Saratoga, Wyoming, is a typical small town. With nearly 1,600 residents, everybody knows everyone else. And they certainly know Gene M. Smith.
It’s not just that Smith has pastored Platte Valley Christian Center Assembly of God for the past 25 years. It’s that he has linked arms with other local pastors to bring Christ’s love to the community.
Smith, 63, did not envision this kind of outreach a quarter century ago. He and his wife, Nikko, 53, were busy pastoring in Big Spring, Texas. Seeking God’s will for their future, he resigned his position without knowing where to go. Then they got the call to pastor Platte Valley.
In 1997, the Smiths moved to Saratoga with their three young children: Cameron, Timothy, and Lydia.
The Assemblies of God pastor identified his purpose at Platte Valley: to make it a healing center in the community. The church is well known for its loving care, such as welcoming marginalized immigrants to its services and handing out food boxes to needy people.
But God led the couple to a broader outreach outside the church. The Smiths have engaged in extracurricular sports with children and youth in Saratoga. In addition, they have been involved in children’s camps and youth conventions in the AG’s Wyoming Ministry Network.
But the most far-reaching impact Smith has made has been through the Platte Valley Ministerial Association, an interdenominational group of pastors from local churches. After he moved to town, Smith called each pastor with an invitation to monthly gatherings for prayer and mutual support.
In time, Smith became president of the association, and pastors from all seven local churches participate in its extensive outreach. This includes appearing at town council meetings; sponsoring the Platte Valley Food Pantry; and providing assistance with rent, mortgage payments, and utilities to those in need.
The association’s involvement creates an attachment between the ministers and residents in Saratoga.
“In smaller communities, many people, even if they do not walk in the door of your church, may consider you their pastor or your church their home church,” Smith says. “And so we end up becoming pastors to our local community.”
This attachment has carried over into Saratoga’s school system. Smith and the association have established open communication and trust with principals, staff, students, and the superintendent of schools.
With their help and the full support of parents, the association developed a volunteer interfaith baccalaureate service. Families and clergy gather in the community center for a service focusing on salvation in Christ and blessing the graduates.
“It’s motivational in nature, but also just a simple witness of the gospel to our students before they leave the community,” Smith says.
Having logged in 25 years ministering in Saratoga, Smith says he is sustained through relationships — with the Lord, with his wife and children, and with his fellow pastors. He regards them as friends who keep him on an even keel.
One of them is Steve Niccolls, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Saratoga. For nearly seven years, he has been part of the association along with Smith.
“He is a very devoted man of God,” Niccolls says of Smith. “He is definitely a person who is community oriented and trying to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ throughout the Platte Valley region.”
Smith is content with the joy he receives in serving others and pointing them toward heaven.
“I’m happy in my heart to help someone, especially if they come to know Jesus as their Savior,” Smith says.