'Out of the ashes': Fla. church recovering after fire

by Timothy Cockes, posted Thursday, July 11, 2019 (3 months ago)

Firefighters work to extinguish the flames at First Baptist Church of Milligan in Baker, Fla., on Tuesday (July 9).
Photo courtesy of Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
BAKER, Fla. (BP) -- First Baptist Church of Milligan is recovering from a fire on Tuesday (July 9) that was likely caused by lightning from a thunderstorm, according to media reports.

Pastor Charles Smith said he was the last one to leave the church building, located in Baker, Fla., around 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. He received a phone call within the hour from the Okaloosa County Sherriff's Office telling him that the church was on fire.

"We're thankful that nobody got hurt or killed in this fire," Smith said. "It was pretty much engulfed by the time I got there, it is a total loss."

Local church leaders, pastors and church members gathered across the street from the church, located on Old River Road, watching the fire unfold. Smith said the church decided to hold their mid-week prayer service the next day at a church member's home and will be meeting at First Baptist Church of Baker this Sunday.

"A lot of churches would cancel their mid-week service, but I thought it would be good for our church to get together in the wake of this tragedy," Smith said.

Some Southern Baptist leaders have contacted Smith by phone and tweeted messages of support to the pastor. Among those encouraging him during this challenging time include Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, and president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee Ronnie Floyd.

Floyd tweeted that during a phone conversation with Smith he "assured him of our support for him and his fellowship."

Next steps, Smith noted, include checking what insurance can cover, tearing down what remains of the sanctuary, educational building and fellowship hall as well as searching for a more permanent building to rent.

Eugene Strickland, director of missions for the Okaloosa Baptist Association, said it will be important for the association and local Southern Baptist churches to make sure that the recovery process for First Baptist is a team effort.

"When crises arise, we make our churches aware and try to be a focal point during the time period of recovery," Strickland said. "We live in a physical and limited world, and God takes misfortunes we face and works them for our good, reconciling the situation."

Smith echoed that the church will "partner with those that are willing to help us."

Romans 8:28 is a verse that Smith noted is important to remember during this difficult time.

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose," Smith said. "This fire isn't a surprise to the Lord. He knew it was going to happen. He protected us from it and there is a reason that He let it happen, and I believe that the church is going to have a new day out of the ashes of this fire."

Smith said he will continue to "keep shepherding this flock and continue to go forward to meet this challenge and ask for the Lord's help to meet this challenge."

"There is an old saying, 'a blessing in disguise,' he said. "This is very well disguised, but I'm sure there's a blessing under this."

Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press summer intern and graduate student at Liberty University.
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