Carlisle, AR. – A crowd gathered on Sunday November 6 for a ribbon cutting ceremony and building tour to celebrate the grand opening of the Mission of Hope food pantry and thrift store. An outreach and ministry of Immanuel Baptist Church (IBC) in Carlisle, Mission of Hope will provide food, clothes and other items to assist those in need in Carlisle and surrounding areas. The official opening of the ministry center marked the culmination of a nearly 14-year journey of prayer, planning and preparation.
Bill Ricks was called to pastor Immanuel Baptist Church in December 2008. In 2009, Ricks’ wife Tina felt God leading her to begin praying over a certain building in town. Initially, she envisioned remodeling the building and utilizing it as a meeting and hangout space for students to give them something to do and help keep them out of trouble. Confident in her vision for the building, Tina continued to pray that God would provide the space and the resources needed to make the dream a reality.
Over the next couple of years, Tina felt some discouragement as the building she was told to pray over never became available as various businesses occupied the space. Still, she continued to pray, trusting that God would ultimately provide.
In 2010, Maxine Thrift, a member of the church, approached them and shared her desire to start a food pantry to help people that needed food in the area. In 2011, after months of prayer, the first food pantry opened at IBC in an unused 10’x14’ room at the church. The ministry grew and began serving over 120 families in the area. In 2013, the food pantry was moved to a larger room at the church where they have been operating until this year.
And then it happened.
“Four years ago, the owners of the building that I had been praying over since 2009 approached us to say that they were selling their other business and wanted to give this particular building to us,” Tina said.
After nine years, the building finally became available. But the waiting was not yet over.
Bill shared the news with the church and invited the leadership to begin praying. The people who donated the building had not given any stipulations, so the church was free to do whatever they wanted with the building, which included the option to sell.
“Even though my wife had been praying for this building for multiple years, we still wanted to make sure we were all in unity,” Ricks said.
A committee was formed to determine what was to be done with the building. About six months later, the committee decided to take half of the space and move the food pantry into it. At that point, Bill and Tina began reaching out to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) and the Caroline Baptist Association (CBA) to see if any teams were available to help. A team from Virginia came to tear down the walls, then a group from Florida helped build the walls to divide the building in half. Teams from Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot and the CBA also came to help break concrete, build a ramp and texture and paint walls in order to get the food pantry ready.
Excitement began to grow as progress was made. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything came to a screeching halt due to a lack of volunteers. Even though the building was on hold, the food pantry was still in full swing at the church. Despite coronavirus restrictions, the church was able to set up a drive-through where those in need could pick up food without having to come inside the building.
In December of 2021, someone approached the Rickses about the possibility of opening a thrift store. At the time, Tina still had dreams of using the other side of the building for a recreation area for teenagers. But when they looked at the possible space available for the thrift store it was determined that the space was not large enough. They would need to use the other half of the building if they wanted to make it work.
“My heart sank, because I had been praying for this building and praying for what I thought needed to be done. And to be honest, I was really disappointed,” Tina said. “But I realized I needed to stop and pray and find out what it is that God wanted to do with the building.”
By the end of December, Bill and Tina approached the team and shared that they felt God leading them to use the other side of the building for the thrift store to help families in need and to bring in a little bit of income to help pay the utilities for the building. The committee agreed and plans were made to begin as soon as possible.
In January of 2022, Bill’s cousin called to ask for advice on organizing a missions team for her church. About three weeks later she called back to share that she was not having any luck finding a place to serve. Bill jokingly said, “You can come here and be on mission. We’ve got plenty of stuff to get this building open that needs to be done.” After a couple of weeks of talking, they decided to bring their team to Carlisle to help work on the project. Two teams from the church came and helped with cleaning, setting up shelving and plumbing sinks, drains and bathrooms. They also helped with construction and with wiring.
There were still some small jobs that needed to be completed before the ministry center could be opened. Workdays were scheduled with volunteers from churches in the association as well as kids from the local schools who needed to complete community service hours. On Saturday October 15, several Arkansas Baptist students arrived to serve as part of the ABSC’s Student CONNECT missions weekend.
“The CONNECT students were instrumental in helping us get ready for our start date. We were able to drive everything down here in one load, and then they helped us unload it and get it put on the shelves. They also helped us put some boxes of clothes out on the thrift store side,” Tina said. “All of those things helped us to prepare for opening the first weekend in November.”
For now, the food pantry and thrift store will be open to the public every Monday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and both are open 50 weeks out of the year. Emergency services are available for those who have just moved to the area, those who are forced to leave their homes, those who have a family dynamic change and those who come in off the interstate needing help. The Ministry of Hope is working to partner with The CALL to provide vouchers for foster and adoptive families in need of food and other supplies.
Donations for the food pantry and thrift store are provided by multiple sources. The Arkansas Food Bank, various churches from different states, schools, families and individuals have all contributed items and money to help provide food. All food is provided free of charge. Items from the thrift store are available for free to those in emergency situations. For all others, there is a small charge with the money being put back into the ministry.
Pastor Ricks says that it has been a blessing through the process to see God provide and bring the church together with the purpose of meeting needs and sharing the Gospel. He sees the new ministry center to connect people to Jesus.
“It’s a direct link to people that aren’t in our church family,” Ricks said. “It’s a place for people within our church family, and others, to serve. It’s a great tool for connecting with people, especially people that have been hurt in church or disenfranchised or just uncomfortable for some reason, whatever that is. So, it’s a great opportunity for service. It’s a doorway to bring people into the Kingdom and into the body.”
Bill and Tina say that God has already used the center to impact lives in ways that they had not originally envisioned. God used a young lady in their church who was a former addict to help start an addiction recovery class that meets at the ministry center. The Rickses shared that this young woman had been instrumental in inviting several people to church that she knew from her addiction days who were trying to get out from underneath their own addictions. She had become very active in helping others who struggled with addiction. Bill and Tina prayed for over a year that God would compel this young woman to lead a life group for those struggling with addiction.
When the missions team came to serve in July, one of the missions team members talked with her about her passion and encouraged her to start a recovery group. She came to Bill and Tina and asked if she could start the group. The rest, as they say, is history. Knowing that some coming out of that lifestyle might not feel comfortable meeting at the church, they cleaned out one of the rooms at Mission of Hope and set up chairs and the group has been meeting there since September.
Ricks says their motto for Mission of Hope is “we are sharing the bread of life.” As they share the physical bread, they also share Jesus who is the bread of life. The need is great, and Bill and Tina know that their church cannot do this alone. They are asking for individuals and churches to partner with them in praying with and for those who come through Mission of Hope.
Opportunities are also available for groups or individuals to come and serve on Monday nights. If you are interested in volunteering to pray or to serve, please contact Pastor Bill Ricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.