But then came God...

November 16, 2022

Rev. Tommie Sparks has been leading church gatherings since he was only a tiny tot. As a child, he was absolutely enthralled by what he witnessed each Sunday. He would host his own church services in the backyard using wooden apple crates, stacked on top of each other, as a makeshift pulpit. He chuckles as he explains, “I was probably only three or four years old, but that was my first church, and my sister and cousin made up the congregation.”  He went on to say, “I can’t really recall a time that I didn’t feel a calling on my life to serve the church.”  

Tommie learned how to read at age three from his mother and went on to dedicate all his free time to studying the Bible. By the time he was in 2nd grade, he had been assigned to teach the teenage Sunday School class and by the time he was in Junior High, he was teaching a ladies' class. He was one of 11 children that his mother hauled to church each week. While Tommie’s father was a hardworking man, the money he earned often didn’t make it home to meet the needs of the family. Therefore, the church family stepped in, often paying the rent as well as providing      

the children with food and clothing. Tommie recalls lining his shoes one winter with cardboard because the soles had worn all the way through. When he asked his father for new shoes, he refused him. It was this moment that solidified the relationship Tommie had with his church family. “In almost every way, the church raised me,” he explained.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Tommie served as the President of the Youth Chapter of the NAACP for three years in high school. This was around the same time a young Pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. began lecturing about civil rights and organizing demonstrations with young people being the primary participants. Tommie traveled to Georgia where he participated in one of these demonstrations that landed him in jail for a couple of hours    before he was released. Tommie says that he didn’t really know that King was a celebrity, although he does remember people lining up to shake his hand and how patient King was as he took time to speak to everyone. He went on to explain, “No one I knew had a television. So, for us, the fire for change was burning from the pulpit in our local churches, not from the television. I understood that Dr. King was an important leader, but I didn’t understand how important until later in life.”

By the time Tommie was 18 years old, he had been ordained for ministry. As a self-imposed rule, he never took a paycheck from the four small churches he pastored over the years. Instead, he worked for 20 years at International Shoe in the labs that ensure a quality rubber sole, and later for Bryan Independent School District where he was a Dispatcher and Driver Trainer for the Transportation Department. Along the way, Sparks loved and lost, twice. Two adoring wives, both lost to cancer. He also has an incredibly supportive and loving daughter.

Reflecting on his life, Tommie says he has learned that there are many ups and downs. “I am not ashamed to share my lowest point in life, because it points back to God’s goodness. I was the victim of a scam and lost everything. It was so bad, I lived in my little white Honda for two weeks. I was without a church home at the time too. But then came God…,” he said with a smile. He went on to describe how he found a home at MRC Unity and was given the opportunity to lead weekly gatherings at the three MRC Affordable Housing communities, all neighboring one another. “I look at those who see their wealth in the things they can buy. But I’m with my peers! So, I’m rich in other ways,” he said, “We need to be asking ourselves, why am I on earth? Is there a greater purpose for my life? When you live out your calling, that’s true wealth.”

While he no longer stands behind a stack of wooden apple crates to deliver his sermons, the calling on his life remains unchanged. Despite the ups and downs, and the injustices he has endured, Rev. Tommie Sparks says he knows that God is good and can do far more than we could ask for or imagine.


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