Thomas L. Craft (1931~Present)
United Pentecostal Church International
Cold blew the wind October 30th, 1931, in the country eight miles from the Village of Anacoco, Louisiana in Vernon Parish. A little boy, Thomas L. Craft (Tommy Lynn) was born at the end of the road.
The Great Depression was in full swing and at the age of three his family moved to Pecos County Texas and helped pioneer the oil field and build the West Texas town of Iran.
He began school at the age of six in Iran, Texas. After Pearl Harbour was bombed, he was nine years old and they moved back to Anacoco.
By the age of twelve he was plowing the fields with mules and horses. He planted and harvested crops alongside the best of them. He raised cattle on an open range. He raised hogs, goats and even sheep, anything to make a dime.
When he was thirteen, he preached his first sermonette under a tent that Reverend W. E. Gamblin had set up in Anacoco. He wouldnt use notes, so he had to read his scripture twice: Psalms 34:8, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. He made one statement: Receiving the Holy Ghost is like a man drinking liquor, if you take a taste, youll want more. Then, he promptly fainted. He came to lying on a bench on the platform. No more preaching for Tommy, at least for a while.
Prayer, consecration and faithfulness changed all of that. Reverend J. J. Hennigan was his pastor, mentor and friend. He began to mature under Brother Hennigans leadership.
Upon completion of high school, he was awarded the very prestigious honor of the Legislative Scholarship to Louisiana State University, all expenses paid. He turned this honor down because of his desire to be involved in the work of God. Instead he attended International Bible College in San Antonio, Texas, for two years. That school went into the so-called Latter Rain movement, so he transferred to Apostolic Bible College and graduated in 1953.
The first church he pioneered was in Iran, Texas. He baptized converts in the Pecos River. He was secretary of the Youth Department and preached revivals all over West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.
At the age of twenty-four, he returned to Louisiana. He fell in love and married Mary Francis Smith, a charter member of the Pentecostals of Alexandria, on August 25th, 1956.
After evangelizing for a few years, God directed him to go to St. Francisville, Louisiana, and build a church. They rented the American Legion Hall and started building a congregation and a church building. While pastoring, he served as Youth President of the Louisiana District.
In the late 1950s, Tommy and Mary preached a nine-week revival in Jackson, Mississippi, where Reverend W. E. Gamblin was the pastor. Sherri Layne, the Crafts first child, was born August 20, 1958. In January of 1962, Brother Gamblin called to see if Tommy would pray about moving to Jackson. Two weeks before they moved to Jackson, their second child, Vonda Lynn, was born. They relocated to Jackson on July 29, 1962. The sixties was a marvelous time for revival. The church quickly filled to capacity and beyond. Sherri is married to Reverend Mark Grisham and Vonda is married to Reverend Chris Tharp. They have four granddaughters, one grandson, and three great grandchildren.
A new Colonial style church was built at 3425 Robinson Road in 1970. It wasnt long until it was full. Then God gave an even bigger challenge to Brother Craft. He had attended the funeral of Reverend Clyde Haney and the Lord spoke to him about reaching His world from one place. The desire to train young men and women began to grow in his heart. Little did he realize God was preparing his future for Jackson College of Ministries.
Proceeding JCM an event occurred that changed the Apostolic landscape. Brother Craft and Brother Kenneth Phillips were directed by God to have a Preaching and Prayer Conference. By word of mouth, over 250 preachers attended this conference. For three nights and two days they preached and prayed. What a dynamic move of God! The next year they had around 900 preachers who attended what they then called Deeper Life Conference. Conferences broke out all over our fellowship and to this day there are many similar conferences being held.
Brother Craft started or helped to start many things in our Fellowship. After attending a Missions Conference where Oswald J. Smith was preaching, Brother Craft returned home to start having local Missions conventions and took Partners In Missions pledges in Jackson for two years. Brother Oscar Voga was in the process of making this our National Program for Missions giving.
Local Music Conferences began in Jackson. An Evangelism Commission was begun after Deeper Life Conferences.
Brother T. L. Crafts motto from the beginning has beenI will make Gods business my business and God will make my business His business and that he has done.
Missions, Foreign Missions in particular, has been his souls sincere desire. He has preached around the world twice, going east to west then west to east preaching crusades in many countries. He would be gone many weeks at a time and come home to a church having revival. Many great revivals began overseas with these crusades.
Pentecostal Bible Institute in Tupelo, Mississippi, moved to the Mississippi campgrounds in Raymond. Brother Craft purchased the charter and began Jackson College of Ministries in 1976. The college moved from the campgrounds to a facility in North West Jackson. This was the first Bible College to offer five different degrees: Theology, Missions, Music, Christian Education and Religious Studies. He remained President of JCM until 1997.
Brother Craft and his congregation moved into a new 90,000 square foot building on thirty acres of land at 5000 I-55 South in Jackson in October of 1999.
Sister Mary Frances Craft went to her eternal home on November 20, 2001 after a long battle with cancer. Brother Craft met and married Martha Dian Allen on January 9, 2003.
Brother T. L. Craft has been in Jackson for 47 years. He is presently Bishop and his nephew; Reverend Christopher Craft is now Pastor of First Pentecostal Church of Jackson. This local church is continuing to experience great growth and revival.
Foreign Missions continues to and will forever live in Reverend Thomas L. Crafts heart..