Wednesday
May142014

'The Church is not a building'

The Valley church in Vilonia was left without a building following the April 27 tornado. The church, along with visitors from across Arkansas, met for a special Sunday service on their former church grounds May 4.

Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

VILONIA – “The ‘Church’ is not a building,” is a message Matt Rothacher, pastor of The Valley, Vilonia, and Arkansas Baptist State Convention church planter, reiterates to his church on a regular basis. But the phrase recently gained a new meaning to the congregation.

On April 27, a tornado that was a half-mile wide tore through central Arkansas, killing 16 people. In the early morning commotion, Rothacher awoke to the voice of a church member, the local fire chief, telling him the church’s facility had been caught in the storm’s path.

The Valley's praise band leads worship May 4.The pastor said his first reaction was surprise. He had heard reports that bad storms could hit the area that evening. And while he and his family had only lived in the area for a short time, he had been told stories about the devastating effects of the tornado that hit Vilonia on April 25, 2011, almost three years before to the day. 

Rothacher had decided that if in fact the town was to be affected, that The Valley would be front and center, doing all they could for the victims. It didn’t cross his mind that The Valley’s facility, like many homes and businesses on Main Street, would be directly impacted by the storm.

Upon revelation that The Valley’s facility was destroyed, Rothacher was concerned – but not by the loss of the church’s physical structure. To Rothacher, and the rest of The Valley’s congregation, the facility was simply a meeting place and held no sacredness apart from the people who fellowshipped and worshipped within its walls.

Rothacher“This was our church building. But I am happy to say that our Church will not be affected, because this was not the ‘Church,’” said Julie Rothacher, wife of Pastor Matt Rothacher. “Our Church has already been on the ground with several members who lost their house this morning (April 27). After we made sure all of our people were safe and had what they needed, we all kind of wandered over here and realized there was stuff left.”

Chris Colley, member of The Valley, met with other church members, and numerous volunteers, at the church’s grounds April 28. They attempted to salvage items left scattered by the tornado from the night before.

“The way we (The Valley) look at it, the building itself wasn’t the Church. We are the Church,” said Colley. “A tree fell on our house, but we are not really worried about that. Several people I know are dead or severely injured. It has been real bad.”

“The tornado took our entire facility. But our people hear me say every week that the ‘Church’ is not a building. We met in an old Dollar General. If you used to could have bought Doritos there, then it is not a holy place” said Rothacher. “The Church is actually the followers and disciples of Jesus that are chasing God together.”

A sign denoting The Valley's special "We Will Praise You in This Storm" Sunday service May 4.The Valley was planted by Rothacher and his wife, Julie, on March 31, 2013. According to Matt Rothacher, the couple wanted to start a church that would reach the entire community of Vilonia, especially those who were tired of the trappings found in many traditional evangelical churches.

“We planted here, through the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, to be a church for people that were burnt out on religion and legalism. … We have begun to see a tremendous amount of life change,” said Rothacher. “We just celebrated a year anniversary, and the spiritual growth has been amazing.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Vilonia was originally called “Vilsonia” when pioneers founded it in the early 1860s. When the founders applied for a post office, the approval letter came back misspelled “Vilonia.” The name stuck. 

The meaning of “Vilsonia” is the “land of two valleys,” and years later, after hearing the story of how Vilonia got its name, Rothacher decided to name his church plant “The Valley” as an ode to the history of the town and as a symbol of the peace that he wanted the church to bring to people’s lives through Jesus Christ.

On May 4, The Valley held a special We Will Praise You in This Storm service on the cement foundation where their church building used to sit. Members of the church were joined by members of other churches who came from across Arkansas to show their support for the church. Visitors included members of The Church at Argenta, North Little Rock, other churches in Ruston and Hot Springs, as well as numerous volunteers who were working with disaster relief organizations in the area and saw the service and stopped by.

