By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
GATLINBURG — Though the wildfires that swept through the community Nov. 28 destroyed or damaged three Baptist churches, leaders are not discouraged.
Of the three churches affected by the fire, Roaring Fork Baptist was completely destroyed, losing its sanctuary and all of its other buildings. Pastor Kim McCroskey noted that while the buildings are gone, the church (the people) remains.
“We’re hopeful. We will persevere and we will rise out of the ashes,” he predicted. “For whatever reason God let it happen. We’ll rebuild and will be better than ever for His glory.”
The pastor noted that at least six people in his church lost homes in the fire.
Until they are able to rebuild, Roaring Fork will meet at Camp Smoky, owned by Sevier County Association of Baptists.. As an example of how the association’s churches are pulling together, members of Millican Grove Baptist Church in Sevierville, were at the camp on Nov. 30, cleaning the building that Roaring Fork will use, said Robert Nichols, director of missions for the association. “Tragedies bring people together,” the DOM observed.
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First Baptist Church, Gatlinburg, lost its youth building and about a dozen members lost their homes, including Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner and city manager Cindy Ogle.
Pastor Larry Burcham asked Tennessee Baptists to continue praying for the situation. “Prayers are vitally important,” he said. “That’s what we need more than anything right now.”
In a later interview with Baptist Press, Burcham noted the “people here are very tenacious and they’re obviously in touch with reality enough that this hurts and it’s discouraging. But yet they believe God’s still with us as well, walking with us through this situation.”
Jones was able to present checks to McCroskey and Burcham on behalf of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief to help them in the short term. Help also will be provided to Banner Baptist Church as well. Jones and others went to the church that lost its fellowship hall and sustained some damage to its other two buildings, but were unable to connect with the pastor or other church leaders.
Baptist Press was able to contact Banner Baptist pastor Pete Lamon. He said his current sermon series on the Old Testament book of Job has proven “almost prophetic.”
“The title of my series was ‘When the Storms of Life Are Raging,’ and the whole point is how you deal with hard times,” Lamon told BP. “We never thought of it in this context.”
A former volunteer firefighter who served 10 years as assistant chief of the Gatlinburg Fire Department, Lamon said a small Sunday School building sustained “some exterior damage.” Smoke damage to the sanctuary likely will take three or four weeks to repair.
In the meantime, the congregation will locate a temporary meeting place, Lamon said.
The fire seems to be “something that will strengthen us as a congregation,” Lamon said. “Like at most churches, hard times pull people together. They begin to work together, and they realize how much they need each other.
Gifts can be given online at TNDisasterRelief.org/contributions or mailed to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 728, Brentwood, TN 37024. Indicate Disaster Relief on the check.
— This article includes reporting by David Roach of Baptist Press.