First Hollister recovering from tragic fire
Church trusts God, finds 4 acres of flat land near Branson
HOLLISTER –The people of First Baptist Church could not fully understand God’s plan as they watched their building burn to the ground March 19, 2006. But the church remained faithful and now – despite being set back by an unsolved case of arson – they are poised better than ever to win souls for the Kingdom.
“We have realized that God, for some reason, was through with that building,” Danny Hartwell, pastor, told The Pathway in 2006.
“We’ve gone to prayer, asking God to show us what our ministry is, what He wants us to do. Then, we will build back a building that can reflect that ministry – that can be used for that ministry. I have absolutely no idea (how long that might take). Right now we’re waiting on the insurance company.”
God was through with the charred remains of the church building, but He was not through with the congregation of 65.
After the three-story building was left in ashes, the congregation began meeting at the Baptist Student Union at nearby College of the Ozarks and searching for new property to build on – a commodity in short supply less than two miles from Branson. Unfortunately, nothing was available.
“We did not want to go back to the old property,” Hartwell said, “but it was looking like that was what God wanted. We had set a date if we had not found property to reconsider building again here.”
That date was May 1, 2007. Four days before that deadline, a contract on a property the church had been eying fell through. Although it was less than mile from the old site, it was on a major road on the way to the local school.
“To find land in the Branson area was a God thing,” Hartwell said. “When I was signing the papers, our realtor’s phone rang and it was an offer for $50,000 more. Had we not acted just then, we would have lost it.”
God truly does know best: the old site was 4.5 acres but was so hilly, only 1.5 acres was usable and parking was a significant problem. The new land is four acres – four flat acres.
“We like to call it ‘Branson Flat,’” Hartwell said. “It’s going to really help us minister better in our community.”
The church broke ground at Branson Flat during the Sunday before Thankgiving, and instead of meeting for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, they moved the meal up to lunch.To say they had something to be thankful for is an understatement.
“It has not been easy,” he said. “The church has held together amazingly well. Breaking ground is a big help to us.”
The church has hired an architect to begin drawings for a new facility and they will be looking for volunteers to help begin building next year. In the meantime, they are going to construct a metal building to get them through the cold weather.
Although the arson investigation is still open and police have cleared an initial suspect injured during the blaze, Hartwell, who served as Missouri Baptist Convention ministry evangelism consultant from 2001-2003, said he hasn’t been following it too closely.
“It’s the least of my concerns … as long as it wasn’t a member,” he joked.