GATLINBURG, Tenn.—A wildfire may have destroyed Roaring Fork Baptist Church’s buildings, but it didn’t derail the spirit of church members.
Once the shock wore off last November, “we began to figure out what to do next,” said Kim McCroskey, pastor of the Gatlinburg, Tenn., congregation.
“We knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us. Because of that, we went back to business as quickly as possible. That helped us more than anything,” McCroskey said.
Roaring Fork was one of three Tennessee Baptist churches—along with First Baptist Church and Banner Baptist Church, also in Gatlinburg—damaged by the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg and Sevier County last November. Roaring Fork was the only one that lost its entire facility, including a sanctuary and a fellowship hall used for children’s ministry.
Church members “never felt sorry for ourselves. We never had the thought of not rebuilding,” McCroskey said.
On the Sunday following the Nov. 28 wildfire, the church began meeting at Camp Smoky, a Baptist camp owned by Sevier County Association of Baptists, and then met under an open-air 300-seat temporary pavilion during the summer before returning to the camp when cooler weather set in.
McCroskey challenged Roaring Fork members that first Sunday to move forward and not let the fire keep them from the ministry God called them to do. “I just let them know that we were going to rise above the ashes and be bigger and stronger than ever before,” he recounted.
Roaring Fork has continued its basic ministries, including a bus ministry for children, despite limited space at Camp Smoky, and Children’s Bible Drill.
And God has continued to bless the congregation, McCroskey said, noting there have been some 50 salvation decisions at Roaring Fork since the fire last November, counting local people, some construction volunteers and even tourists.
Satan “underestimated us,” the pastor said. “If Satan probably had this to do over, he would leave us alone. God can see out there where he (Satan) can’t and God knew what was going to be coming in the future.”
What was coming is currently under construction—a new sanctuary that almost doubles the seating of the previous sanctuary, from 229 to 448, as well as a new family life center that will house both children’s and youth ministries.
In December, McCroskey received a call from Builders for Christ, an organization based in Birmingham, Ala., that builds a church every year. The church they had scheduled to assist for 2017 had canceled on Nov. 29, the day after the fire, and leaders for the organization heard about Roaring Fork’s plight.
“I really didn’t know anything about Builders for Christ,” McCroskey said. “They found me. It was a God thing.”
Since the rebuilding effort began the week before Memorial Day, volunteers from Tennessee and 21 other states have traveled to Gatlinburg to help Roaring Fork.
“Every day I come in, and I’ve been here every day since this started, it’s incredible to see how these people work,” McCroskey said. “They are a visible example of how the local church should work…. They’re just happy to be giving up their time and paying their own way to come here to give their gifts and talents to rebuild our buildings.”
The volunteer labor will save the church $1 million in rebuilding costs, by the pastor’s estimate, a vital savings because insurance did not cover the total cost to rebuild. In addition, the church purchased two lots adjacent to the church when homeowners decided not to rebuild.
McCroskey said he is grateful not only for Builders for Christ, but for help provided immediately after the fire by Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. DR volunteers helped with the demolition of the family life center.
The assistance showed the congregation that “we’re part of an organization that is more than smoke and mirrors,” McCroskey said. “It’s an organization that cares.” (BP)