Tommy Castleberry, a member of White Hall United Methodist Church, White Hall, and owner of Excel Construction, heard about The Valley losing their building and brought a semitrailer packed with church pews for the church to use during their service. Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Cabot, supplied chairs, and a family from Central Baptist Church, Pine Bluff, fed the church lunch following the service.

The Valley’s praise band led the large group of attendees in worship before and after Rothacher shared a message. The pastor spoke on the importance of understanding that the storm that destroyed Vilonia was a product of the sinfulness that is part of humanity following the fall of man. He emphasized that the storm should not be seen as a judgment on the people of the town, but as a symbol of the reality of sin’s ugliness and Christ’s amazing gift of salvation.

Rothacher asks Arkansas Baptists to pray for the future of The Valley, but to first pray for the families affected by the storm.

“Pray for Vilonia as a whole. There are some families that are hurting. We had several causalities. One is too many, but we had more than I think anyone expected. On top of that, I know some families that have lost their houses for the second time in three years. This is a very resilient community,” said Rothacher.

Rothacher said the church’s “grand plan” is to “serve here and go there,” and they believe that the destruction of the recent tornado is simply another circumstance in which The Valley is looking forward to seeing God at work in their lives and the lives of their neighbors.

“We are pro-Vilonia. We desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community. We want to make much of Him and bring glory to Him. We want to show people there is hope, even in the midst of the desolation and destruction that a tornado brought,” said Rothacher. “Ultimately, our God is sovereign. He is working behind the scenes for our good even at times when we don’t see that. … He has not abandoned us, and He is to be found even in the midst of the storm.”

“I was telling my wife as we were standing watching people pick up trash and sift through the rubble for things we might could use (that) I just wanted to cry. It had zero to do with the loss of material things,” said Rothacher. 

“It had everything to do with the joy of watching these people pull together for the love of one another, and for what they feel like The Valley means to Vilonia as a whole.”

Contact Caleb Yarbrough at caleb@arkansasbaptist.org.

Wednesday
May142014

29 salvations recorded at Acts 1:8 One Day events

FOUR ACTS 1:8 One Day Community Mission Trips were conducted in Arkansas communities April 26 – involving hundreds Arkansas Baptists and resulting in 29 salvation decisions.

Mission outreach events of various types were held in Greene County Baptist Association, Mississippi County Baptist Association, Tri-County Baptist Association and Little River Baptist Association, said Breck Freeman, interim team leader of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) mission team.

“Over 500 volunteers have been reported and 29 salvations,” said Freeman in an email about the Acts 1:8 One Day events and the Connect 2014 event, adding, “Praise the Lord for our ABSC churches and associations making kingdom impact across our state.”

The last statewide Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip was held in October 2013 in Harrison. More than 2,700 volunteers participated representing 207 churches and came from five states besides Arkansas. Professions of faith recorded at the event numbered 36.

The 2014 Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip is scheduled for Oct. 4 in El Dorado. For more information, contact 501-376-4791, ext. 5150, or email oraines@absc.org.

Wednesday
May142014

270 attend Easter block party

MAYNARD – About 270 people attended Passion in the Park – a block party held on Easter Sunday by Witt’s Chapel Baptist Church, Maynard. It was a sizeable turnout considering the town only has a population of about 400.

The event, true to its name, took place in a park. 

Stone“I was convicted last Easter about trying to reach out to those who might not feel comfortable coming inside our church building because of their preconceived ideas about us ‘Christians,’” said Bruce Stone Sr., pastor of Witt’s Chapel Baptist Church. “I wanted to give them a more relaxed, less formal opportunity to encounter some of us and the Lord on Easter Sunday.  Passion in the Park was the result.”

He added that most of those who attended were unchurched.

“Several of the young adults there personally thanked me for getting to go to church, rather than thanking me for all the food, games, prizes, etc.,” Stone said.

He described the event as a “big step of faith,” noting he wasn’t sure how many people would attend. 

But he didn’t need to worry. Crowds enjoyed games, prizes and food, in addition to worship and a message. And Current-Gaines Baptist Association allowed Witt’s Chapel to use its block party trailer.

