Richard Nations/contributing writer
Colony – Rex Link,“The Preacher,” as he is known to the area flea market vendors and shoppers, ministers to a highly mobile congregation two weekends a month in northeast Missouri.
Pastor Link, of Wellman, Iowa, is the chaplain to the Colony Flea Market which is open from March to November. He ministers at a chapel in a flea market booth which is sponsored by the Pleasant Grove Baptist Association.
When the staffing of the Missouri State Fair evangelism tent project was being pitched to Missouri directors of missions a few years ago, Director of Missions Mike Wilson brought a similar idea back to Pleasant Grove Association. Discussion ensued at the annual meeting, but the association decided to open a ministry site in their own backyard at the flea market which has been in operation there for the past 35 years.
Pastor Link was an exhibitor at the flea market and he was also the pastor of Colony Baptist Church. When the chapel was being established, Link helped secure the booth space and found volunteers to construct an open-air chapel with donated lumber. They have since enclosed most of the chapel with removable walls and windows.
Attendance at the chapel is drawn from a constantly changing crowd and so they usually do not have a set time for worship. If a small group gathers to visit with “Preacher Rex” he will sometimes break out into a brief sermon. He plays music on CDs and there are Christian books and reading materials to be loaned out or taken for free. Most of the ministry is one-to-one visiting and evangelism by the chaplain.
“We call ourselves a family,” Link said. “Some of these vendors would not describe themselves as church people. They might go to weddings and funerals but that is about it for church for most of these people.”
Wilson said for some of the flea market people, contact with Preacher Rex is the only real connection they have with the Lord.
“Some of them have donated time and labor for the building of our chapel,” Link said, referring to his constituents. “Our conversations do not always concentrate on The Lord, but we talk about the flea market and tell stories.”
“It’s relationships,” he added.
Organizers say their presence at the flea market is the first step toward evangelism for a subculture of people who don’t attend church. Many of the vendors do flea markets every weekend and church just isn’t part of their lifestyle.
A vendor passed away recently and the family had the funeral home in La Belle call Link to do the service. They didn’t know his name except for “The Preacher” and he did not know their names but recognized the voice of the man’s wife on the phone.
Wilson said Link is great about mixing with the market’s vendors and they come to him with prayer requests.
“He often does informal counseling there at the chapel,” he said. “He plays gospel music and people gather.”
Donated Christian books make up a lending library for the chapel.
This past October they had a special event with preaching, singing and a comedy routine by evangelist, “Grandpa John” Gorham of La Plata. About 15-20 people will come through the chapel in a weekend. Shoppers will stop by and inquire what is for sale and they end up having extended conversations and prayer times.
The market is about to close for the season after the second weekend of November. Link plans to be back next year.
“We have glorified the Lord and praised him” Link says. They are glad they can reach out to the flea market vendors and shoppers with a ministry presence.
Link and Wilson would welcome mission groups who would like to assist for a day or a weekend. Contact Link at (319) 325-9913 or Wilson at (660) 434-5523 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.