Arkansas Baptist News
PRAIRIE GROVE – Dark, cloudy skies on Saturday, Aug. 25, did not deter more than 45 volunteers from rebuilding a Baptist church destroyed by arson last spring.
The workers were on hand to build a new worship center for Illinois Chapel Baptist Church, located in a rural area about 15 miles from Fayetteville. The church’s historic sanctuary was destroyed by arson April 20.
Pastor Lynville Eaton stood amazed as volunteers from his own church and Prairie Grove Christian Church worked all day to rebuild the church’s worship center. The first volunteers showed up at 7 a.m., and many stayed until 5 p.m. By the end of the day, workers had framed the 1,400-square-foot building, covered the 12-foot walls with plywood and set trusses in place overhead.
Remains from the old sanctuary were hauled away, and the new building is located on the same site.
“It’s just awesome that so many people came out on a Saturday,” Eaton said. “It was fantastic seeing this take place.”
The church’s sanctuary was more than 100 years old. Della McKee and her husband, Coy McKee, are long-time members of the church, and she has an old photograph of her husband’s father going to school at the church in 1914.
Della McKee is looking forward to the new addition, but the loss of the sanctuary is still hard.
“There are a lot of memories there,” she said.
However, she said what one person told her is true: “The church will have a new worship center, and new people will come to it. That’s what we’re praying for.” Like Eaton, McKee was overwhelmed by the work of volunteers Saturday.
“Oh my, I cried a while, and chills went down me. We just have a lot of good people here,” McKee said.
She and other church members cooked breakfast for the volunteers, fed them ribs and barbeque for lunch and supplied them with snacks and cold drinks throughout the day.
Vance Eubanks, pastor of Prairie Grove Christian Church, said his church usually rebuilds two homes each year in areas struck by natural disasters. He said it was a natural extension of this ministry to help Illinois Chapel this year.
“This is a community effort. They are a part of our community, and we like to be involved in community,” Eubanks said. “We have lots of people who like to do this. As followers of Christ, it’s what we do.”
Eaton said the old sanctuary was insured for only $75,000. The church will have to rebuild the worship center with as much volunteer help as possible and through donations.
Already, many churches and individuals have donated money to help the church. And donations are still coming in, he said.
Just the week before, Eaton said a man handed him an envelope with two rolls of money. The donor did not give his name, just told the pastor, “Use this wherever it’s needed,” turned around and left.
One roll had $30 in it. The second roll had a $1 bill wrapped around other bills. When Eaton unwrapped the money, he counted $500.
“Where this all comes from, it’s a God thing,” Eaton said. “That’s all I know. It has to be the Lord.”
No arrests have been made, but the fire is still under investigation and remains at the top of the list, according to Washington County Fire Marshall Dennis Ledbetter. The suspects painted satanic symbols and sayings on the church before setting it on fire. Since the fire, the church has held its worship services in the youth building/fellowship hall.
Lynn Kutter is the at-large correspondent for the Arkansas Baptist News.