By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FAIRFIELD GLADE — In what could only be described as a divine appointment, two ministers were brought together by God and a partnership was formed that was a blessing to both churches.
Bruce Raley, senior associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, and Doug Elders, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fairfield Glade, were the arrangements committee for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this year. The two ministers had never met before, but they sat together and began a conversation about their respective ministries.
As they talked, Elders related that his congregation, which for many years had held a sports camp to minister to unreached children in the community, was unable to do so this year. FBC, Fairfield Glade, is a medium-sized and primarily senior adult congregation in a resort community near Crossville, Elders noted. In the past, the church had worked with a non-profit ministry to provide the camp, but that was not really an option this year, he said.
As he talked with Raley, the two men began to consider the possibility of a partnership. “Maybe that’s why God put us together,” Raley said.
Raley noted that many of FBC, Hendersonville’s mission trips over the past year-and-a-half have been canceled due to COVID-19. “I thought this would be an easy mission trip for us (only two hours from their congregation) and would be meaningful,” he said.
“We were able to have a mission trip in our state in partnership with a local church,” Raley added.
For Elders and FBC, Fairfield Glade, it was an answer to prayer.
The church had not had Vacation Bible School for a few years and Elders wanted to get it started back. Elders and Raley decided they could still do a sports camp, but include a VBS element.
It proved to be an excellent and effective combination, said Jeremy Cole, children’s director at FBC, Fairfield Glade. The combination event “was a huge blessing” for the church, he affirmed.
First Baptist Hendersonville sent 13 volunteers, mostly college students, along with Ben Baxley, young adult and college pastor. The event began with a block party on Sunday which had to be moved indoors due to a rainstorm, but it proved to be effective and helped set the mood for the week, Cole and Elders agreed.
“I don’t know that the camp could have gone any smoother,” Cole said.
Elders was excited that on the first day of camp, a family connected with the church brought some people with them, including a young girl who had never been to church. She later accepted Christ as her Savior, Elders said.
One boy was in the area visiting his grandparents and attended the VBS/sports camp. He, too, accepted Christ and was baptized with his mother in California watching via livesteam.
“We not only reached people in the Glade and the community, but from California as well,” the pastor observed.
In all, the event registered 60 children and there were at least 17 decisions for Christ, Elders said. Several of those who accepted Christ will be baptized by the church, he added. “It was a great week. We could not have asked for better,” he said.
Both Cole and Elders are hopeful the partnership with First Baptist, Hendersonville, can become ongoing. “I am excited about doing it again next year,” Cole said, adding that he would like to see more larger churches be open to helping smaller churches with major events.
Elders agreed. “We talk about cooperation. This is a way larger churches can invest in our smaller churches,” he said. “Something like this could be a great model for other churches for missions and ministry,” he added.
Raley noted that the trip was “meaningful to our college students and recreational staff. They came back and expressed a desire to return (First Baptist, Fairfield Glade) next year,” he said. B&R