Stone said, for him, the “highlight” of the event came in the form of a conversation with a mother standing in line for food. 

“She said she wanted to thank me, and I said, ‘Well, you’re welcome,’” related Stone. “And she looked at herself – kind of head to toe – and said, ‘I wanted to go to church today, but I didn’t think I could. I heard y’all were doing this. I knew I could hang around some Christian people at least on Easter Sunday.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t know y’all were singing and preaching too, and I got to go to church.’ And she had a big smile on her face.

“That was worth it all to me – because that was the whole reason we did it,” Stone said.

He said the church wants to hold similar events in the future.

“This was the first step in us getting out of the pew and into the street and trying to reach our community,” he said. “(We) plan on doing more events like it.”

Thursday
May082014

500 Arkansas Baptist volunteers respond following tornados; 18,000 meals provided

Editor's Note: This is an abbreviated version of a story that will be published in the May 15 print edition of the Arkansas Baptist News. Subscribe here.

MORE THAN 500 Arkansas Baptist disaster relief volunteers responded to areas of Faulkner, Pulaski and White counties following an EF4 tornado that wiped out hundreds of houses and businesses April 27.

As of press time, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) reported that volunteers had prepared nearly 18,000 meals for disaster victims, provided 45 showers through the deployment of a mobile shower unit, washed 54 loads of clothing and completed 104 recovery/cleanup jobs. 

Additionally, the ABSC reported that 33 ministry contacts had been made with people, with one person making a decision to follow Jesus Christ.

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Thursday
May082014

SBC presidential candidate Ronnie Floyd: ‘Let’s complete the Great Commission’

Editor’s Note: The Arkansas Baptist News recently interviewed Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. Floyd has been nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which holds its annual meeting June 10-11 in Baltimore. Floyd was asked a variety of questions to give Arkansas Baptists a better understanding of the pastor who is a candidate for perhaps the most visible leadership role in Southern Baptist life. Some of Floyd’s answers were edited due to space constraints. This article is part of a two-part series. Part two will appear in a future edition of the ABN.

Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

SPRINGDALE – Texas-born Ronnie Floyd has called Arkansas home since 1986 when he became pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale. Nearly twenty-eight years later Floyd is a die-hard Razorback fan and pastor of Cross Church (formerly First Baptist) – one of America’s largest evangelical churches, with five campuses in Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale and most-recently, Neosho, Mo.

In addition to serving in the local church, Floyd has served in numerous leadership capacities in the Southern Baptist Convention on local, state and national levels. He currently is the general editor of LifeWay Christian Resources’ Bible Studies for Life curriculum series and as lead pastor and strategist of Send North America, the church planting initiative of the
North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Perhaps most notably, Floyd chaired the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force, which led to a strategic shift in the way Southern Baptist entities carry out the Great Commission, including a shift in the way money is allocated for kingdom work.

ABN: What do you see as major challenges of the Southern Baptist Convention as a denomination in the 21st century?

Floyd: I believe the greatest challenge we have is for a fresh, mighty move of God across our churches and across the leaders of our churches, as well as across the leaders of our convention. … But I think also we have to find a way … to accelerate the completion of the Great Commission in our generation. I really believe Southern Baptists have more than solved “this is the direction we are going.” We have chosen the path. We are very committed to the authority of Scripture. We are very committed to how we comprise that in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We are very committed to doing what we can to fulfill the Great Commission. I think the path is set. What we need to do is to try to find a way to accelerate the pace. I do think there is another massive challenge in Southern Baptist life and that is relating to the issue of funding, funding the vision in a greater way. It is not that Southern Baptists are not funding the vision; they are funding the vision, even in a challenging economy the last several years. … But, it is a matter of, “Where does the vision need to go?” “What needs to happen in the next decade relating to the financial resources and its future in Southern Baptist life?” … regarding all those things that we fund – from our mission offerings as well as through the Cooperative Program.

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