The First Years at Bible Baptist Church
In 1950 the population of Jacksonville, Arkansas was 2,474. During the fifties and into the sixties there was such a tremendous growth and development that Jacksonville became recognized as Arkansas’ fastest growing community . This growth was due to the opening of Little Rock Air Force Base and the movement of people from larger cities to suburban areas . By 1962, the population had increased to 16,715. The Arkansas Baptist Bible Fellowship recognized this rapid growing community as a potential site to hold an old- fashioned tent revival , with the thought of planting a New Testament,Fundamental, Independent Church in the area. In the summer of 1959, the fellowship preachers from the Little Rock area set up a tent on an open field off First Street, just north of the business buildings and across from the Railroad Depot. There they conducted an old-time revival. From this meeting, the Bible Baptist Church emerged. There was only a handful of people at the beginning, but they loved the Lord and wanted a place to meet and worship together. A building was rented at 108 Marshall Road, which was an old army barracks, set in a wooded area. The building was cold in the winter and the mosquitoes thick in the summer. It was here that the group was first organized under the leadership of the Arkansas Baptist Bible Fellowship and was named Bible Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Arkansas.
A gentleman from Little Rock came out and met with the little flock for a time (can’t remember the name) and then Euel Wright, who was then stationed at LRAFB, for a time until he received orders and was shipped out.
(Information in the above two paragraphs is from memory as related to us by John Cozart (now deceased) who was at that time pastor of the Harmony Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas and was very instrumental in the organization of the church.)
At this point in time, Harold Stroud heard of the young church through the Arkansas Baptist Bible Fellowship. Arrangements were made so that on the first Sunday of June 1960, he came, with his family, to Jacksonville to speak for them. It was a hot , sultry, summer day; the humidity so high that it was stifling – a day you could never forget. A young man, with his wife and baby, met them at First and Main Streets on that Sunday morning to direct them to the church.
There were five adults and one baby, plus the Strouds in attendance for their first service in Jacksonville “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them….” Here were a people with a love for souls and a heart for missions. They were at this time supporting Brother James Turner, (their first missionary) at $5.00 a month. He had been serving with Maryland Avenue Baptist Church in Little Rock prior to his approval by the Baptist Bible Fellowship Mission Board for the field of Pakistan, so was not a stranger to the fellowship churches of the area. Receiving a call from the church, and having a vision of the possibilities of a strong, soul-winning work in this community and with the desire to serve, Brother Stroud moved his family to Arkansas . They rented a two-room apartment in Little Rock until housing could be found in Jacksonville.
During this period of rapid growth in the population in Jacksonville, that is, the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, people were living in anything that could be found – some were mere shanties. Many families had no car; and the only bus service was an inter-city bus, which ran to and from Little Rock, taking an hour or more each way to make the trip. People did a lot of walking. The Strouds commuted to and from Little Rock for church services until September, when a house became available at 1204 McArthur Drive. There they made their home until September of 1976.
In July 1960, Bible Baptist conducted its first Vacation Bible School . This was an exciting time for the boys and girls. The high attendance was 22 with an average of 19 for the week.
Bible Baptist held its first revival as an organized church August 8- 14, 1960 , with Irick Polin from Pine Bluff as evangelist. Before the week was over, he received an urgent call from home and the meeting continued with others participating.
On September 11, 1960, the church called for the ordination of Brother Stroud. Those participating on the ordination committee were: Claude Miles, James Turner, Charles Bishop, John Cozart, Albert J Smith of Little Rock; Raymond Bugg, Irick Polin, John G Economides of Pine Bluff; and Euel Wright of Jacksonville , Arkansas. People came from other fellowship churches of the area to the service, so there was a big crowd and full house.
