Forty Forks Baptist Church, once closed, now has debt-free facility in Bethel Springs
By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BETHEL SPRINGS — Forty Forks Baptist here was closed several times and the congregation’s small, one-room, block building sat abandoned for about six years when Randy Smith got involved.
Smith, who at that time had felt called to the ministry for a couple of years, had grown up at Forty Forks Baptist.
But not only had the church been closed after the congregation had disbanded, but the building’s ceiling had collapsed and it never had running water or a bathroom.
Ron Davidson, director of missions, Shiloh Baptist Association, based in Adamsville, which is about 24 miles east of Bethel Springs, encouraged Smith to reopen the church but Smith resisted for about a year or so. Sometimes he went to the church to pray as he considered what the Lord wanted him to do.
Finally, Smith agreed to work at the church though at times during the manual labor which had to be done on the church he wondered what he was thinking. Smith did have several friends who had bought into the plan and helped him.
“The Lord just wouldn’t let me get away from doing it and we had to go there,” said Smith recently. “He (God) just wanted it (the church) here in this community.”
After cleaning up the building and renovating it for six months in their time off from their businesses, Smith and the new leaders of Forty Forks held a grand opening of the church in March 2007 and 97 people attended though they had to use a portable restroom.
Very soon the congregation began building a new 10,000 square foot building, again doing much of the work themselves though they also received help from the community. They moved into their new building in 2009 and this past November 2015, just eight years after Forty Forks reopened, another momentous event was held — the church burned the note on its building making it debt-free. The new building is worth about $1 million.
The church only borrowed about $335,000 for the new building, reported Smith. The old building, only 1,000 square feet, is still being used. The new building was paid off in about six years.
Smith, who had been out for surgery last fall, came back early from his recovery period to be a part of the note burning. Smith is still recovering but is back to preaching and ministering.
Today, Forty Forks Baptist draws about 150 people each Sunday morning. Last year the congregation gave about 3.3 percent of its undesignated offerings through the Cooperative Program to Southern Baptist missions and ministries as well as giving to the association and other missions work. The church has no wealthy people, said Smith.
“We’re ready for the next year,” said Smith. “God has really blessed us, that’s for sure. … We give Him the glory.”
Davidson said the story of the church and its pastor is important. He said he knew it would be a struggle to reopen the church which not only had been closed but was located in Bethel Springs, a rural community located just north of Selmer and about 35 miles southeast of Jackson.
The community needed a church and Smith “knew the church and he knew the people and how to reach them,” said Davidson. He’s also glad Smith took on the challenge of ministering at home to people he thought at times knew him too well. Smith also has been involved in overseas missions work and enjoyed that. Yet he went to the church and stayed at it though it is his first and only church to pastor.
Davidson asked Tennessee Baptists to pray for the church and especially for Smith as he faces health problems.
“The church is doing real well. … A church that died has come back to life,” said Davidson.