February 11, 2003
Friendships interrupted as families often move
KNOB NOSTER – Heartland Baptist Church, located six miles north of Knob Noster, is only 10 years old. But the church has already learned the meaning of heartbreak.
Situated on the doorstep of Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the Stealth B-2 Bomber Wing, Heartland has a heavy mix of military families. With turmoil spreading and the threat of war looming, families are uprooted almost overnight.
Air Force personnel make up about 25 to 30 percent of Heartland’s membership.
“We get so attached to some of these people," said Debbie Deke, Heartland’s church secretary. “We have them in and out of our lives, and it’s really hard to get adjusted."
Heartland Baptist was born in 1992 in the homes of some Missouri Baptists in the Knob Noster area. Bible studies in homes developed into worship services in a small building about a mile from the present church location.
The church’s present worship center seats about 450. A 5,000-square-foot student life center is under construction. Two services on Sunday morning and community meeting groups in homes throughout the week reach out to personnel at Whiteman.
In addition to military families being transferred, B-2 crews are often deployed on long flights to such faraway places as Afghanistan. And, looming on the horizon, are deployments to Iraq.
Also involved in the ministry to Whiteman is First Baptist at Knob Noster.
“We make ourselves available," said Jim Richards, pastor of First Baptist. “We let the people know that if somethings happens, we’re available to come and help in any circumstance."
Neither First Baptist nor Heartland Baptist workers are allowed to go on the base without a request. But they find ways around the obstacle. Both churches advertise in the base newspaper, letting military personnel know what ministries are available.
Instead of looking at the loss of families as a negative, Heartland hasdiscovered that it is a mission opportunity.
“Most of the people are around here for about three years," Deke said. “We consider it a privilege to have them that long. When they leave, we feel as if they are going out as missionaries because they go into all the world.
“We just heard from one man who was transferred to Italy and how he is ministering to the people around him," Deke said. “And another airman has just been deployed with a Mormon, and he sees it as an opportunity to tell him about the real Jesus Christ."
Maj. Trish Steiner, who is the mission support squadron commander at Whiteman, has been at the West Central Missouri air base for eight months. “The Heartland Baptist Church people have embraced us since we’ve been here," she said. “It’s a tremendous church … very alive and growing.
“We could feel the enthusiasm for the Lord when we walked in. It didn’t take us long to recognize that Heartland was where the Lord wanted us to be the next several years."
Steiner said the typical stay for an officer in the Air Force is about three years. Because of close friendships that develop, she said at times it becomes difficult to change locations.
“The war in Afghanistan and the threat of war in Iraq impacts any church that is located near a military community," Steiner added. “The church only gets us for a couple of years. We put down shallow roots where we go, and then pick up and go.
“But that’s what we signed up for," she said. “In some respects, we see it as an advantage. We get to meet Christians and church families all over the world. Ours is very much an extended family."
Steiner said she came to know Christ at the age of 6 and was baptized at a Baptist church in Panama.