Bible Baptist was using benches loaned by a fellowship church in Little Rock until they had a need for them. Then, Harmony Baptist in Little Rock loaned the church chairs to use for a while. Soon the church bought materials from the Whit Davis Lumber Company on credit, and the men set to work building their very own pews. Through much sweat and fighting mosquitoes for several days, the men worked in the evenings , out under the trees until dark. When the job was finished, everyone was so proud of them. They were not just benches, but “pews”.
The church had dinner together one Sunday during the warm weather, setting up a table outside in the shade . Brother Stroud went back inside the building for some reason and saw a big snake crawling across the room. He did not tell anyone about it for fear the group would soon scatter four directions.
Harmony Baptist in Little Rock and Bible Baptist had a baptismal service together , which was in a creek the other side of Little Rock. This was their first baptismal service. A young lady, Janis Russell, was baptized at this time. After this first baptismal, the church used the baptistery at Fairview Baptist Church in Little Rock until 1966.
In the fall, there was a special service with a missionary emphasis when a friend of the Strouds came to visit from Ohio. She had recently returned from a trip to the mission field of West Africa. She showed slides of the missionaries and of their works there, and told of her experiences while visiting with them.
Another highlight for Bible Baptist was a guest speaker (cannot remember his name), who was a bush pilot for Wycliff Bible Publishers in South America . He knew personally, members of the Elliott party, who were killed by the bush people of the Amazon.
Some of the families who had a part in the very early years of the little church were: Wayne Hitchcock, T J Tootle (a single airman), Euel Wright, Richard House, Don Ramsey, Carroll Poole, John Miller, and Mrs Marie Russell, Mrs Gladys Barnard, Mrs Evelyn Murphy and their children. There were others whose names we cannot recall. Services were humble. The pastor, for the most part, was everything from janitor to the preacher. The mother of one of the ladies came down from Michigan for a visit and she would
play the piano. What a blessing! Other times, the pastor would chord on the piano while the people sang with as much gusto as they could – “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Bible Baptist was probably the poorest church in Jacksonville financially, but needed desperately to get out of rented facilities. Prior to May 1961, a building fund was started. In due time, about 1963, land was purchased from a Mr Wilson, a son of Mrs Jessie Wilson, at Gregory and First Streets, just across the road from the Bayou Meto Cemetery. A down payment was made on the property and then regular monthly payments until the land was clear . Plans were made to put up a small building which could be expanded later.
The first funeral of the church was for Richard T House in 1963. Brother House was the picture of a stately southern gentleman . He was a dedicated Christian and served the Lord in whatever capacity he could until his home-going. He was buried in the cemetery across from the church on First Street.
The first year that the church participated in Youth Camp, there was one camper for the entire week; and another two were overnighters. This was at Bogg Springs encampment near Mena, Arkansas.
All offerings above rent, electricity, and that given to missions went into the building fund. When the land was paid off, the church set forth to put up a concrete block building, capable of seating 100 people. This building was financed on the credit of Mr Haywood Gardner, a contractor from Little Rock, whom Brother Stroud was working for at the time. Except for laying up the concrete blocks, all labor was volunteer help. By May 1964, the building was almost complete. As soon as the building was in the dry, the church moved in, although it was only four walls and a roof. At this time there were no gas or water lines to the property; only the electricity. The people were happy and rejoiced to be in their own facility. Now the church could establish permanency in the community. The first winter in the building was very cold, or it seemed to be. The church used propane gas to heat the building, but this was not sufficient to keep it warm enough for comfort. The propane bottles were stolen two or three times. Satan was
working. However, the ladies just wore their coats, gloves and overshoes during the services and the church continued on. When the time came that the church made the final payment to Mr Gardner, who had been so helpful, he would not accept any interest. All praise to the Lord!
In the spring, porches were added to the front and north entrances of the church. June 6, 1965, 2 : 30 PM, there was a special church dedication service for the Jacksonville Bible Baptist Church at First and Gregory. Brother John Cozart of Harmony Baptist in Little Rock preached the message. The church was host to the Arkansas Fellowship, and there was a packed house. What was going on at that little church on First and Gregory? Things were happening – the Lord was blessing!
