Pastor Kim McCroskey, pastor of Roaring Fork Baptist Church, discusses the Gatlinburg fires that destroyed the church, the church’s recovery and the impending dedication of the new building.
Lonnie Wilkey: Hello, and welcome to Radio B&R. I’m Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist & Reflector, and your host today. I’m on-site in Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Roaring Fork Baptist Church with Pastor Kim McCroskey. Kim, thank you for joining us today.
Kim McCroskey: It’s my pleasure.
Lonnie Wilkey: Kim, I know that a lot of our listeners remember the fires that hit Gatlinburg in November of last year. Tell us what you recall about November 28th when you found out your church had burned, and just a few things that’s gone on since then.
Kim McCroskey: Well, once I found out the church had burned, it was I guess a moment of shock. More than just a moment, it was a few weeks. We were just trying to figure out what we’re gonna do next. It was never an option to stop doing what we do, as far as ministry, but we knew that we had a long road ahead of us. Because of that, we went back to business as quickly as possible because that helped us more than anything. We had Camp Smokey to meet at the first Sunday after the fires on the 28th, and we’ve been there ever since, as far as doing ministry. But you still have to plan and figure out how we go forward. That’s what we did, and God has done so many wonderful things since the fires. There’s been 32 people saved since the fires here at Roaring Fork, and to God be the glory on that.
Lonnie Wilkey: That’s incredible in itself. You may hear some noise in the background. We are at the site, and construction is going on right now. Kim, tell us about … was it overwhelming, the response you had from Tennessee Baptists and others immediately after the fire? What did that mean to you and your people?
Kim McCroskey: Well, it showed us that we’re part of an organization that is more than smoke and mirrors. It’s an organization that cares. Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief was here within the first few days, and they helped us with the demolition of our Family Life Center. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board has been very generous to us through this as well. There’s just been people from all over the country. Roaring Fork Baptist Church is not just home to people from Gatlinburg. We minister to people from all over the country. I was just reading my phone, and last Father’s Day a young man from South Carolina was saved. My Facebook shows me memories. We minister to everybody, and there’s a lot of people that when we had our groundbreaking ceremony, they come out from other states.
That was just a photo-op when we shoveled a little dirt. But now we’re in the midst of it and in the thick of it with Builders for Christ. That’s been probably the biggest blessing that we’ve had, Buildings for Christ. They’ve been incredible. The church burned on the 28th. On the 29th, my understanding is, their 2017 booking canceled and they found me. I didn’t really know about Builder for Christ, and they found me, and it was a God thing. Still is. Every day I come in, and I’ve been here every day since this started, and it’s just incredible to see how these people work. They are, and I said this to you earlier. They are a visible example of how the local church should work. I mean, they work together. They’re happy. They’re just happy to be giving up their time, paying their own way to come here and to give their gifts and talents to rebuild our buildings.
Lonnie Wilkey: These are people from all over the United States, right?
Kim McCroskey: 22 different states is represented with these guys. The headquarters is in Birmingham, Alabama, and we’ve had a lot of Alabama folks, a lot of folks from the South. But we’ve got people this week from Wisconsin. We had people from, actually, Logan, Ohio this week. We’ve got people from Connecticut that came and put tresses up. It’s incredible just to watch and to try to stay out of the way and help if you can.
Lonnie Wilkey: During this time of transition, your church has gone full steam. You mentioned the baptisms, but from what I understand, y’all have an active bus ministry. You were kinda concerned about that, I think, after the church was destroyed in the fire, but that basically has continued as well, hasn’t it?
Kim McCroskey: Yeah, it is. I think maybe our population of children has fallen off a little, but we’ve still got six buses that are active. Just because we don’t have the room at Camp Smokey, there are Sundays when we only have one building over there, and that’s the worship building. If there’s campers there, we don’t have access to the Pickle Building and the Hill Building, where we have our nursery and our children’s church. This coming Sunday, we don’t have a building at all. We gonna have to meet over here under pavilion because of summer camp. And that’s fine. We knew that.
