STANTON — Weaving through a maze of nearly 200 folding tables, Ben Cowell and Alan O’Quinn went on an unscheduled prayerwalk on the morning of April 14.
The two men — Cowell, senior pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church, and O’Quinn, a deacon at BBC — zig-zagged their way around the sprawling pavilion located in the middle of BlueOval City, praying passionately for the luncheon that would be held about an hour later.
The event — hosted by more than a dozen Baptist churches and supported by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief — would ultimately feed more than 1,000 construction workers during a 90-minute stretch later that afternoon.
“This is just massively cool,” said Cowell, referring to the opportunity to make connections with the construction workers. “Whenever I get to be a part of something like this, my heart starts beating really fast. To be on the cusp of someone’s spiritual awakening is just an amazing feeling.”
Tennessee Baptists, along with other churches from around the country, are being intentional and assertive about making an impact for Christ in BlueOval City. The luncheon was the unofficial start of the “BlueOval initiative” that will take place over the next several years.
“This was the first big event in terms of having the opportunity to really establish some relationships,” said Danny Sinquefield, Harvest Field One Team Leader for the TBMB. “We’ve had some partnership meetings and prayer meetings, but this event is the one that essentially served as the kick-off for our initiative.”
What is BlueOval City?
Located in Haywood County, roughly 40 miles east of Memphis, BlueOval City in Stanton will eventually become a massive Ford plant that covers approximately 4,100 acres.
The project was first announced to the public in September of last year. It will ultimately employ about 10,000 people, and is expected to cost $5.6 billion — which would make it the most expensive single investment in Tennessee history.
Other key facts about the plant in Stanton include:
• There will be more than 10,000 employees at the time of full operation.
• The population within a 20-minute radius of the area will grow by an estimated 92,000 people within 10 years.
• BlueOval City will be 40 percent larger than the Saturn plant built by General Motors in Spring Hill.
• Ford intends to invest more than $500 million in growth incentives to support infrastructure, roads and schools.
• The project is being constructed at the Memphis Regional Megasite, also known as the West Tennessee Megasite, which was designated as an industrial site in September 2009.
• The name “BlueOval City” is a reference to the Ford logo.
How the luncheon worked
The luncheon, which celebrated the completion of one million man hours of workplace operation at the BlueOval site, was bolstered by the contributions of more than 100 Baptist volunteers, representing 15 churches.
The Tennessee Baptist DR feeding unit prepared and served food, providing each of the workers with a hamburger, a hot dog, baked beans and their choice of dessert, along with a cold drink.
With 10 serving stations operating at peek efficiency, the construction workers were able to zoom through the line in short order. Most of the workers were seated, and eating, less than five minutes after they entered the building.
“You’ve got to hand it to our DR folks — those guys are true pros,” said Sinquefield. “Watching that whole thing unfold was really amazing. And clearly, God was in it all the way.”
The assignment of feeding more than 1,000 people in under two hours was obviously a daunting task. But a strong showing of teamwork — along with the wisdom and experience of numerous mass-feeding veterans — helped ensure the smoothness of the operation.
The volunteers, who were easily recognizable with their green hats and warm smiles, helped the workers ease through the lines and get seated at one of the 200 tables inside the massive room.
“We are very blessed with outstanding volunteers,” said Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the TBMB. “They work hard and they do it to serve the Lord.”
The day began with the unloading of the DR trucks around 8 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the grills and burners were cranked up, and the smell of burgers and hot dogs was wafting around the complex.
Inside the building, other volunteers were hustling here and there, putting out tablecloths, organizing the cold drinks and performing a wide variety of other tasks.
Lending a Hand
Volunteers from all around the state, including a Spanish-speaking church in earby Brownsville, made the trip to Stanton to help with the luncheon on the BlueOval site.
Participating churches from Tennessee included: First Baptist, Covington; Faith Baptist Bartlett; Zion Baptist; Brownsville Baptist; Summerville Baptist; Poplar Corner Baptist, Brownsville; Allen Baptist, Brownsville; Charleston Baptist, Stanton; Collierville First Baptist; First Baptist, Lexington; Harmony Baptist, Whitesville; First Baptist, Newbern, Hope of Glor,y Brownsville, Cristo Rey, Brownsville, Smyrna Baptist, Burlison and First Baptist Millington.
Two churches from outside the state also participated. (See related sidebar).
“There is a rising tide of excitement, unity and purpose among our churches who are involved with this,” said Sinquefield. “It’s such a great reminder that we really are in the people business.”
Cliff Marion, pastor of FBC, Covington, has certainly been doing a lot of serving in recent days.
Last month, the Covington area was hit by a tornado, causing devastating damage to the community. Churches from around the state, along with Tennessee Baptist DR teams, helped ignite the recovery process in the area.
Now, Marion and FBC are helping others in a different way by diving into the BlueOval project.
“I could not wait to get here and respond to this awesome opportunity that God has given us,” said Marion, who came with a group of eight from FBC, including the entire ministerial staff and two individuals who work on the mass feeding unit.
Marion said the church has been busy with the recovery efforts since the storms in Covington, but said he did not want to miss the chance to lend a hand.
“We’ve been going wide open for the past two weeks since the tornado,” he said. “But with this (luncheon), we just really wanted to impact our community — both Covington county and beyond. God continues opening doors, and we just want to walk through them and meet the opportunities.”
Sinquefield said the success of the luncheon showcased how church leaders and, subsequently their churches, are embracing the BlueOval initiative.
“The bottom line is this: the pastors are making it happen,” Sinquefield said. “What we saw at the luncheon was the result of our pastors paying attention to what’s going on and looking for opportunities to make connections.”
The network of churches who have joined the project are being called “The BlueOval Coalition.”
Mike Young, senior pastor at Zion Baptist Church, Brownsville, and Cowell, senior pastor of Brownsville Baptist Church, have helped lead the charge in terms of making inroads with the BlueOval body of workers and leaders.
“I’m overwhelmed by the greatness of this opportunity,” said Cowell. “Just stop and look around: God is using us to expand the kingdom. How awesome is that?”
Sinquefield noted that Ken Lewis, bivocational pastor at Briarwood Baptist in Cordova, was the one who got the ball rolling for the luncheon.
“He called me one day and mentioned that a lady who works as an engineer with the Walbridge Construction Company (who are building the site) had recently joined (Lewis’ church),” said Sinquefield.
At the time, Lewis was aware that the TBMB, and Sinquefield in particular, had been building relationships with the BlueOval contingent.
So, Lewis asked Sinquefield if he would like to connect with the new church member.
Sinquefield quickly jumped at the chance.
“I started making contact with her and that’s really what ultimately led to (the luncheon) coming together,” he said.
Sinquefield said the momentum of the ministry in BlueOval city — and specifically, the chance to make an impact among the massive influx of families that will be arriving in Stanton over the next few years — is building quickly.
“The excitement about this initiative is spreading,” he said. “One of our main objectives is for this to be a state-wide thing, and that is exactly what is happening.
“The Lord is allowing us to have our churches be fully engaged with the people who are moving into these communities,” he said. “God is giving us a wonderful opportunity to be used for Him — and we can’t miss out on it.” B&R