2008-05-30 / Society

The Rev. and Mrs. Robert F. Gabriel 50 golden years of shared ministry

The Rev. and Mrs. Robert F. Gabriel
Columbian Bob Gabriel, Dreher High and USC graduate, met fellow student Betty West of LaGrange, Georgia, in 1956 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he says, "found his thrill on Seminary Hill."

The couple was married there by seminary president Dr. Robert E. Naylor, former pastor of Columbia's First Baptist Church, on Sunday, June 1, 1958. This Sunday morning, exactly 50 years to the month and day, the couple will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary as their family gathers for worship in the Columbia church followed by Sunday brunch at The Clarion Townhouse.

During their 39 year ministry, the Gabriels rendered devoted service through four churches on two continents: Belmont and North Trenholm in Columbia, North Jacksonville in Florida, and The International Church of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

During his first pastorate in Columbia, Gabriel taught at Dreher High School, A.C. Flora High School, Columbia High, and Midlands Tech. At that time he also served as pastor advisor to the USC and Columbia College Baptist Student Unions.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Gabriel on their wedding day in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, June 1, 1958...Dallas bound
These experiences served as bases for developing concepts of youth ministries that have prevailed throughout the couple's international service. To this day, they are blessed by continuing contacts with former youth both at home and abroad.

These concepts were the foundation of a "chaplaincy" (outside church walls) approach that spilled over into ministry to prisoners, especially through alcohol/drug rehabilitation, the mentally ill, and socio- economically deprived and into involvement in various interdenominational, interfaith, and multiracial efforts. During these formative years and beyond, Betty has always been a strong partner in ministry through her gift of hospitality, opening the Gabriel home to persons from all walks of life.

The Gabriels retired in 1998 after serving 11 years under appointment with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their work in Brazil proved to be the most challenging and rewarding of all their ministries.

Thrust into an international culture (at one time 15 different nationalities gathered in a small worship service) in a city with the greatest disparity between rich and poor in all the world, with an inflation rate of 1,435 percent, they discovered early opportunities of ministry through his pastoral and her church/home roles.

Located in the famous tourist mecca of the Copacabana, Ipanema beach area, they reached out across greater Rio to the poorest of the poor (slum dwellers, homeless, and "street kids") and to the most affluent ex- patriates (U. S. Consulate and American School officials and personnel, international company executives and personnel, etc.) as well as to Brazilians of the highest socio- economic status.

Through all of this, Betty's grace of hospitality was a driving force, as she opened home and heart to hosts of guests, serving "down- home" Southern cuisine to the delight of persons from around the world, earning her the title of "the hostess with the mostest, the Betty Crocker of Rio."

Upon retirement, the two have continued to minister, he as chaplain of the Bob Bennett Ford Company in Columbia for over eight years and she in teaching home Bible studies and mentoring new Christians.

The Gabriels are blessed with four children: Geoffrey (married to the former Monnie McDonald), Amy (Mrs. Waddy R. Thomson IV), and Laurie and Robert Heath (Beau) Gabriel; along with five grandchildren: Kyle and Kara Laughead, Lauren and Beau Gabriel, and Ellie Thomson. They are doubly blessed in having all family units living within a three mile radius of each other in the Columbia area.

When asked about the key to the success of their marriage, they respond that this is the fruition of a mutual devotion and commitment to the Lord and to each other, resulting in what has developed throughout the years as a shared ministry to many others. They also emphasize a sense of humor as a prime ingredient in all the circumstances of life.

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