It’s been a real blessing to have Camp Smokey. Robert Nickells, our Associational Director of Missions, offered that to me on Tuesday after the church burned on Monday, offered it to me on the 29th. We graciously accepted it, and they’ve been there ever since.
Lonnie Wilkey: Talk to us about, after the fire, the mood and attitude of the people. How were they? Were they, “Oh, woe is me, our church burned”? Or were you all able to just say, “We’re gonna recover.”
Kim McCroskey: We never felt sorry for ourselves. We never had the thought of not rebuilding. The church people have tried to keep focused, and it wasn’t very long that we hired an architect, and we had drawings up, and we have them on the wall over at Camp Smokey. They can see what’s coming. I’ve been through building programs before. If people see you’re doing something, they’re gonna stay encouraged. And now they come by here and see all that’s been done. They’re super excited about that and can’t wait to get back over here.
Lonnie Wilkey: What did you tell them that first Sunday in your first message after the fire?
Kim McCroskey: I told them that we will go forward, and that this is not going to hinder us. I think Satan underestimated us. In fact, I know he did. I just let them know that we’re gonna rise above these ashes and be bigger and stronger than we ever were before, and we’re gonna have a whole lot more facility to work with when we going get back. If Satan probably had this to do over, he would leave us alone, because God can see out there where he can’t, and God knew what was gonna be coming in the future.
Lonnie Wilkey: Basically, you told me that the new facility will almost double your sanctuary space, but talk to us about that, and then also the other building that was destroyed, and it looks like it’s coming together pretty well too.
Kim McCroskey: Well, both of our buildings are going up at the same time. The old-
Lonnie Wilkey: What is the other building?
Kim McCroskey: It’s the Family Life Center. It’s actually a full basketball court, where you let the kids play basketball. That’s where all of our children’s ministry is, next door. The Family Life Center before was … we had a basketball court, a commercial kitchen, and it was the place where the children met. We had functions over there. But the new building, versus the old building, above the kitchen in the new building there’s a youth room that will hold about 70 youth. We didn’t have that before. We just had an attic.
It’s gonna be much, much nicer. It’s quite a few more square feet than the other building, the Family Life Center is. We’re gonna put back the ball court. We’re not gonna go back with a wooden court, the way we had before. It’ll be a vinyl plank, and that way it can be cleaned more easily and won’t have to be covered up all the time.
As far as the Worship Center goes, the old Worship Center was, 229 was the capacity on… counting the choir, is my understanding, is what the architect figured. The new one will seat 448, I believe, including the choir. It’s 402 to an auditorium and 46, I think, in the choir, is the capacity. And then all of our classes downstairs. Some of the classes downstairs have tripled in size compared to what we had before, so we’re gonna have a lot more Sunday School room, a lot more user-friendly nursery. The small children’s room will have a restroom in it so they’re not having to run back and forth to the bathroom, but they stay contained in that one room. We’re just super excited.
The church folks knew that it was never gonna be forever, us getting back over there. We started work on demolition within a week-and-a-half. When people see things happening, they don’t get discouraged and say, “Well, well, when are they ever gonna get started?” That was not the case here. Within a week-and-a-half, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief was here working on the Family Life Center. And Wild Building Construction out of Morristown was here, because we had to hire someone to do this building because it was three stories and Disaster Relief didn’t have equipment to do that or they would’ve taken care of everything.
Plus the two houses that were behind the church, now Disaster Relief tore those down, cleaned those up for the people, and we bought the property. They didn’t wanna build back, so now we have adequate parking, or will have. God’s made a huge blessing out of what some would have said, “Oh, that’s so tragic.”
Lonnie Wilkey: Wow, that’s amazing. But that’s what God does, isn’t it?
