Stan Crookall has been a painter since he was a child, but his mission of using his art to teach the Bible came later in life.
"I wondered what I could do to make things more interesting," Crookall said. "So I thought of my art: If I can adapt this to the Bible, it will create more interest. And I've been doing it ever since."
Crookall, 87, leads missionaries in South America who travel with his Bible-based paintings and do outreach in the schools, parks and other places where they can spread the Gospel to large groups of children. He also brings his paintings to Pasco County churches, prisons and parks.
"It's more than just viewing a painting, it's an explanation of a painting that makes it what it's all about," he said.
While he has semi-retired from visiting schools and traveling out of the country, he continues to teach a monthly class to about 20 at-risk children ages 6 to 16 at Harvest Time Church in Holiday.
He gives them an art lesson along with a Bible lesson: They recreate scenes from the stories they hear using stick figures.
"We are situated in an area with children who are a little rough, to put it gently," said Jeanne Ellis of Harvest Time Church. "They seem to gravitate toward Stan and his stick-man drawings. They are very attentive. He's very good with them."
She added that the children take the pictures home and share the Bible stories with their parents, using their drawings as a guide.
"They really respond to Pastor Stan," Ellis said. "He does inspire these youths. They like the art, but they also get a Bible lesson."
She and her husband, Pastor Leon Ellis, have known Crookall for more than 20 years. "He's a fine man," she said.
Crookall spent four years in the Navy during World War II, then came back to the United States and went to a seminary. In time, he was ordained through three different organizations, including the Baptist church.
He taught at a boys correctional facility in Canada, which gave him a lot of experience with troubled youth. He still runs Ottawa-based Bible Art Ministries, which sends out a monthly newsletter reporting on the work of the handful of missionaries he still employs.
He has been spending winters in Pasco for 20 years, and now it's home.
Crookall said he became a Christian at the age of 17, when he met his wife at a Salvation Army picnic.
"She was just so wonderful. I thought right away there's the girl I want to marry," he said of his wife, Gwen, who attended the Salvation Army church.
So he went the next day to a Bible study at the church.
"I had gone to churches where I heard about God and had reverence for him, respect, but I didn't know what it meant to be a Christian," he said.
There, surrounded by other young men and women who were studying the Bible, he said he "understood plainly, clearly what it meant to be a Christian."
"That was the thrill of my heart to understand what it's like to be right with God."
He and Gwen eventually worked together as missionaries traveling to countries like Colombia and Jamaica, and they ran a Christian summer camp in Canada.
"All good times," he said.
She died in 2000.
He loves to talk about his paintings —- explaining how Elvis and other famous faces appear here and there — and how his dad connected him up with an art teacher at a young age, during the Depression. But he won't fully take credit for any of it.
"I developed the God-given talent," he said. Of his connections in the community and in other countries, he said, "You'll be amazed what the Lord has done."
He recently published his first book: Drawing Souls to Christ in Public Schools, a 265-page paperback detailing his journey and his life's work.
Crookall gives presentations with his paintings a few times a year at various local churches, including Living Word Church in New Port Richey.
"He's just an excellent painter," said Living Word's pastor, Tim Santinga.
"He is so sincere and has such a heart for the mission field where these paintings are doing such marvelous work. It helps them to be able to explain the stories of the Bible. He's a faithful servant of God."
Crookall has taught all ages at the church, including seniors and children. "Even the teenagers enjoy it," Santinga said.
"It's an honor to know a guy like that."