By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
TIPLERSVILLE – The beginning of Travis Bates’ wood crafting ministry might seem unlikely to some people, but to him it is just another sign of God’s direction in his life.
About 14 years ago, Bates said, he was a very different man – never a day without several beers and three packs of cigarettes.
“I’d been to Corinth and bought a case of beer,” Bates said. “I heard the voice of the Lord say ‘That’s it; you’re through.’”
The experience wrought life-altering changes.
Bates for years had been a tree cutter, a man people in his densely wooded area of Tippah County went to when they needed trees removed. The area had rich variety in tree woods, so eventually would yield an endless supply of raw materials for Bates’ new calling.
“I received a gift from God to ‘see’ and make a dipper for my cousin, a member of Grace Bible Church,” he said. “When I gave it to her she said ‘I need a bucket to go with it.’ Two weeks later I gave the bucket to her.”
Bates said he started the first dipper project by carving with a knife, but the Lord told him to use his familiar tool, the chainsaw. Since then his carving has all been done with his chainsaw.
Now his wife Callie Bates has a full set of carved kitchen tools – dippers, spatulas, forks, scoops – but also a paper towel dispenser, a heavy-duty shelf above the windows to hold many pots, pans and plants and more.
“Every time somebody sees the different things he has made they want him to make one for them too,” Callie Bates said.
For years both Travis and Callie Bates have battled serious illness – for him back surgeries, a heart pacemaker, two heart stents and two heart bypasses, while she has fought off life-threatening colitis and still struggles with severe high blood pressure, arthritis and other conditions.
And yet Travis Bates says nothing will slow his need to use his chainsaw carvings to help others.
“I want to be in the center of God’s will,” he said. “I gave a bowl for a benefit to a 7-year-old girl at Booneville who had cancer, and they told me it brought $350.”
Bates uses his gift in service, but it’s also an important source of income for a household that has tremendous medical needs.
He uses a variety of woods that include poplar, white oak. Walnut, cherry, cedar, hackberry, applewood, post oak and birch.
From the raw materials he constructs furniture – drawer chests, display cabinets, tables, trunks, swings – as well as toy wagons; full-size wagons; bowls; kitchen tools and so much more.
“The biggest tree I ever cut was about 51 inches across,” Bates said. “I’ll make something and most times it sells by the time I finish it.”
The Bates had three children, but son Travis Bates Jr. died last year. Their two surviving children are Patricia Johnson and Michael Bates, both of Burnsville. The chainsaw carving is not a family tradition, but rather a special gift Travis Bates seeks to use in service to God.
“It started with Jesus Christ, and when he’s ready he’ll stop it,” Bates said. “I’m a minister of God’s word and I give Him praise for every day. I try to live every day for Jesus.”