ALEXANDRIA—Spring brings baseball, allergies and tornado warnings, but for the congregation of First Baptist Church here, it brings the serious threat of floods.
The town sits at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers and has been underwater more times than pastor Randy Ewart cares to count.
“Between floods, economy and wars, it’s really taken its toll,” Ewart said.
The current church – just a block and a half from the banks of the Mississippi on a low-water day – was incorporated in 1944 but lost its building in 1947 when the rivers overflowed their banks. They rebuilt in 1947 and again in 1973, but the historic flood of 1993 destroyed all but the frame of the building. That gave them an opportunity to rebuild and nearly double their space.
The Gospel presence in the river community has had its share of trials over the years.
“There was a church that began in 1851 but we lose track of it in the records sometime during the Civil War,” Ewart said. “The second attempt was in 1869 and it survived until 1925, and it may have disbanded because of the floods, economy or just the effects of World War I.”
The 1993 flood not only caused water damage, it caused a permanent exodus in the population. In 1990, the population was more than 500; soon after the flood it dipped to 150.
Then came the floods of 2008.
“That was a serious threat and the water levels were within six inches of the 1993 levels, but the levees held,” Ewart said. “We still had to move all our furniture eight miles inland to Wayland Southern Baptist Fellowship for four or five weeks. The deacons and church talked about some what-if scenarios, but as long as God allows, we’ll be there if we feel He’s leading us to do something here.”
The church does a mission Vacation Bible School in nearby St. Francisville, is involved in a missions project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and may partner with Mt. Salem-Wyaconda Baptist Association to plant a church in the western edge of the association.
Although there is heavy flooding in the northern Midwest, Ewart said the rivers so far are not threatening the church, although things could change day to day.
“I just looked at some of the river stage report,” he said. “So far, the Des Moines is behaving and the Mississippi is giving a little more trouble. We’re not seeing walls of water, but it can jump three or four feet in just a few hours.” n
BRIAN KOONCE/staff writer