The Rev. James Elbert Channell was emphatically on the wrong track before converting to Christianity in 1956, but he has followed the right one with even more passion since then.
The 84-year-old Tishomingo, Okla., native had good examples in his parents, Loyd and Etta, he said, but the wild side of life in the oilfields of Snyder, the Permian Basin and Eunice and Farmington, N.M., led him to drinking, fighting and staying out late while driving trucks, roughnecking and helping to pioneer fracking.
His new devotion to Jesus Christ led him to the ministry first in Jal, N.M., and to co-founding the megachurch Parkcrest Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., and founding Tabernacle Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D. Channell earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at Springfield Bible Baptist College and Trinity Valley Baptist Seminary and College at Kennedale.
In 1973 he and his wife Patsy started a church in an abandoned building in the 600 block of 34th Street, and a year later he began building Bible Baptist Church at 2801 Iola Dr., dry-walling, plumbing, installing electricity, painting and doing anything else that had to be done.
“I’d lived for the devil so hard that I began to serve God like I was fighting bees,” Channell said. “I want to be in the oilfield because I love the oilfield people. Most of them need some loving, and I have won a lot of them to Christ just by loving them. They can be reached, and that’s the secret.
“The friendliest people in the world are in a boomtown, but you don’t want to say something that offends somebody because they might knock the hair off your head.”
The Channells have two children, five grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
The minister still teaches the adults’ Sunday school class at Bible Baptist. He has built 30 caskets that he sold or gave away, and he has painted a series of small billboards including one with cars on a racetrack to illustrate the evangelistic race to reach people for Christ and another of an oil rig with 52 lights to show the progress of a fund-raising campaign. He was the pastor until retiring in 1994.
There’s a billboard in oil paints of a wheatfield, a house and a windmill with a quotation from John 4:35: “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.”
“I think this church will continue,” Channell said. “That was my dream, to build something that would last. I try to give my class something deep to make them think. It’s mostly about God and his great love, the wonderful ways he does things.”
Pastor Aaron Shipman said Channell’s most outstanding trait is his work ethic. “I’ve never met somebody like Brother Channell,” Shipman said.
“Most of the time a person who is the jack of a lot of trades is good at none of them, but it seems like he is good at everything. He made his own embroidered oak pulpit. The greatest thing he did for me was to walk me through certain things. He is real straightforward and wants the best for the church. It helps for someone to be direct and precise.”