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story.lead_photo.caption Westside Eagle Observer/SUSAN HOLLAND Darrell Kepler, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, and his wife Teresa (second row, center), and other members of the church staff pose with former pastors and a former youth pastor who returned for the church's Homecoming 2019 celebration. Pictured are former pastor Andrew Bowling and wife Donna (first row, left), senior adult pastor Ralph DeVore, former pastor Rich Toliver and wife Patti, former pastor Bruce Long, former pastor Andrew Gowens and wife Ashley (second row, left), the Keplers, associate pastor Aaron Cude and wife Karrie and former student pastor Jordan Dickens, wife Katie, Lawson and Kennady (back row).

GRAVETTE -- Gravette's Heritage Baptist Church celebrated its 88th birthday over the weekend with three days of services and activities it called Homecoming 2019. In addition to commemorating its 88 years of ministry, the church held a dedication service for its new Family Life Center.

Festivities began on Friday evening, April 5, with a homecoming reunion dinner. Many area residents were joined by former church members, several former pastors and a former student pastor who came to celebrate the occasion. Everyone enjoyed a delicious catered banquet meal and entertainment by the Marks Family, a family from Missouri which sings and plays Southern gospel and bluegrass music.

Pastor Darrell Kepler welcomed everyone, recognized members of the homecoming planning committee and introduced special guests, including Gravette Mayor Kurt Maddox and his wife Dawn, Governor Asa Hutchinson and his wife Susan, Federal Judge Jimm Hendren and his wife Janet and State Senator Jim Hendren and his wife Tammy. He also introduced several former pastors of the church who had returned for the weekend.

Pastor Kepler noted that what was being celebrated is a result of years of dedication by generations of church leaders and members who have served in past years. The church was formed in 1931 as Gospel Tabernacle, changed its name to Gravette Bible Church in the 1960s and to Heritage Baptist Church in the '90s.

Governor Asa Hutchinson was the keynote speaker for the Friday banquet. He recalled his childhood growing up on a farm on Spavinaw Creek south of Gravette. He recounted how he attended Gravette Bible Church and was saved there in 1960 through the Giant Fighters Ministry conducted by Pastor Bruce Long. He returned to restart Giant Fighters in 1972 and was director of youth at the church from 1972 through 1976 while a student at the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville. His wife Susan was involved in the ministry and a member of the quiz bowl team.

Hutchinson noted that when Gospel Tabernacle began in 1931, it was during the Great Depression and "it was a time of dependence on God" because many people didn't know where to find work or how to put food on the table. Thus, life required a great deal of faith. Hutchinson said he admired Pastor Long and appreciated how he had made a difference in many lives. He credited Long's requiring the boys in Giant Fighters to memorize Scriptures as a first step in his salvation. "When you get in the struggles of life, Scripture comes back to you," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson praised Heritage for being very mission minded, saying it is a church that has impacted the world. He said, when he was a boy, he considered the missionaries who visited the church his "real life heroes." He commended the congregation for being a prayerful church, "teaching the word, affecting the world and waiting for the return of Jesus."

Hutchinson's address was followed by the Marks Family's performance of "God's Been Good" and a few remarks by Don Weeks, missionary to India. Weeks said many people have the impression that a missionary's life is a life of sacrifice, but "it is no sacrifice to be where God wants you to be, doing what God wants you to do."

Saturday's events began at 9 a.m. with another performance by the Marks Family. Messages were given by five former pastors and a special testimony was shared by Andrew Bowling, the interim pastor from 1969 to 1975. Pastors who spoke and their messages were Jordan Dickens, "How to Experience a Miracle"; Aaron Gowens, "Principle of Discipleship"; Nick Hendren, "How to Change the World"; Rob Matney, "The God Who Never Fails"; and Rich Tolliver, "Stay in the Race." The morning's service was followed by a luncheon for out-of-town guests.

Sunday morning's Homecoming Sunday service began with a 45-minute concert by the Marks Family. Featured songs included "I'm Ready to Go," a fast-paced banjo number; "He Knows My Name," featuring the younger Marks children; "I Can Only Imagine," which sparked a recent movie; and "When He Speaks." Zane Vanderpool, an elder of the church, offered the opening prayer. Pastor Kepler gave a brief history of the church's newest addition, the Family Life Center, and recognized former pastors, members of the homecoming planning committee and key figures in the Family Life Center's construction, including the engineer, the architect, the job supervisor and representatives of SPI Contractors, Bassman Plumbing and Duncan Drywall. Special music was performed by former pastor Aaron Gowens, his wife Ashley, and Tammy Hendren.

Pastor Bruce Long, pastor of Gravette Bible Church during the 1960s, gave the Sunday morning message, sharing a bit of his family history and a brief testimony. Long, an Oklahoma native, graduated from Arizona Bible Institute, attended John Brown University and served as a full-time pastor at Gospel Tabernacle, with its name change to Gravette Bible Church while he was the pastor. He has lived in Arizona for over 40 years, where he has served as a pastor, administrator and teacher in two Christian schools. Long said that, during his time in Gravette, he led the Ozark Bible Camping Association, founded the McDonald County area Youth for Christ and hosted several special Bible and missionary conferences.

Pastor Darrell Kepler gave the dedication message, "Building Community." He said today, more than ever, the church needs unity among the body of believers. He said the early church understood the concept of "one body" and was united in prayer, united in vision and purpose and united in faith. His message was followed by a final song by the Marks Family, "I Saw the Light."

A brief dedication ceremony and potluck dinner concluded the weekend's activities.

Community on 04/10/2019

Print Headline: Heritage Baptist Church celebrates 88th birthday

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