hunt County.
In 2009, Ratliff’s wife of 47 years, Judi Ratliff, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer metastasized, and Judi had to undergo a couple of brain surgeries from 2011 to 2013.
Currently, Ratliff said his wife is “doing well,” considering that doctors gave her only a year to live at the outset.
“We just praise the Lord for every day that we get,” Ratliff said.
Judi hosts the cancer support group meetings at the Vansickle Baptist Church the first Sunday of every month at 4:30 p.m.
For Ratliff, being thankful for every day he gets to spend with Judi ties into his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 3:13-14, which he said teaches us not to dwell on today in order to have a better tomorrow.
“The point of (the verse)is that no matter how good or bad today is, there is a tomorrow coming,” Ratliff said. “You can’t let the good or bad of today hamper what’s coming tomorrow.”
Ratliff said his biggest motivation in his 30 years as a pastor at Vansickle Baptist has been, and will most likely continue to be, the sense of community found within the church.
“I love God’s word, and I love bringing God’s word, but I love the people as well,” he said.