Kim McCroskey: Oh, absolutely, and plus, we’ve built a pavilion over near the … we have a rental house the church owns, and we’ve got a 60 by 80 pavilion now that we can use for our children, use outside. That’s what the Builders for Christ are using now to have their meals under. But it’s a huge building now there. Of course, it’s just a pavilion with a roof.
Lonnie Wilkey: Was that added after the fire?
Kim McCroskey: Yes, that’s right. It went up in a week. One of our people owns a pull barn business, and he put it up in a week. Because the tent the Builders for Christ normally use wouldn’t go up safely down over because we didn’t have enough room to stretch out the ropes to make it secure, and there’s a lot of wind up here too. We’ve had some high winds, 80-something miles-an-hour winds, when we just had the walls up. Some people lost their houses again. Blow the walls down. But our walls stood.
Lonnie Wilkey: Wow.
Kim McCroskey: It’s been a journey. We’ve felt fire and water and wind, and we’re still here. I’m just looking forward to being done and being back in the pulpit here.
Lonnie Wilkey: I guess you’ve been able to give some biblical lessons to your members.
Kim McCroskey: Of course.
Lonnie Wilkey: Sounds like your church has been built on the rock and it’s standing.
Kim McCroskey: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. It’s just amazing where we are today, seven months later. It’s amazing where we’re at. The time this must, this-
Lonnie Wilkey: Did you even dream this could happen when you were out here on November 28th, 29th?
Kim McCroskey: I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how we were gonna do it. As I said, we were kind of in shock. We were thinking, “We’ll build the metal building back,” which is what the Family Life Center was, and maybe a structural steel building over here. Lars Corley, who is the main coordinator for Builders for Christ, called me and said, “I think we should talk.” We did, and that started the wonderful friendship with Lars. He’s a wonderful man. His heart is building churches for people. They build churches for people, for churches. They build those churches for churches that are seeing people saved, baptized.
Normally, quite frankly, they don’t even come south normally. They go up north where there’s not many Southern Baptist churches, and that’s where they … they’ll be back in Wisconsin next year. So it was a complete God thing. This was the only church they’ve ever built in Tennessee, and it’s a complete God thing that we were allowed to partner with Builders for Christ. You can see that without even looking hard. You can see how blessed we’ve been to be able to have these people for a partner.
We’ve had, actually, two church services already in the Family Life Center. A group from Alabama and a group from Georgia, and we just cleaned out everything over there and had two services over there already. The first week that they were here, one of the volunteers that came to help build was saved. A man from Clarksville came in, and he was doing a good deed, and he got better than he gave. He got eternal life, thank God. I was happy about that. I think that just validated. It was the very first week, and that just validated, this partnership is right.
Lonnie Wilkey: What else can Tennessee Baptists do for Roaring Forks in the days ahead?
Kim McCroskey: Pray for us. Come up and put you on a hard hat and a pair of gloves, if you’d like. There’s a lot of jobs to do. I know that we’ve got insulation. I mean, they’re gonna have teams coming, but if you wanna work, you can get a job around here.
Lonnie Wilkey: Who do they need to contact, you?
Kim McCroskey: Lars Corley. Lars Corley. He coordinates if it’s a big team, if it’s just two or three people that show up and say, “I wanna work.” Then we had a pastor. Don’t remember where he’s from. He was here on vacation, and he came up and gave us two days, and they just gave him a job. I think he was a … I don’t really even remember what he did. I wanna say framing, but we have so many people here it’s hard to keep up with everybody all the time. But these are just wonderful people. They’re just wonderful people. When I say to them, “Thank you,” they say, “No, thank you for allowing us to come and to serve God in this capacity.”
It’s amazing. It’s amazing to see these guys work and to see their attitude towards serving God. If every church operated like Builders for Christ, Satan would have to get another job. It’s incredible, because they are here to glorify God. It’s not about them. It’s about making sure that the kingdom of God is growing, and they’re gonna use their talents and gifts to perpetuate that as much as they can.