The building and land was now free of indebtedness. Praise His Name, for His many blessings. People came into the church and people left, mostly to orders for overseas duty. The church was growing and had a vision of greater victories from the Lord. In May 1966, Brother Stroud contacted Dr Lee Roberson of Tennessee Temple Schools seeking a man who would be interested in laboring with the church at Jacksonville. He recommended two men. After corresponding with Brother Gary Woods, he came to
Jacksonville the weekend of June 12th in view of a call from the church.
Brother Stroud continued to serve in various offices of the church until September 1976. Within a week or so, Brother Woods moved his family into a home located at 1423 Rebel Drive. This was a home vacated by one of the church members, who had received orders to overseas duty.
Brother Wood’s first Sunday as pastor was July 3, 1966. About this time, the church gained three families who were residing on LRAFB. As the church could not visit door to door on base, this was special blessing, and through their testimony and witness, contacts were made there.
The church continued to grow with souls being saved and added to the church . Landmark Baptist on North First Street was now being used for baptismal services, and continued to do so until February 1971. Later in the year a wooden addition was built to the original building. This was all through volunteer labor. The added space provided a much needed nursery and class room. 1967 was a period of stretching forth. The ladies were organized into a missions prayer group and visitation program, in addition to the church-wide visitation. The men met for prayer each Sunday morning before services. The youth met regularly one night a week. A choir had been organized. More space needed? Yes.
The wooden structure was pulled out from the block building and an extension of block was added. Then, the wooden structure pushed back in place. This provided additional room for classes.
The first church wedding for Bible Baptist was June 10, 1967. Miss Janis Russell became the bride of Jim Ellison.
In October or early November , a local trailer company provided the use of a 50×12 foot Office Trailer, rent free, for one year – room for three large class rooms. A special thanksgiving offering was used to pay off the recent expansion. The record attendance for the year was 105.
The year of 1968 started off with a revival, January 29 – February 4 with Evangelist Paul Dixon. On February 18, 1968, a new building was proposed . The church voted to construct a two-story building, which would be financed through the issue and sale of bonds. This addition would be a two-story unit 88’4” x 42′. There would be two large
assembly rooms (one for each floor), ten class rooms, restrooms, and a kitchen.
There was a banquet at the Ramada Inn on March 18th for the purpose of explaining the bond program. Ground breaking for the new building was on March 24 , 1968. Another record in attendance was reached on March 10th. There were 129 in Sunday School on that date. In June a committee was appointed to review the Constitution
and By-Laws for the purpose of recommending necessary changes.
Camp for the youth was June 11-14. Camp was at Bogg Springs, Mena, Arkansas again this year and there were 18 campers.
The Pastor and Mrs Woods had been working at other jobs while on part-time with the church. They were put on full-time pay with the church, and this was another victory.
In September there was a church picnic at Dupree Park. This was a time of fun, fellowship, and relaxation.
By October the church membership had risen to 109. Special Christmas services were provided by the choir.
Highlights – 1969. Copies of the Constitution and By-Laws of Bible Baptist Church, adopted February 2 , 1966 and amended January 1969 were distributed to members. The monthly budget to Missions was $40.00. Work on the building was coming along, but there was a need to sell more bonds. John Cozart, now a member, during a transition period from Little Rock to Leasburg, Missouri, did the heating systems.
On February a son was born to Pastor and Mrs Woods. March 2nd was the third annual ” Civilian vs Military” Day. The first year of the contest the civilians won, however, the military forged ahead and won in attendance in 1968 and in 1969. March 16-23 there was a revival with Rev Walter Kirk, who was one of the trustees of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.
