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Stone Mountain, Eastman churches continue to recover from fires

 

Rock Branch Baptist Church

Rock Branch Baptist Church

Pastor Ronnie Huttoe, right in white jacket, speaks with investigators after the fire at Rock Branch Baptist Church in the Chauncey community of Dodge County. The fire left the structure a total loss, far left. For the complete photo gallery go to www.christianindex.org

DULUTH — Three Georgia Baptist congregations continue to recover and look at the next steps after fires displaced them last November.

Late on Nov. 23 an arsonist set fire to the Sunday School wing of Indian Creek Baptist Church in Stone Mountain. The sanctuary and chapel were untouched by the fire but suffered extensive smoke damage.

A week later an electrical problem sparked a fire that engulfed Rock Branch Baptist Church in southeastern Dodge County. A passerby alerted authorities of the fire just hours before Sunday morning services.

Indian Creek pastor Bill Owen gave thanks at the next week’s service inside the church’s family life center that no one was hurt and the damage wasn’t greater.

Since then the church continues to meet in the gym. In the meantime Owen raves about Belfor, the contracting company in charge of the cleanup.

“They’ve completely repainted and cleaned the gym for office space and allowed us to transfer our entire operation there. They’re now cleaning the rest of the building,” he said.

Indian Creek shares its facilities with French African Baptist Mission, a congregation established through Stone Mountain Association. Pastor Phillip Bara admitted some adjustment has taken time. One example is the lack of central heat because of the ongoing cleaning out process by contractors. The congregation uses several small heating units in the meantime.

Bara continues to preach a message of hope, though.

“We don’t know why things happen, but God does,” he said. “Everything is in His hands.

In time – maybe the next 4-6 months, said Owen – members of Indian Creek and French African Mission will return to their facilities. But members of Rock Branch will never again set foot inside their building.

Pastor Ronnis Huttoe said the building’s total loss forced him into being a different type of pastor. Many members have known no other building for church and in the short term memories made within its walls seem to feel the flames as well.

“A lot of our members are devastated,” he stated. “Many have been here since they were born. They’ve been raised here and need consoling.”

Currently, Wednesday night prayer meetings are held in Huttoe’s home. The first Sunday after the fire the church met at Sidetrack Café in Eastman. Since then Mayor James Burch has allowed the usage of a city building. Since then a friend of Hutto’s has donated a replacement piano.

Any donations to help with Rock Branch’s recovery may be made through Colony Bank in Eastman [(478) 374-4739].

Owen reflected on some lessons from the experience.

“It was difficult to set aside my own feelings in order to minister to those around me,” he admitted. “We have been helped greatly by many such as the Georgia Baptist Convention and Stone Mountain Association.

“There’s been a lot of folks come in and help.”

 

Scott Barkley/Index

A view of the back of Indian Creek Baptist Church reveals only a portion of the damage. The area covered over with plywood was once a wall that had to be removed after being damaged from the elongation of a heated steel beam that ran the length of the building. All the brick veneer from the adjacent wall has since been removed.