Lonnie Wilkey: And it looks like a lot of these are Baptists who participate with Builders for Christ.
Kim McCroskey: They’re all Baptists.
Lonnie Wilkey: They’re all Baptists. They’re-
Kim McCroskey: Yeah. They’re all Southern Baptists. They only deal with Southern Baptist churches. As I said, they go up north mainly, because there’s not many Southern Baptist churches up there. They are just great people, great people. I can’t say enough about them. Most times I can’t talk. I can’t talk to them, or I cry, because they’re such a blessing to us.
Lonnie Wilkey: I know that construction began late May. We’re here in the, near the end of June now. What’s the timetable for completion, or has there been one set yet?
Kim McCroskey: We hope, and we’ll see what happens, because drying in’s the quick part. But we hope to be back before the 28th of November, which was when it left. We’re hoping Thanksgiving, really. It’s the date I’ve been saying. It could be before. It could be after, but at the rate they’re going, we’ve got heat and have people here this week, as you can see upstairs there. There’s a group called Duct Dynasty, D-U-C-T, and they’re here this week, and we had people with HVAC here last week. They should complete all the duct work, setting all the indoor units before this week’s out. So all that’ll be done, and we’ll start drywalling, the insulation first and then drywall.
That’s not a unreasonable goal, November’s not. I guess you could even say it could be before this. Some of these guys are coming back. They’re gonna come back and paint. They’re gonna come back and do whatever needs to be done. We’ve got our plumbers and electricians. Of course, they’re here. They’re not volunteers. But we do have a lot of volunteers that are pulling wire, so that’s saving us money, through Amassi (sp?) Electric. They’re taking into account all the volunteer hours that we’re giving them, that their electrician’s not having to put in, and they’re gonna give us a discount accordingly. And they’re-
Lonnie Wilkey: How much money do you think the volunteers are saving the church, as far as the total cost of rebuilding?
Kim McCroskey: Well over $1 million dollars.
Lonnie Wilkey: Just in labor.
Kim McCroskey: Labor costs. Over $1 million dollars, I would say, or around that. That’s what I was told by, when I met with them. “We’ll save you a million bucks.” And as I said, we’ve had support from not just Baptist churches. We’ve had non-denominational churches. We’ve had Lutheran churches, Methodist churches, from all over the country, some that have went through what we’ve went through, and some that just have a heart that knows that in reality, there’s just one church, and that’s the church of Christ, where he died on the cross for.
It’s about service, about serving God, and a lot of people are doing that, more so on the front end, but we’re still receiving some donations, as far as … as it costs a lot to do this. It’s quite expensive to build two buildings this size. But my prayer is that when we’re done, there’s no debt, because we just got out of debt when I came here 9 years ago. They were drowning in debt, and we got out of debt, about in May of 2015. It’s not something that’s alien to us, but I’d rather not have debt. We could use the money that we do ministry with a lot better than paying a bank note, but you know.
Lonnie Wilkey: So insurance did not cover the total rebuild.
Kim McCroskey: Oh, no, no, no. We had $1 million on the Family Life Center and $1.1 million on this building, plus contents, which was about $320,000. But we decided that we’re gonna build it back like we want it, and then God opened the door for us to get the property behind us, as I’ve told you. God’ll make a way. He’ll make a way. Sometimes you gotta do stuff by faith, and then I know when you build a tower, you gotta count the cost as well, but I believe that we’ll be okay. Our policy still has some more things in it that will pay out. It’ll pay for their sprinkler systems, because the buildings didn’t have to be sprinkled before, and it’s under a clause called ordinance or law. So there’s some dollars left in there for that.
Actually, one of the guys from Builders for Christ is an executive in the insurance business, so he’s able to help me and has been the one that’s been able to … I’ve had to take care of all the insurance claims because we’re not that big of a church and don’t have a whole lot of staff, and so I’ve had to take care of that. I got total payout on the contents, which was … that was a job, because you have to go back and remember everything that you had and list it, and write down how much it cost.
