June 17, 2003
An act of God
BRANSON – Pastor Larry Craig still finds it hard to believe.
"It was like God said, ‘You tried and couldn’t do it. Now let me show you what I can do,’" said Craig, who has served at Skyline Southern Baptist Church in Branson the last five years. "We’re still in awe of what has happened."
Considering what happened, awe may be an understatement.
Craig and the church had tried every way imaginable the last two and one-half years to purchase a vacant theater located strategically in Branson. The Skyline congregation had outgrown its building located on a hill behind the Lawrence Welk Theater, but the asking price for the new site was too high.
A Branson realtor told The Pathway that the asking price was $2.5 million the last time he showed the property. "But it was probably worth it – and maybe more," he said.
"It had all the furniture and fixtures and some extra land."
The Branson church had all but given up last year after numerous purchase attempts had failed.
"We sought God’s face and did everything we could," Craig said. "I finally told the church that we have tried this long enough. I told them it was nothing but an emotional roller coaster, so we just started planning for three services and three Sunday schools. I told them I guess God wants us to stay right here."
That’s when God stepped in.
Here’s how Craig tells the story.
"It was a dinner theater built for entertaining and food," he said. "It was called the Lowe’s Theater. The Lowe’s Sisters were the ones that got it started. For whatever reason, the theater was not successful and shut down after one season," Craig said.
"Our folks are very giving, but they just couldn’t come with a strong enough financial opportunity. They were willing to step out on faith and purchase this property, but it just wouldn’t happen."
"And then God did something that only God could do."
"He put one of the church’s 16-year-old girls to work in one of the restaurants as a waitress. A man came in one day last year and asked her if she was a Christian and, if so, where she went to church," the pastor explained. "She told him she went to Skyline, that it was a growing church but couldn’t afford to buy the theater property. The man told her maybe he could help, got the church’s phone number and left."
Craig said the man contacted the church the next day and talked for several hours.
"He called back several days later and said if the current owners will agree to a fair marketable price, he believed they could purchase the property for us. And they did.
"Within six months the deal was completed," Craig said. "It was 3 p.m. on Dec. 31 that lawyers called and said the deal is done. We took possession that evening and had our first service in the building Jan. 1 – a Wednesday night."
But who was the stranger in the restaurant?
"He was a best friend of David Green, founder and president of Hobby Lobby," Craig said.
Craig said he still had difficulty believing what has happened.
"In my prayer time this morning, I said thank you Lord for the folks from Hobby Lobby," Craig said. "I know now that they have helped other churches, too. We didn’t seek them out. We didn’t even know they existed when it happened."
Hobby Lobby is a chain of stores specializing in home accessories, picture framing and other arts and crafts. Based in Oklahoma City, the company has 307 stores in 27 states, including Missouri. It is involved in several ministries and the front page of its Internet site, www.Hobbylobby.com, features a prayer for America by Christian author and Pastor Max Lucado.
Since moving into the theater building, Skyline’s Sunday morning attendance has shot up to about 650.
"I just preach Jesus and apply that to life," Craig said. "I’m a simple person, but I believe people understand the clarity of God when it is brought simply. They just tolerate me as their pastor."
Craig pastored in Texas 30 years before moving to Branson.
Located near Branson First Baptist, Craig said there is no competition between himself and Jay Scribner at First Baptist.
"We’re best of friends," Craig said. "The only competition we have is with Satan himself. I have nothing but the highest respect for Jay. We both understand that on the bottom line there are only choices – Heaven or Hell. We’re both working to get people into the Kingdom of God."
And Craig is doing it in a location he still finds hard to believe.