By David Dawson
At Loveland Baptist Church, in Knoxville, the theme was: “Game Still On.”
Despite the damaging effects of a fire on the church campus just one week before VBS was scheduled to begin, the members of Loveland Baptist — bolstered by a spirit of cooperation and compassion from a neighboring church and an assist from Tennessee Disaster Relief — were able to move forward with VBS, just as planned.
Loveland Baptist lost its “old auditorium” (as the members call it) to a fire on the night of June 17. The building — which is used for VBS each year and includes the church’s Sunday School rooms, fellowship hall, kitchen, and the church offices — had already been decorated for this year’s VBS, and the food for the event was stored in the kitchen.
Fortunately, there were no injuries from the fire (the church campus was empty), but important decisions loomed in the aftermath of the blaze.
Pastor Jonathan Grills and the other church leaders began discussing the possibility of postponing, or perhaps even cancelling, VBS.
“But we had worked really hard on preparing for it, and we’d advertised for it and all of those things,” said Grills.
So, the church started praying. And things started happening.
First, Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church stepped forward. The church, which had just completed its VBS the previous week, was eager to help Loveland Baptist.
“They told us that they still had all of their VBS decorations and the DVDs (for the praise and worship times),” said Grills. “They said, ‘we’ve got everything you need. Just give us the word and we’ll bring it over.’ ”
The food problem was also quickly solved.
When Wes Jones, the disaster relief specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was made aware of the situation, he contacted Alan Kruger and the Disaster Relief volunteers at First Baptist Church, Concord, and they provided what Loveland needed.
“This is a great illustration of what brothers and sisters in Christ should do when one has a need,” said Jones. “Who knows what children will come to know Christ this week because of sister churches working together to provide materials, food, and workers to make this VBS take place.”
Grills, who has been the pastor at Loveland Baptist for about a year and a half, said God was at work throughout the process, and that the difficult challenges his church faced were an example of God’s sovereignty.
“Sometimes we forget that we serve a God that is real,” said Grills. “Sometimes He has to remind us that He is still on His throne. He knew this was going to happen before it happened.”
Grills said the members of Loveland Baptist rallied together to fight through the adversity, saying, “it wasn’t just a physical fire that was ignited. It also ignited a fire in some of our people.”
Grills was at his home on Sunday night, June 17, when a call came in from one of the church members who lived next to the church. She informed Grills that the church was on fire.
“I threw on some tennis shoes and my blue jeans, and went to the church,” Grills said.
Firefighters battled the blaze deep into the night. They appeared to have the fire almost completely extinguished at one point early in the evening, only to see it rise again, prolonging the intense struggle.
The fire, along with the water damage from the fire hoses, essentially decimated the building, Grills said.
“We weren’t able to get into the building until Monday, but when we did get in there, it was shocking to see,” said Grills. “I don’t know if it was a total loss, but it destroyed pretty much everything we had in the building. I didn’t find one room that wasn’t affected. The downstairs was flooded and there was quite a bit of roof damage.”
Grills said the cause of the fire is still being investigated.
He said the damage to the building was emotional for many of the Loveland members, some of whom had helped build the facility with their own hands.
But Grills reminded his members that the building is just that — a building.
“It’s an important building to all of us,” Grills said. “Some of the men in the church had invested their personal time in building it. But I reminded our people that all of these buildings will eventually go up in smoke. Everything in this world will be taken away. But the church is us. We’re the body.
“And I reminded them that the early church didn’t have buildings or have anything like we have today,” he added. “But God did so much with so little. As long as we depend on Him, He will take care of us.”