That’s tough when you got church pews that are older than you are. You gotta figure out, how much does this cost? You’ve got a piano that was bought when I was … it was a Baldwin piano that was bought back in the ’60s. Well, the piano, I did find out it was $76,000 for our piano. So even the contents, we were way under-insured, but I don’t guess anyone ever thinks about losing everything like this either.
We had one guy — this is a good story — that was here week before last. He and his wife and kids were here. In one month prior to him coming, he lost everything he had in a fire. Burned his down good, and he came to volunteer his time for the build. So these are incredible people. A lot of people would’ve been home dealing with insurance, but he came and helped build this building. That’s just the kind of people they are, all of them. They’re just incredible people, smiling, happy to be here. That’s the kind of thing they like to do, and that’s why I’ve been here every day.
Lonnie Wilkey: That’s great. When they finally have it in the dry, that would be probably more opportunities for any Tennessee Baptists who wanted to serve.
Kim McCroskey: Sure, yeah.
Lonnie Wilkey: To come and help.
Kim McCroskey: Paint.
Lonnie Wilkey: Drywall, paint.
Kim McCroskey: Drywall, yes, absolutely. We’ve got a … Actually, I wanna tell you about a man from Tennessee. His name’s Mike Ankle, and he lives in Cleveland. He’s a general contractor. He’s not just giving a week. He’s giving his whole summer up to come and run this job. Put his business on hold, and he’s coming up here, and he’s living in my driveway in the motor home. His wife came up and saw him yesterday, and his kids, but he has been here from the get-go. Since we started, Mike has been here, and he’s went home maybe twice. I mean, that’s amazing to me.
He puts his business … I mean, they may be working. They have a crew of men. But he’s here. He’s here every day. He’s here at daylight, and he don’t stop. He’s still down here at dark picking up things. He just doesn’t have his wings yet, because he’s gotta be an angel. He is something special, Mike Ankle is. Like I said, he is a Tennessee Baptist. He’s from Cleveland.
We were gonna have to hire a general contractor, which would’ve cost us a half-a-million dollars, probably, because they would’ve had to have superintendents here. Lars Corley calls me one day. He says, “Have you hired a general contractor yet?” I said, “Not yet.” He says, “I’ve got a man that just called me that says God’s laid it on his heart to come and run that job.”
Lonnie Wilkey: And that was Mike?
Kim McCroskey: And that was Mike.
Lonnie Wilkey: That’s amazing.
Kim McCroskey: Well, how we’ve done this is we’ve got four general contractors that stack their license, because you’ve gotta have a dollar amount. We’ve got one of our deacons and another local general contractor that’s on that building over there, the Family Life Center. Then over here, it’s Mike Ankle and Mike Wallster, which is another general contractor that’s local. These guys put their license up at no cost to us and said, “I wouldn’t be a very good Christian if I didn’t offer this.” It’s amazing. You don’t see that, because it’s normally about the dollars.
These guys are local guys and not, but Mike’s the one that’s been here pretty much as the job superintendent. Now, I’ve hired all the electricians and the plumbers and things like that, but he’s the one that people go to with questions, and he walks … When the one group leaves, Mike’ll come through and see what maybe they were not caught up on. He writes it down. Then he hands it off to the week and says, “This is what we need to catch up on.” He’s incredible. He’s just an amazing man of God.
Lonnie Wilkey: It’s amazing how God brings together exactly what you needed, isn’t it?
Kim McCroskey: It’s something, something special. I just stand amazed.
Lonnie Wilkey: Well, Kim, I appreciate your time, and I appreciate the spirit you have, because I feel like you’ve led through this, through a tough time. We wish you nothing but the best in the days ahead, and we look forward to being here at first service in November, hopefully. So you let us know.
Kim McCroskey: We look forward to it.
Lonnie Wilkey: Thank you.
Kim McCroskey: Yes, sir.