So driven to help others, he forms 'mobile mission' Seminarian Gawthrop aids poor from '88 Buick

January 11, 1998|By Bonita Formwalt | Bonita Formwalt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With the back seat of his 1988 Buick Skylark piled with clothing and food for the needy, Robert Gawthrop Jr. travels the streets of Brooklyn Park, sharing the message of his Hope and Glory Mission.

Slightly dented, paint peeling, the car represents the soul of Gawthrop's "mobile mission," a grass-roots project aimed at the needs of families -- usually those that fail to qualify for or have not sought help from government programs.

Gawthrop picks up donations and discards, then distributes them to families in the community that need the items. He also is a liaison between the families and larger organizations that can assist with utility bills and rent.

"I deal a lot with the 'working poor' -- people who work hard but just can't manage," notes Gawthrop, a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Columbia.

Limited by a lack of funds and operating space, Gawthrop says he is able to help eight families with gifts of clothing, food and toys. Once he is ordained a minister, he plans to expand his work by establishing a storefront mission in a Brooklyn Park shopping center, where he intends to include services for youth and the elderly.

At 33, Gawthrop says he is answering a spiritual calling. After graduating from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he said he started a career teaching in Anne Arundel County schools. In time, he realized what he wanted to teach was not a lesson but a way of life.

A member of First Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Gawthrop had not been active there for several years.

"For the past couple of years, I felt the Lord leading me back. When I couldn't run [away] anymore, I walked back into the church," he says.

The Rev. Lyn O'Berry, pastor of First Baptist, was waiting for him.

"I tell people, 'The Lord got a hold of him,' " says O'Berry.

Throughout their initial talks, O'Berry was impressed with the resolve Gawthrop displayed, especially battling a mysterious throat ailment that cost him his voice for five months.

"When he first came to me he [could] speak only in a whisper, but he had such strong leanings to preach the Gospel," said O'Berry.

Determined to serve the church, Gawthrop studied sign language, eventually taking responsibility for the church's deaf ministry. Having regained his voice, he now is host of a weekly radio show that airs from 9: 30 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Wednesdays on WJRO (1590 AM).

Acknowledging "God's calling on his life," the congregation of First Baptist recommended Gawthrop for the seminary.

Starting this new chapter in his life, Gawthrop says he is aware that the responsibility he has taken on for the needy families will bring him despair as well as joy.

"Just the other day, it hit me suddenly: There's a family with five kids and if they don't get the rent money, I'll find them sitting on a curb," he says quietly.

But in the next breath, Gawthrop excitedly talks about resources he discovers every day.

He said he has to trust in the Lord that help will be found when it is needed.

For information on the Hope and Glory Mission, call 410-789-2541.

Pub Date: 1/10/98

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