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A moving ministry

The Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson preaches to the poor and any other souls who find their way to his blue and white tent.

By TWILA DECKER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 2, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- "Sweet Jesus," a woman sings, and the Rev. Stephen Paul Wilson calls up people, one by one, for healing.

"I just feel God here tonight," Wilson tells the modest crowd of about 30 people gathered in a big blue and white tent on the corner of 34th Street and 26th Avenue S.

Wilson, 37, a non-denominational minister of International Missions Inc., plans to preach here as long as people come.

A few weeks ago, he was near the Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park.

Before that, he was in the Bahamas. Before that, Hickory, N.C.

For nine months out of the year, Wilson, his wife, Priscilla, and their 6-month-old daughter, Destiny, go from town to town, carrying their tent and the word of God. They usually sleep in a camper parked outside their tent. Their revival begins each night at 7:30.

"I'm part of a dying breed," Wilson says. "I'm a second-generation tent evangelist."

When Stephen was just 4, his father, R.D., sold everything he had and began traveling and preaching. They have been to nearly every state in the country.

But a few years ago, the elder Wilson grew tired of the road, opened a construction company near Jacksonville and turned the ministry over to his son, who had been preaching beside his father since he was 19.

This visit to St. Petersburg, Wilson says, has been difficult.

The crowds have been small, and so are the donations. But he and Priscilla say things are beginning to change.

"I could tell the difference last night," she says.

Stephen Wilson says he likes to target poor neighborhoods where prostitution and drug dealing are problems.

"I'll stick with the poor. It doesn't matter who they are or what they've done, a soul is a soul to me."

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