Pastor and family took a much needed vacation May 12-30. Trying to finish the building, sell bonds, and doing the ministry of the church had been a drain on the pastor and a heavy burden. June 9-13 was summer camp at Bogg Springs Encampment. Twelfth Street Baptist in Little Rock loaned the church one of their busses as there were 30 campers. The cost had risen to $14.50 per camper. Special speakers for July were Dwaine Baker, missionary to Ethiopia and Harold Taggart, missionary to the Navajo Indians in Arizona and John Cozart. An ensemble from Bob Jones University was a blessing with their special music. Few churches grow much during a building project. A concentrated effort toward the building work was put forth for the next six weeks by the men, ladies, and teens. This was a united effort. Praise the Lord for His blessings during this time in allowing the church to hold their attendance during the months of construction. By mid-summer the wooden building, which was constructed in early 1966 was gone – removed from the block building. The church lost almost no funds on the building as the lumber was used in the new construction. The Office Trailer was also removed from the property by September. August 3, 1969 all the bonds had been sold. August the 10th was a very special day as this was the date of the first service in the new two-story building. A new piano had been received for the auditorium. There was still much work to be done as the church was using the first floor only.
There was a revival with Brother S G Hancock August 18- 24. The auditorium of the first building was now known as the Youth Building. It was used for their Friday night meetings, as well as for Sunday School on Sunday mornings. On August 27th, a Wednesday night, Pastor Woods read his resignation to the church effective as of September 28 , 1969. He and Mrs Woods had been accepted as home missionaries, and would join the staff of Shawnee Valley Boys Ranch, Harrison, Arkansas.
The church voted to buy a parsonage September 3, 1969. They purchased the three bed-room home at 1423 Rebel Drive, which had been a home for Pastor Woods and family. This house was four years old and in very good condition. Payments on the property was $74 .00 a month with interest at 5.25% on a thirty year note. It was to serve as a good home for future pastors. The annual picnic at Dupree Park was September 27th.
October 5 – Welcome to Brother Larry Warren as a candidate for the pulpit. He accepted the call extended to him by the church and his first Sunday as pastor was October 26th. He was a native of Jacksonville, Florida and Mrs Warren, a native of Indianapolis, Indiana. They would make their home in the church parsonage.
On November 14th, one of the Bible Baptist youth group was elected president of the Arkansas Youth Fellowship. What an honor!
On November 23rd, Gerald Row, missionary to Peru, was the guest speaker. He brought one of the nationals along to give his testimony to the church.
On the evening of December 8th, the young people invited the entire church to be their guests at a skating party. This was at Bud’s skating rink in Cabot. Sixty-five people from the church were there.
The first special Christmas missions offering amounted to $406.50. The church was now using the second floor of the new building. Still there were no water or sewer connections. New Year’s Eve service was December 31.
Through the Year – 1970
In January, the church lost several families due to the change-over at the base. This was something that was experienced several times over during the history of the church. Those lost was someone else’s gain. No doubt many people have gone out from Bible Baptist as witnesses in the United States and to foreign countries. On January 25th special recognition was given to those families leaving and a welcome to new families coming in. In February many new families were moving into the city. These were prospects from Stewart Air Force Base. What a challenge and responsibility to reach them for Christ. February 8th was designated as Friend’s Day.
By March 1st, sidewalks to the buildings were finished, there was a Teachers/Workers Banquet,and the annual Military vs Civilian Sunday (with the military winning the third year in a row), had all taken place.
An excerpt from the Church Bulletin dated 3-15-70 read, “Soon we will have our water connected. During the years, we have probably lost folks because we had no rest-room facilities. Pray that in a week or two everything will be completed.”
April 8-12 was a revival with Greg Dixon as speaker. It was a great revival; souls were saved and baptized into the church. On April 9th, Bible Baptist was host church for the Arkansas Baptist Fellowship. April was a month of victories. Brother David Steffy, missionary to the Philippine Islands, was guest speaker May 3rd. He was a veteran missionary and challenged hearts for missions. May 24th the church purchased a 1960 Dodge, 54 passenger bus. The bus was in good condition and had a luggage rack on top. Now, we had our own bus for youth camp, besides the possibility of a bus ministry for the church. On June 7th a bus route was started. The wheels on the bus went
round and round as it brought people to the services. June 8-12 was Youth Camp at Lonsdale, Arkansas. This was a new camp about forty miles from Jacksonville. There were 38 campers. Brother warren was elected as Camp Chairman for the 1971 encampment.
