God uses tough times in people’s lives to help them grow. It is during these trying, desperate times that people need the church and its message of hope, more than ever.
BASTROP – God uses tough times in people’s lives to help them grow. It is during these trying, desperate times that people need the church and its message of hope, more than ever.
Times couldn’t be any tougher than what they are right now in the town of Bastrop and surrounding Morehouse Parish.
Since 2005, the area has been hard hit economically with the loss of more than 2,500 jobs that included the closing of the regional operations center for State Farm Insurance in Monroe 2005, Guide Corporation in Monroe in 2007, and on Nov. 21 of last year, the International Paper Mill in Bastrop itself.
The closure of the IP Mill was extremely tough it cost the community 550 jobs and an annual payroll of $30 million.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Pilgrim Pride announced in January it was closing its chicken processing plant in Farmerville, which meant the loss of another 1,300 jobs directly, another 300 independent growers and an annual household income of $85 million. More than 500 of those workers came from Morehouse Parish.
“It’s tough … really tough. The whole community has been shaken by the news,” said Jim Ingram, pastor of First Baptist Bastrop. “We’ve seen a big hit in the last couple of months. The IP mill’s closing was coming but the chicken plant caught all of us off guard.”
In an answer to prayer, Gov. Bobby Jindal managed to broker a deal to have Foster Farms, out of California, to purchase the plan with the state pitching in almost half of the $80 million asking price.
“It was wonderful news. It was a true blessing from God but it will still be several months before the plant reopens,” Ingram said. “This area is going through a lot of transition right now. A lot of people, businesses and churches are having to tighten their belts, adjust their budgets, and cut back.”
“We’ve taken steps to be prudent in the managing of our finances. We downsized a couple of years ago, cut back to three staff members and two secretary’s,” Cherry Ridge Pastor Cal Adams said. “We are trying to keep our expenses in line with our income. We’re trying to take positive steps to insure we can adjust the changing climate in which we live.”
At Cherry Ridge, Bonita Road, Greenacres and First Baptist and the 19 other churches that make up the Morehouse Association, churches are being careful in the way they budget according to Jerry Price, Director of Missions for Morehouse and Northeast Baptist Associations.
“These churches and many more like them are telling people, ‘Hey, we are here to help,” Price said. “They are reaching out to people in need. They are moving forward, even though they are hurting also.
“We’ve taken steps to meet people’s needs such as pooling resources, becoming involved with Angel Food Ministry, and becoming more creative in the way we can help people who are in need,” Price said.
With all the bad news, however there is good news.
Churches in the association have not wavered in their commitment for missions in the state, nation and international.
Chad Ballard, pastor of Greenacres Baptist Church, is leading 15 volunteers representing six Morehouse churches to the Central American nation of Belize to conduct vacation Bible school and revival in July. Ingram’s First Baptist has trips planned to Maine and Canada in late July.
“We are not going to quit doing missions,” Cal Adams, pastor of Cherry Ridge Baptist Church, said, “no matter how bad it gets.”
Churches in Morehouse continue to partner with churches in Northeast to put on such events as the highly successful 4 Wheels 4 Him, a regional Youth Impact event, and an upcoming bass tournament, hosted jointly by the two associations.
“In these difficult times, when people in our church are losing their jobs and experiencing extreme financial challenges, people need the church, and its message of hope, more than ever,” Price said.
Ingram, who spent last Saturday at the 4 Wheels 4 Him four-wheeler event, cooking hamburgers, sums up the feeling of many of the pastors, “We just have to keep trusting Him while meeting the needs of others. We need to be able to rejoice that we can put food on the table.
“We must learn to do what we can and don’t worry about things over which we have no control. My best advice to people during these tough times is to get into the word each day; pray each day and look for opportunities to share with others. The rest is in God’s hands.”