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Church amid 32 covered bridges presents God’s recipe for salvation

ROCKVILLE, Ind. (BP)–Parke County, Ind., is the home of 32 covered bridges that cross not only creek beds and river banks but also, it is boasted, span generations as well. A book that features all of the county’s bridges is titled, “Bridges to the Past.” Built as early as 1868 and as late as 1920, and ranging in length from 43 feet to 315 feet, most of the bridges can impart nostalgia for a time visitors never experienced. One bridge in particular, which crosses the Big Rocky Fork Creek, is in the heart of an area once a favorite getaway for the infamous bank robber John Dillinger.
Every autumn area residents organize the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival to celebrate the engineering feats of a century ago. In Rockville, the town square is converted into a maze of tents and booths offering arts, crafts, antiques and tasty homestyle fare reminiscent of the 1800s.
However, at least one group manning a booth on the town square, rather than focusing their attention on the bridges to the past, endeavored to build bridges for eternity.
Immediately in front of Overpeck Hardware store, youth from First Baptist Church, Rockville, sold T-shirts with Christian themes to raise money for a mission trip planned for the summer of 1999. Adults from the church distributed tracts and did street witnessing. In years past, the church has hosted a gospel concert at the church but moved the event to the high school gymnasium this year to make it more of an outreach effort. On Sundays during the festival, the church’s teens perform a gospel puppet show on the south side of the courthouse. The church parking lot and restrooms are made available for public use. The parking lot attendant passes out gospel tracts and, on Sundays, the Acteens work as valet parking attendants.
Through all these efforts, at least 16 people have prayed to receive Christ.
At least one more prayed to receive Christ as a result of the popular recipes distributed during the festival. Books of Parke County recipes sell quickly. First Baptist just gives them away. A member of the church, Mae Bass, put together a collection of her favorite recipes and members of the church gave away more than 2,000 copies of the collection at the church booth. In it visitors may read how to prepare Hawaiian Pie, Mae Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, “Easy Meatloaf,” Five Layered Casserole, Corn Meal Pie, Peanut Butter Pie, Zucchini Freezer Jam, and Old-Fashioned Cream Pie.
They may also read “The Bible’s recipe for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” In seven easy steps the recipe tract outlines the plan of salvation. At the conclusion of the printed “sinner’s prayer” is a brief note, “If you believe the recipe for forgiveness from the Bible and prayed the sinner’s prayer, please call us and let us know, that we can rejoice with you.”
Dana Spurgeon has been First Baptist’s pastor since January. He has not yet been at the church a year and already has been amazed at what God has been doing.
“When they called me to ask me to come they said, ‘We are looking for our last pastor and we’d like you to be him,'” he recounted. “I realized that here is a church that realizes the Lord is coming soon and we’ve got work to do.”
Spurgeon moved his wife, Debbie, and their two sons, Drew and Deric, from the Indianapolis area to Rockville in order to be the “last pastor” of the 110-year-old church. Under the leadership of her first pastor, S. K. Fusion, First Baptist Church began meeting on Dec. 29, 1888, in a room above the Cheney and Janders Drug Store on the north side of Rockville’s town square. They paid $2.50 a month in rent. The mortgage note for the present building has been ashes since it was burned in 1959 and Spurgeon has been thrilled to see how the members use what God has provided.
“At Easter we did a drama,” he said. “As the choir sang, we had people in the church act out the Easter story. The entire front of the church was made to look like a rock garden. We had the crucifixion. We had the Via Delarosa down the center aisle of the church. It was really touching.”
The youth group went to summer camp for the first time in more than 15 years. So inspired were the teenagers at The Wilds in North Carolina they decided to go on a mission trip next year instead, necessitating the sale of T-shirts at this year’s festival.
First Baptist’s Vacation Bible School played host to no less than 120 children during the day and had 222 people present at the closing program.
“I don’t know how many people this building holds,” said Spurgeon. “Maybe 115, but it was packed that night.”
First Baptist averages 120 in Sunday morning worship. A large congregation by some standards. A small congregation by other standards. A busy congregation by any standard. The outreach efforts of the church support the motto printed on the church history, “Building Bridges for Eternity.” And doing it right in the heart of the covered bridge capital of the Midwest. –30– 11/6/98 Merritt exhorts downcast, ‘Remember the promises of God’ By Mark M. Overstreet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When circumstances are at their darkest, “remember the promises of God,” James Merritt told students in a Nov. 3 chapel service at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Merritt encouraged students to stand firm when life is “falling apart at the seams. Instead of sinking on the premises, be standing on the promises,” proclaimed the chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee and pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga.
Preaching from Gen. 39, Merritt cited Joseph’s faith in God’s providence during persecution. “There is a time when everyone checks into ‘Heartbreak Hotel,'” he said. He urged seminarians to emulate Joseph’s method of handling adversity and prosperity. From his visions of sheaves and stars, Joseph remembered God’s promise to elevate and exalt him above the nation. “Rather than dwelling on his problems, he dwelt on God’s promises,” said Merritt, who holds an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary.
Merritt said Adoniram Judson, a 19th century Baptist missionary to Burma, exemplified these traits of Joseph. With property destroyed, converts scattered and life threatened, Judson remembered the promises of God. When asked by his captors of his dire condition, Judson replied, “My friend, my future is as bright as the promises of God,” Merritt recounted.
In addition to remembering God’s promises, Merritt exhorted the congregation to rely on God’s providence. Joseph was punished for doing what was right, he said. “There are going to be times when life is not going to make any sense to you,” Merritt said. “Just because things don’t make sense to you does not mean they don’t make sense.” Citing Romans 8:28 and Psalm 138:8, Merritt reminded the audience that all things, whether good or evil, will “work together for good.”
“God does not desert his people,” Merritt said. “A child of God may get lonely, but a child of God is never alone.” Referring to the biblical testimonies of Noah, Daniel, the brothers in the fiery furnace and the disciples on a stormy sea, Merritt noted God’s presence with each of them. No matter how deep the water is, no matter how hot the fire is, “you can rest in the presence of God,” he said.
Joseph’s commitment to God was not “contingent upon his circumstances,” explained Merritt. Joseph never took revenge but responded with the patience of God. “Do you do right only when things are right?” Merritt asked. “True commitment is not conditional,” he said. “You can tell the size of a Christian by what it takes to stop him.”
Admonishing students to “do right, be right, live right,” Merritt said perseverance regardless of circumstance is the mark of a true Christian. “If a person will not serve in a prison, he is not fit to serve God in a palace,” he said.
When things go wrong, some Christians ask, “Where is God? … He is on the throne, watching over his own, and when everything goes wrong in your life, you mark it down: he will work it out for your good and for his glory.
“When things are at their darkest,” Merritt said, “remember the promises of God.”

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  • Chip Bayer