A group from the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association recently embarked on a missions trip to the Arkansas Delta, bringing hope and encouragement to some of the churches serving the region.
Plans for the trip began to form in March following the Delta Vision Tour, where pastors and church leaders from across the state visited with and heard the hearts of Arkansas Delta church planters and pastors of established churches, including Shell Lake Baptist Church Pastor Dave McKinney.
The group was led on this Delta Vision Tour by Sam Roberts and Clint Ritchie of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Missions Team. The tour made stops in Trumann, Marion, Marianna, Stuttgart, Fordyce and Sheridan.
It was through the Delta Vision Tour that McKinney connected with Danny Green, associational missionary for the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association, and a few of his pastors.
“I did a presentation about our church, our vision about reaching the Delta and how we wanted to be able to use our facility for projects in the future. Danny and some others in his association were there that day. I got to meet with some of them afterward. They indicated they had some interest in following up. Sure enough, Danny did follow up,” McKinney said.
The two began organizing the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association’s missions trip to the Delta, which took place July 17-21. They held Vacation Bible School in the mornings at Shell Lake Baptist Church and in the evenings the group went to surrounding areas and hosted block parties and carnivals.
“Our church was used as the home base for all that and our church members were really excited to see that. It has brought them a fresh vision of how God can use a small church like ours to reach thousands of people,” McKinney said.
This was the first time Shell Lake Baptist Church hosted a Vacation Bible School in more than 10 years. McKinney said some of the church members expressed concern there might not be enough children that lived nearby to have it. Twenty-one children attended the first day.
“That would be a disappointment at some churches, but this was the first Vacation Bible School our church has had in 10 years or more. For our little church, out in the middle of the country, that was a phenomenal attendance. That was almost as many attending Vacation Bible School as we have in church on Sundays right now. So, for our church, that was huge,” McKinney said, noting they had one young lady accept Christ as Lord and Savior during the week.
McKinney said the whole project has rejuvenated Shell Lake Baptist Church’s congregation.
“I think the success of this has reenergized our folks and given new hope going forward that there is value in partnerships. We can’t do it on our own. We’re a very small congregation with hundreds, if not thousands, of people to reach in our area. We need to realize that involves partnerships like what we did this past week,” McKinney said. “It’s a fresh vision of what God can do even with a small church. There is a reason for us to still be here and there are people that no other church is going to reach except ours even as small as we are. There are children, families and people we need to reach that no other church will reach except ours, and that is what we need to do. We need to be faithful with what God has given us and use it in the mission field that God has placed us in.”
Green said the missions trip was “exceedingly abundantly above” all that they could ask or think.
“There was just a lot of excitement for the people that we got to minister to. I was able to tell the guys that came with us that they were able to bring some honest-to-goodness hope,” Green said. He added that the Arkansas Delta is “just far enough away to be a true missions trip, but not so far away that you waste two days driving time.”
The group held block parties and carnivals at Tabernacle of God Baptist Church in Marion, Cherry Valley Baptist Church, New Beginnings Faith in Wynne and Rice and Mann Apartment complex in Forrest City.
Tabernacle of God Baptist Church Pastor Chester Witherspoon said they were glad to have the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association come to Marion.
“They came and it was a really good carnival. Everybody worked so diligently. All of the young people worked diligently. One young lady, a junior in high school, told me she gave up her summer just to go and do this work. I just thank God for them,” Witherspoon said. “We had more than 200 people come to the carnival. It was just a blessed day.”
In addition to hosting block parties and carnivals and helping with Vacation Bible School, the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association had other teams assisting New Beginnings Faith and Maple Grove Main Street in Trumann with construction projects.
Clint Haynes, associational missionary at Tri-County Baptist Association, said the missions team worked in communities that have not seen a lot of engagement in a while.
“We’re just so grateful. A lot of times our people hear all the controversy and the fighting that Southern Baptists have, but it was great for us to be able to point and say, no, this is who we are as Southern Baptists. This is what we are about. This is why we’re Southern Baptists. We’re coming together to do Kingdom work,” Haynes said. “It’s a blessing to get to do Kingdom work with them and we look forward to seeing what God does through it.”