Braille Monitor                                                                                 February 2006


Pastor Shares the Light

by Raymond Reeves

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the July 28, 2005, edition of the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion Ledger. Ronald Byrd is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, in fact, many years ago he served as a member of the NFB board of directors. His wife Gwenn is first vice president of the NFB of Mississippi.

As a premature newborn Ronald J. Byrd was exposed to too much light in his incubator and lost his sight. These days Byrd spends his time sharing the light with others by preaching the word of God.

Byrd has been in Jackson for about a year, after pastoring Sweet Home Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas, since 1988. He moved after marrying Jackson resident Gwen Stokes on May 29, 2004. A job offer made the move easier. "Two things [made me move to Mississippi]: One, I fell in love with a girl in Mississippi and asked her to marry me," Ronald Byrd said. "And then I was surfing the Net and found this job..., so it all just fell in place."

Byrd became a communications specialist at Addie McBryde Center for the Blind, where he teaches Braille. For the past month he's held that job and mixed it with duties as pastor of Progressive Morningstar Baptist Church in Jackson. It's not the first time he's juggled two positions. He moved to Texas more than thirty years ago, appointed by then-President Nixon as a member of the equal employment opportunities team for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other governmental positions followed, some of which overlapped his time at Sweet Home in Round Rock.

“Moving to a new place is always an adjustment; being blind doesn't make it easier. Having a new wife who is familiar with the area, I reduced the learning curve, he said. "Gwen knows the city better than any map could print it," Byrd said. "She's well known in the city, so she's introduced me to the right people. She's taught me how Mississippians think and how to be accepted."

Gwen Stokes Byrd, an alumna of and teacher at the Mississippi School for the Blind, had adjustments of her own in learning to be a pastor's wife. "I think I'm doing well; of course, I've never been one before," she said with a laugh. "The congregation has been so loving and kind. I just try to be who I am in Christ and show Christ's love to everybody. And I love people, so that helps."

Members at Progressive also had to adjust to having an unsighted pastor and wife, but Ronald Byrd said things are going smoothly. "Progressive is an intriguing church; I felt that everybody had a question `Who is this preacher? Is he really as good as the [former] pastor says?'" Ronald Byrd said. "When I first came in, they were warm, but they—as do most sighted people—wonder how do they click with this blind person:`Do we speak, should we help him, what do we do?’ But they just fell in, and we worked it out."

Gwen Byrd already knew many in the church. "I was familiar with Progressive, before I even knew Ron. I used to go over there and help them with their choir..., so it wasn't a strange place to me." Her husband's installation as pastor is an experience Gwen Byrd won't forget. Surrounded by friends and family, including Ronald's brother, who also preaches, she felt like they were treated royally. "I felt like I was getting married again; it was wonderful," she said.

Joyce Simelton, a member of Progressive, coordinated the installation. "I do believe...that he was sent to pastor Progressive Morningstar.”