In 1921 Mr. Gilbert purchased his first tent and pitched it at Bass Lake, Indiana. The spot they chose was a grove of trees between the Holiness Church and the Methodist Church where he had had meetings in 1918. Later that year he pitched the tent in Knox, the county seat. Michael Hoffman helped him in these meetings; he later went to Yugoslavia as a missionary.
This was the beginning of a long and fruitful tent ministry for Mr. Gilbert. In all he had thirty-eight tent campaigns. He loved the excitement of pitching a tent in a new town, of knocking on doors, of seeing the benches filled with people needing Christ. He would preach his heart out, striding up and down the platform, at times teetering dangerously on the edge as he hammered home his point. There were never any altar calls but the close of each meeting would see him talking with people who were moved by the message. Many received Christ.
Home meetings followed the tent meetings. Mr. Gilbert was quick to visit and to follow up any contacts. He seemed to have boundless energy and was constantly after new souls. As an example, he borrowed a horse to help him in his visiting and meetings. He had been aggressive in business and now he felt the Lord’s work needed his wholehearted effort.
In 1922 permission was given to use the former Methodist Church at Bass Lake and it was named “The Bass Lake Meeting House.” They began as a New Testament church, seeking to follow the simple pattern of the early church. People saved through the meetings in surrounding communities gathered here for teaching, worship and fellowship.
Tent meetings in Knox saw blessing and soon Bible classes were being held in homes there. As the numbers grew it was finally decided they should begin meeting as an assembly also. In 1924 a store was rented and later a building was purchased. The Knox work in time became the strongest gathering of the area and the center of Mr. Gilbert’s work.
Meetings were first held in Ora, a neighboring farming community, in 1919. Through the years various series of meetings were held there by the Gilbert brothers and others. In 1942 a building was purchased from the Mormons and a small work continues to this day.
Aldine was another community nearby where some accepted Christ and a work began. A Sunday School has continued in a communitv building.
In 1933 meetings were held in a school at Ripley, five miles out of Winamac. Later, tent meetings were held in Winamac on three occasions. Among the people who were saved during these days was Russ Fagner. He accepted Christ in 1933 and later became a leader in the church. Russ related the following incidents:
One day Mr. Gilbert was talking to a brother in Ripley and said, “Would you like to do something for the Lord?”
The brother had visions of preaching with Mr. Gilbert and said eagerly, “I sure would!” Mr. Gilbert tersely replied, “Why don’t you?”
Mr. Gilbert and his preaching could arouse antagonism among the unconverted: Two men in Winamac were talking heatedly about him while standing on the street. One man said vehemently, “If I saw Mr. Gilbert, I’d slap him across the face!”
At that moment Mr. Gilbert came walking briskly down the street. The other man said, “Here’s your chance; here he comes.” The man suddenly strode over to Mr. Gilbert and slapped him hard across the face. He winced, then calmly looked him in the face and turned the other cheek. The man blushed with shame. He turned on his heel and walked quietly away.
No doubt about it, Mr. Gilbert was an unusual man. He did not want to be called “Reverend,” refused to take offerings and stressed faith in Christ rather than church membership. People talked about him throughout the community and some accepted his Christ.
In 1948 a chapel was built in Ripley to house the church and it continues today. Mr. Gilbert is still remembered there as the bold Gospel preacher from Chicago.
Mr. Gilbert desired to leave the leadership of each group in the hands of spiritual men, called elders in the New Testament (Acts 14:23). Over the years he came to feel the best way to accomplish this was through a special weekly prayer meeting for the needs of the flock. Those who were spiritual and concerned would come. As these prayed together, they would have a growing desire to shepherd the believers. The assembly would then recognize these shepherds by their work and concern. He desired to see a working, shepherding leadership, not simply a decision-making board. With true shepherds leading the flock the evangelist could feel free to move on and start another work. This was Mr. Gilbert’s goal. His was the restless spirit of a pioneering preacher.