Two new missionaries were added to the budget … Bob Hillyer in Alaska and Bob Frazier in Chili. This raised the budget to $75.00 monthly. As the church grew, so did the needs. Bethany Baptist Church of Conway gave some pews to the church. The seats were much needed and deeply appreciated. July 26th experienced the largest offering ever, which was over $600.00
July 27-31 – Vacation Bible School under the direction of the pastor’s wife. The average attendance was 232 with a high on Friday of 275. A special commencement program was August lst in the evening service. August 31st broke all Sunday School records with a great attendance of 152.
September 1st was Promotion Day and a Fall Campaign began. The church picnic was at Dupree Park on the 19th. Good Christian fun and fellowship, with plenty of food, was enjoyed by all.
October 4th was designated Old Fashhion Day, and dinner on the ground after the morning service. October 5-11 a revival was conducted with W N Otwell as Evangelist.
Excerpt from Brother Warren’s letter to the church, which was printed in the bulletin dated Oct 4, 1970: “A year ago we visited the church in view of a possible call. The Lord led and we answered the call. On the last Sunday of this month, we will observe our first year anniversary at Bible Baptist Church. We have seen many come and go since last October because of the military. We have seen great victories won. Souls have been saved, people have been baptized, Christians added to the church, and great attendance records have been set. What a great year it has been.”
The first Faith Promise Mission Conference was November ll-15. The speakers were John Barnes, Costa Rica; David Steffy, Philippines; David Harrell, Brazil; Tom Wallace, Australia; and James Phillips, pastor of Twelfth Street Baptist Church, Little Rock. Hearts were challenged again for missions. The conference ended with promise
by faith to increase missionary giving. On December 13th brought another record breaking attendance in the morning service of 168.
December 20 – A Christmas cantata by the choir. December 31 – New Year’s Eve service. A film was shown and Paul Deleyon, missionary to France was one of the speakers. The highlight of the evening was a time of prayer – praying the New Year in at midnight.
Marching On – 1971
1971 brought new challenges for Bible Baptist. February marked many victories. The missions monthly budget for the new year was increased to $205.00. The kitchen in the
new building was completed. Also, the new baptistery was received and installed. February 14th marked a record attendance of 188 in Sunday School. On February 28 , 1971 was the first baptismal service in the home church. Youth Camp was divided into two camps for 1971 – a Junior and a Senior Camp.
Highlights through the years was information taken from personal records, newspaper clippings and church bulletins. The figures quoted were the best that we could come up with from church bulletins. Bulletins were not available for research prior to November 1967 , when they were first printed.
The Years Since
The Lord has continue to bless Bible Baptist Church over the many years since the old-fashion tent-revival during the summer of 1959. Bible Baptist Church has since been able under the leadership of great men such as Dr. Harris and current pastor Dr. Mike Files to expand the ministry to reach more people for the cause of Christ. Jacksonville Christian Academy was formed to provide the youth of Jacksonville with a Christian education. Also, a 65 acre property in Jacksonville was able to be purchased as home of Bethel Baptist College to train servants for the Saviour. Children all around the Jacksonville area come to Camp Hope every summer to leave the worldly influences and get their hearts in tune with God. Our prayer is that the Lord will continue to bless Bible Baptist Church in the many decades to come as he has in the last 50 years.
We at Bible Baptist Church all stay very busy with the many ministries that surround the church here. There is something for everyone. We have one of the most diversified congregations found anywhere. People intermingle, young and old alike grow to know each other better and serve the Lord together fulfilling His great commission. Come find the place where you can fit in, and make a difference.