The youth of Roaring Fork Baptist Church are not unlike countless other teenagers participating in Youth Bible Drill, preparing for associational and state competitions later this spring.
What sets the Roaring Fork youth apart from other groups is where they practice — one of the bathrooms and showers at Camp Smoky, owned and operated by the Sevier County Association of Baptists in Tennessee.
Roaring Fork Baptist was destroyed by the fires that swept through Gatlinburg and Sevier County in November. The church has been meeting since the fires at Camp Smoky where space is limited.
While not the ideal practice site, it is just a blessing to have somewhere to meet, said Ginger Cooper, one of Roaring Fork’s adults who work with several dozen youth and children’s Bible drillers.
The youth actually memorize Scripture in a bunk room but there is not enough room to spread out so that’s the reason the drill is held in the bathroom, Cooper said. “The kids actually love it. They are very lighthearted about it and, as you can imagine, they think it’s funny. We have to get over the laughs and giggling before we get serious and go into the drill.”
But, after what the church and some of the youth have gone through, “a little laughter doesn’t hurt,” Cooper said.
The fires claimed the church building and nearly everything in it, including most of the Bibles used for the drills. Cooper had taken 14 Bibles home prior to the fire but those weren’t nearly enough for all of the youth and children who participate in the drills.
In a conversation with Candy Macon, a regional coordinator for Children’s Bible Drill in Tennessee and member of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Cooper shared the church’s need for more Bibles.
Macon contacted Donna Blaydes, preschool/Bible Drill specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Blaydes then contacted LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville which then provided Bibles and other related items free of charge to Roaring Fork.
“These Bibles are a huge blessing,” Cooper said. “The children are so appreciative.”
Blaydes recounted, “Words cannot express the blessing I received hearing Ginger share her experience, how even though their drillers lost their church, and many lost their personal homes, they were determined this would not keep them from learning God’s Word.
“Seeing a picture of some of her drillers practicing in a bathroom because that was the only available space brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face,” Blaydes added. “I am in awe of what God is doing in the lives of the people, especially the young people, of Roaring Fork. Their perseverance is such a testimony to the power of God’s Word.”
After the fires, Cooper admitted she did not think the church would be able to offer Bible Drill this year, but she is glad they have been able to do so.
“We wanted to try to make things as normal as possible for the children we’re ministering to,” Cooper said. Prior to the fires, Roaring Fork’s bus ministry brought about 100 children and youth to the church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, she said. Because some youth and children have moved since the fires, the number now is around 60 to 70 each week, Cooper said.
She acknowledged that “it’s a new normal for us,” but the important thing is the consistency. “The children know we love them and care for them,” she said.
Because of the lack of space, they had to get creative — thus the bathroom meeting place for the youth, Cooper said. “They are persevering and are happy in the new location,” she said.
The children meet in another location in one of the camp buildings, Cooper said.
Though they are still trying to prepare for the association Bible Drill, “God has shown me that though competition is great, it’s not the most important part,” Cooper said.
Cooper said a discovery she made after the fire reminded her of the resiliency of God’s Word. While searching through the debris at the church she found a Gideon’s Bible. The outside was charred, but the inside was not damaged. A bookmark in the Bible was burned on the portion that stuck outside the Bible. Inside, it was not damaged.
At first Cooper simply picked the Bible up and placed it on a table. She felt the spirit of God leading her to return back to the church prior to its demolition the next day to retrieve that Bible.
“It’s a symbol of what we do in Bible Drill,” she said. “He showed me [through that Bible] that His Word endures forever.” And through the youth and children’s Bible drills, they are able to “sow His Word into their hearts.”
While Bible drills may not be like they have been in the past, “every week we meet they learn a little bit more. We are encouraged and we know God will accomplish His will,” Cooper said.
— Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.baptistandreflector.com), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.