MAGNOLIA, ARK -Central Baptist Church saw the need to plant a church on the west side of Magnolia when they received a building and land from a church that had recently disbanded. The dynamics of the former church had changed as the demographics of the community shifted from largely Caucasian to a predominantly African American population. Membership dwindled as people moved away until ultimately the church had no choice but to close its doors. The property was deeded to Central Baptist who, under the leadership of pastor Mike Seabaugh, began to seek out a church planter to help carry out their vision of starting a new church in the area.
Donnell Ford, a native of Magnolia and a respected coach and teacher in the public schools, was approached about the possibility of planting a church. Ford says it wasn’t an easy decision, but ultimately God convinced him that he was being called to help start the new work and so he resigned from coaching after 26 years. He became a bi-vocational church planter, choosing to start a church while remaining in a full-time position with the schools as a mentor where he provides intervention for troubled kids. He immediately went to work building a leadership team and gathering a core group. They met together for seven months and then in August of 2021, Full Faith Community Baptist Church was officially launched as a church plant of Central Baptist of Magnolia.
Since the Easter launch date, Ford and the members of Full Faith Community, with the help of Central Baptist, have been working to be a light in their community as they build relationships and minister to the needs of those around them. The most recent outreach effort was a community wide back-to-school event that turned into something bigger than Ford or anyone else could have expected.
The original idea was to hold a back-to-school event the Saturday before school started at the park located down the street from the church. They planned to give away 50 backpacks along with school supplies. Park Hill Baptist Church of North Little Rock agreed to help provide the backpacks and supplies. They also offered ideas to help draw more people to the park, like a block party complete with hot dogs, bouncy houses, and various games.
In preparation for the event, Ford says he discovered that two other groups in Magnolia were also planning back-to-school events on the same day. He contacted the leaders of My Sister’s Keeper and the Junior Charity League to discuss the possibility of working together to host one big event for the whole community. Everyone agreed, and the Back to School Bash was moved from the city park to the Boys and Girls Club of Magnolia. With expectations of an even bigger crowd, Ford says they increased the number of backpacks they would give away from 50 to 100. Park Hill provided 50 backpacks and all the supplies while Full Faith Community provided the other 50. Some members of Park Hill came down and helped pack the supplies into the backpacks. A couple of other members also came down on Saturday to help serve and to pass out Bibles and witness to people.
Clint Ritchie from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s Missions Team helped connect Pastor Ford with a group from First Baptist Church in Hampton who volunteered their block party trailer for the day. Ford says it was exciting to see the group from Hampton at work. They served snow cones, funnel cakes and lemonade. They also provided bouncy houses and several different games. “They stayed busy for three hours and I’ve never seen a group of people work so hard with such big smiles on their face,” Ford said. “We really appreciate them coming from Hampton to support our community.”
In total, 385 backpacks were given to students in need. There were also free haircuts, shoes, clothing items and hygiene packets that were given out. Ford says he could never have anticipated the response from the community as over 500 people participated that day. He is extremely grateful to the Boys and Girls Club for helping sponsor the event by hosting it on their property. He is also grateful for the other groups in town who partnered together to serve the community in such a powerful way.
Pastor Ford also took time to thank the four members of Park Hill who came to serve and ended up staying to worship with them on Sunday. According to Ford, it’s one thing to put money into an event and sponsor it from afar but the fact that this group left their homes to come and show their support in person meant everything. Marty Davis, one of the members from Park Hill, said they were the ones that were blessed by the experience. “We had a wonderful time worshipping with the church Sunday morning. Donnell and his wife Tanya are loving on those folks and training and teaching them as they love on them. The four of us came away blessed!”
Ford says that even though they have not had any visitors at the church as a result of the Back to School Bash, he considers the day to be a huge success. He said there were a lot of good comments on Facebook and other social media platforms afterwards and that it was important just to have been present in the community. He points out that more people know who they are now. “We were just fortunate and blessed enough that God did it the way He did it to get us some exposure in the community to show them who we are and what we are doing,” Ford said.
The exposure will help with future outreach in the community. Currently Pastor Ford is in contact with First Baptist, Hampton about partnering for an event at a nearby lake in October. Several Baptist churches in the area are planning to come together soon for another community project as well. Davis put it best when she said, “We are definitely better together. Hurray for the church planting team, for the missions team, for Full Faith, FBC Hampton, Central Baptist Magnolia and everyone else all partnering together for the Kingdom!”