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Small town churches doing big things

A leap of faith in tiny Timbo

By Kirk Noonan

Blink and you’ll miss it. The heart of the town consists of a hamburger joint, post office and gas station. If you aren’t hungry, in need of gas or rushing to mail something then Timbo, Ark., is nothing more than a wide spot on a winding road flanked by the lush Ozark Mountains. But just when you think you’ve seen all that the town has to offer, you see Timbo Valley Assembly of God.

It sits on a hilltop glistening like a crown jewel perfectly out of place in such a rural area. River rock columns, clean white siding and a steeple stretching toward glorious blue skies betray every weathered farmhouse and broken-down barn you’ve passed on Arkansas 66. Though seemingly out of place, the church is a symbol of what God can do when a tiny congregation takes a giant leap of faith.

“When we started building this church there were two schools of thought,” admits Senior Pastor Dave Campbell, a bear of a man with a quick smile and twinkle in his eye. “Some people said I had heard from God; others said I was crazy.”

Crazy because Timbo is in Stone County, where the average income hovers around $20,000 per year. Crazy because the congregation was small. Crazy because the church had never undertaken such a project.

Campbell admits it was crazy — in the world’s eyes — to build the new church, but he is absolutely convinced it was exactly the right thing to do. He felt the same way eight years ago when he asked the congregation to collectively give at least $100 at the end of each month for missions.

“We had a small-town mind-set about missions giving,” says Campbell, noting that at the time the church, which needed much work, had $400 to its name, only 30 worshippers and virtually no missions giving to speak of. “We figured we couldn’t do much because we were so small. But God spoke into my spirit that if we would take a missions offering at the end of the month, when most of us didn’t have any money, God would give us the money to give.”

Campbell was right. But he soon learned his goal of a $100 a month was off the mark.

Inspired and challenged by the thought of giving to missions, the congregation rallied and gave more than $400 a month during the first year of giving. Over the next five years the congregation gave more than $50,000 to missions.

“Timbo Valley believes they can change the world,” says L. Alton Garrison, superintendent of the Arkansas District of the Assemblies of God. “God must love rural America because He is helping people who possess great faith to build small but thriving churches with worldwide impact in seemingly impossible places.”

As a result of the selfless giving, says Campbell, a revival began that would eventually transform the church and impact the community in ways Campbell and his congregation never imagined.

“When God gave our pastor and this church the vision of giving to missions we responded,” says Sue Gammill, who has attended the church for 30 years. “As we did, people began to be blessed. Our pastor never begged for money and we never had fund drives to pay for the building of our church, but God sent the money and the church was paid for in three years.

“But more important than that,” she adds, “God began to bless our people with a vision for the lost.”

Gammill and others at the church were so emboldened in their faith that they eagerly reached out to their neighbors, co-workers and even local drug dealers and addicts with the gospel. Suddenly, the sleepy country church morphed into a soul-winning, missions-giving machine.

Jerry Butler, 47, used to be a drug addict. He was hooked on crystal methamphetamine, smoked cigarettes, got drunk frequently and was severely overweight. None of that kept Donna Black, a member at the church, from inviting Butler to a New Year’s program at the church. Butler has never been the same.

“The things I had trouble with [illegal drugs, tobacco and alcohol] God took away from me instantly,” he says. “But I was still a weak Christian back then.”

It wasn’t until Butler was baptized in the Holy Spirit, he says, that his life changed dramatically. Suddenly he had an insatiable desire to read his Bible, pray, attend church, tell others about his relationship with Christ, reclaim his health and give financially to the church and its missions projects.

“I wasn’t giving like I should,” admits Butler, who recently lost nearly 100 pounds after adopting healthy eating habits and starting a rigorous exercise regimen. “I am not saying others should do this, but God impressed me to give more than 10 percent and I have. Ever since then it has been blessing after blessing.”

The same has been true for the church. Each Sunday nearly 120 worshippers attend services. The new sanctuary is big enough for more growth; there is a fellowship hall, kitchen and rooms for Sunday School classes. At the church’s previous location such amenities were only a dream. Even more impressive is that Timbo Valley owes nothing on the new building that is valued at $750,000.

“Our mandate from God is that when someone is called to missions, whether we know them or not, we are to support them financially and prayerfully if they are from Arkansas,” says Campbell.

As the years have passed, Campbell’s congregation has remained passionate about giving to missions. They support more than 40 missionaries and God has blessed them for it, says Campbell, whose father, Gilly, started the church in an old deer hunter’s tent in 1961. Campbell marvels at all God has done for the church and in the surrounding community since his congregation started giving to missions.

“I am not smart enough and our people are not rich enough for us to have a church like we do,” says Campbell. “The people at this church and the building where we meet are a testament of how God blesses His people when they obey Him.”

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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