Just 42 miles southwest of Pine Bluff down Highway 79, in southeastern Dallas county, sits the small town of Fordyce, Arkansas. This county seat has a population of just over 3900 people made up of 54% African American and 43% White residents. It is here, in this out of the way location, that you will find two seemingly unlikely partners working through their cultural differences and finding ways to join together to impact lostness in their community.
Roderick Rogers is the pastor of Fordyce Community Baptist Church. Rogers and Fordyce Community have been a part of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention since 2017.
Rusty Ross is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Fordyce. Ross has served as pastor of FBC since 2013.
Rogers and Ross first connected through the shared interests of their children. Living in a small town, both men knew about the other, but had never established a personal relationship until their daughters began playing Upward Basketball together. During practices and games, they would see each other and began to talk and share their hearts. Both men realized that the other was heavily involved in doing outreach in the community. They discovered that they were like minded in their desire to meet needs and see people come to faith in Jesus. Although their cultures were different, they soon realized that they had much in common.
The two pastors quickly developed a friendship that grew over time. They have been through a lot together. They have prayed and served together. They have also laughed together and cried together. They have both been broken and helped each other pick up the pieces. They have encouraged each other and held one another accountable.
Rogers and Ross say they complement each other. They have discovered where one man is weak the other is strong and vice versa. They have grown to trust each other and have one another’s backs. They have become genuine partners in ministry. Both men say, “We know that we have a true friendship and we are not just one anothers cause.”
As their friendship grew and they began to serve the community together, others in town began to take notice, including their own church members. Both Rogers and Ross were very Kingdom minded and desired to see their churches join together as well to accomplish Kingdom work. However, they knew that this was something that could not be forced. If attitudes and hearts were to change, they wanted it to happen organically. So, Rogers and Ross continued to model what it means to truly love as Jesus loves as they prayed, fellowshipped, served and worshipped together.
Over time, this friendship influenced other church members. Both pastors began to bring church members along as they ministered together. When one church would plan an outreach event, the other would send volunteers to help. This led to joint worship services and pastor swaps where Rogers and Ross would change places and preach in the other’s church on a given Sunday. Over the last few years, the churches have participated together in Disciple Now events, block parties, community prayer gatherings and more. They have also worked together to collect bicycles, fix them up and deliver them to kids in the community.
Recently Fordyce Community and First Baptist joined with churches from across the state to serve their communities as part of One Day: Serve Local. They were joined by Vincent Stroud, pastor of New Covenant Church also in Fordyce. Over 50 volunteers from the three churches helped with prayer walking, trash pickup, free car washes, community bingo and serving hotdogs, chips and drinks.
The next week they partnered with City Serve Arkansas and Farmers for Families to provide food boxes to people in need. Several other churches, made up of several denominations, in the area joined in the effort to distribute the food boxes at several locations. FBC delivered boxes and New Covenant set up distribution points at different apartment complexes in town.
Pastor Nicholas Walker, Outreach and Family Care pastor at Fordyce Community took several boxes and set up at FBC Carthage. In all 1500 food boxes were distributed. Geyer Springs First Baptist from Little Rock also helped by creating inspirational cards to hand out with all of the food boxes.
On Wednesday October 13, the churches once again came together to serve food to the community. Again, they passed out over 1000 boxes. As the churches lead out, others in the community are also joining in to help. Rogers says it’s been exciting to see how not only the churches of Fordyce, but local businesses and individuals are also coming together to meet the needs in the community. Members of the fire department and State Representative Jeff Wardlaw came out to serve on Wednesday as well.
Rodgers echoed the theme of One Day: Serve Local, “It’s all about loving people and sharing Jesus.” Fordyce has a poverty rate of over 15% which just shows that the needs are great in the community. While he knows there are always people who will take advantage of someone else’s generosity, Rogers believes that those they served had genuine needs. As volunteers shared with the recipients, they heard stories of desperation and gratitude for the help the churches provided.
Rogers and Ross are excited to see what God is going to do as their churches continue to work together. Both men believe that God has established a true partnership between the two congregations. Rogers says, “it’s like we have two campuses of the same church.” The two groups share facilities as well as other resources. First Baptist has a missions committee specifically set up to work with Rogers and provide assistance in any way that they can. During VBS, the volunteers at First Baptist provide decorations and other resources to Fordyce Community just like they would for their own church. Together they are able to do more and to reach more people than they could by themselves.
Rogers and Ross both agree that prayer is key to their partnership and friendship. They meet each Sunday morning to pray together with the deacons and worship leader/student pastor Scott Smith. They say this prayer time has been a real blessing. Rogers said he once asked the group to pray that God would send men to lead in his church. They prayed and that day God sent some men to serve in leadership positions.
The friendship and shared ministry have also opened doors for racial reconciliation to begin to take place. Both Rogers and Ross say they have been able to have legitimate conversations about difficult issues. They have been real with one another and listened to what the other has had to say. This has carried over to others in both churches.
Rogers says everything became real for him when a group of deacons from First Baptist invited him to come and let them pray over him. As the men prayed, they began to get real and honest as they shared testimonies of past racism. They prayed for forgiveness and made commitments to listen and do better in the future. Rogers says he was moved by their honesty and their prayers. He believes that God is working and that bigger things are yet to come.
Racial reconciliation is not easy. It starts with the heart. Rogers and Ross would tell you that it starts not with big events but with a relationship. For these two pastors what began as a casual acquaintance developed into a genuine friendship. As they did life together, others watched them. They saw two men who modeled what it meant to love God, love each other and work together.
Both Rogers and Ross admit that things have not always been easy. They say there have been times that they have wanted to quit but they can’t because they know what is at stake. And so, they do what friends do, they lift each other up and together, with God’s help, they find the strength and courage to carry on.