While deployed to Bosnia in 1997, Ray Gatewood never imagined he would hear the call of God or the call to pastor a congregation in Copperas Cove. However, that’s exactly what happened.
During his deployment with Medical Task Force 61, Gatewood was asked by the chaplain to hold weekly worship services catering to the more gospel-flavored, church-going soldiers who attended.
The first meeting was held in a general purpose medium tent that barely held 50 people. But due to rapid growth of the congregation, the meeting tent was quickly replaced with three larger section tents.
“The tent wouldn’t hold everyone who wanted to attend worship,” Gatewood said. “About 200 would show up. We would fill that (new) place.”
Gatewood knew he had been called to pastoral service and got busy preparing for the ministry road ahead.
“It was that moment when I felt the leading of God to continue that work here once I got back from Tuzla (Bosnia),” he said.
Gatewood returned stateside in September 1997 and began a bible study in his home with his wife, Kim, while still on active duty as a command sergeant major to the 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, at Fort Hood.
“The first meetings were in the living room with 20 chairs and a podium,” he said. “We did that for about 14 months.”
Gatewood retired from the military in May 2000. Over the next few years, his presence in the Copperas Cove community and in his church, Bethesda Fellowship Ministries, grew rapidly.
Bethesda now has 200 members and heads many community outreach programs, including Operation Holiday Uplift which provided 225 holiday meals to needy families in 2013.
Among his pastoral duties, Gatewood also served as a volunteer on the Copperas Cove Planning and Zoning Commission and as an elected official on the Copperas Cove City Council from 2004 to 2007, where he also served as mayor pro-tem.
Joe Washington, pastor of administration at Bethesda Fellowship, said Gatewood has been a blessing.
“I know there’s a couple of ways he’s impacted the community,” he said. “It was his standards that he brought as a city councilman and as a pastor and mentor of other pastors. He’s made an impact on those guys as well as their churches in Copperas Cove.”