Editor’s Note: You can listen to Kim McCroskey discuss the fire that destroyed Roaring Fork Baptist Church last November and the current rebuilding process during Episode 10 of Radio B&R, the official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
GATLINBURG — Fire may have destroyed the buildings at Roaring Fork Baptist Church here last November, but it did not derail the spirit of church members.
After the shock wore off, “we began to figure out what to do next,” said Pastor Kim McCroskey.
“We knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us. Because of that, we went back to business as quickly as possible. That helped us more than anything,” the pastor recalled.
Roaring Fork was one of three Tennessee Baptist Convention churches (along with First Baptist Church and Banner Baptist Church, both in Gatlinburg) that were damaged by the fires that swept through Gatlinburg and Sevier County last November. It was the only one, however, that lost its entire facility, including a sanctuary and fellowship hall that was used for the children’s ministry.
McCroskey said that church members “never felt sorry for ourselves. We never had the thought of not rebuilding.”
On the Sunday following the Nov. 28 fire the church met at Camp Smoky, a Baptist camp owned by Sevier County Association of Baptists, and is continuing to meet at the facility while construction is underway at Roaring Fork.
McCroskey challenged Roaring Fork members that Sunday to move forward and not let the fire keep them from doing the ministry God called them to do. “I just let them know that we were going to rise above the ashes and be bigger and stronger than ever before.”
The church has continued its basic ministries, including a bus ministry for children, despite limited space at Camp Smoky, and Children’s Bible Drill. And, God has continued to bless the church, McCroskey said, noting there have been 37 salvation decisions at Roaring Fork since the fire last November.
The pastor added that Satan “underestimated us. … If Satan probably had this to do over, he would leave us alone. God can see out there where he (Satan) can’t and God knew what was going to be coming in the future.”
What was coming is currently under construction — a new sanctuary that almost doubles the seating of the previous sanctuary (from 229 to 448) as well as a new family life center that will house both children’s and youth ministries.
McCroskey recalled that in December he received a phone call from Builders for Christ, an organization based in Birmingham, Ala., that builds a church every year. The church they had scheduled for 2017 had canceled on Nov. 29 (the day after the fire) and leaders for the organization heard about Roaring Fork’s plight.
“I really didn’t know anything about Builders for Christ,” McCroskey admitted. “They found me. It was a God thing.”
Since the rebuilding effort began the week before Memorial Day in May, volunteers from 22 states (including Tennessee) have traveled to Gatlinburg to help Roaring Fork.
“Every day I come in, and I’ve been here every day since this started, it’s incredible to see how these people work. They are a visible example of how the local church should work. … They’re just happy to be giving up their time and paying their own way to come here to give their gifts and talents to rebuild our buildings,” the pastor observed.
He estimated the volunteer labor will save the church $1 million in rebuilding costs, a vital savings to the church because insurance did not cover the total cost to rebuild. In addition, the church purchased two lots adjacent to the church when homeowners decided not to rebuild.
Mike Hinkle, a member of Candies Creek Baptist Church, Charleston, gave up his summer to serve as general contractor. He is a volunteer for both Builders for Christ and Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years and this came along,” Hinkle said.
From his experience with his own construction company, Hinkle is amazed at how quickly the project came together. “We shouldn’t even have had the permits,” he said.
Hinkle, however, is quick to give all the credit to the Lord. “This is a God-size task and God makes it all happen.”
McCroskey agreed. He is grateful for what not only Builders for Christ have done, but for help provided immediately after the fire by Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. DR volunteers helped with the demolition of the family life center. McCroskey said the assistance showed the church that “we’re part of an organization that is more than smoke and mirrors. It’s an organization that cares.”
The pastor asked for continued prayers as construction continues at Roaring Fork. He also noted Tennessee Baptists are welcome to volunteer. “Come up and put on a hard hat and a pair of gloves. There’s a lot of jobs to do,” McCroskey said.
For more information about volunteering, contact McCroskey at 865-898-4428.