It was September 16, 2007. In Denver, NC, 32 believers met in an 880-square-foot-room to break bread for the first time. It had been 10 years since the first gospel outreach from Hickory took place here. Gene Higgins and I had tent meetings in April 1997. Aside from a biker gang that rolled in one evening, the most memorable night was when we had the most visitors … and the most rain! When you can’t hear Gene’s voice preaching, it must be raining hard. Eventually, the rain water breached our trench and over a foot of water spilled into the tent. Cars were driven inside the tent to get people out. However, by the end of four weeks, nearly 50 visitors attended with enough encouragement to try it again in May 1998. This time, Jon Procopio joined me, and a man working for MacLeod Construction professed.
At this point, only 12 believers in the Hickory assembly lived in the Denver area. But over the next few years, that would change.
In late 2000 and early 2001, we rented a room in the Westport Country Club for $50/night. Every Tuesday, we had a gospel meeting with help from Bob MacLeod, Dan McDonald, my father, Kurt, and brother, Daniel. A few people came, and it was nice to be able to invite people we knew to a local meeting, as Hickory is a 40-minute drive.
In June 2002, we began monthly rental in what we called the Denver Gospel Center (DGC). We immediately began using it as a drop-in center and for gospel literature distribution. We also had a library of Christian books for people to check out. My mother, Wilma, and I sat for hours each week and had interesting conversations with many people about the gospel. One young man dropped in and started attending our Sunday evening gospel meetings, which began in August 2002. Although he had faithfully attended a nearby local church since he was a child, he had no assurance that when he died he would go to heaven. He eventually professed in a series Darris Barney and I had in May 2003.
Others were attending our regular gospel meetings, and we decided to begin home Bible studies in June 2003. These were held each Tuesday into 2004 covering subjects like spiritual gifts, assembly principles, etc.
The Denver believers met often for planning, discussion and prayer for direction. This led to an exercise to try tent meetings in nearby Lincolnton where the Denver assembly rents a booth at the annual Apple Festival to this day. I remember having to get approval from the city council to pitch the tent right next to the ABC liquor store. The council chairman, who himself was actually intoxicated at the time, laughed at the irony of having the Bible preached beside a liquor store. He reluctantly agreed and we started on October 10th. It was quite cold. But at least one heart was warmed in that series. One woman professed, realizing the truth of Romans 5:6: “Christ died for the ungodly.”
Another focus was on building up a work with children. We tried children’s meetings in the DGC with only a few sporadically coming. We decided to try tent meetings for kids in a nearby trailer park. For the next three summers (2005-2007), we had great attendance and help preaching from Frank Sona, Josh Valvano, and Josh Smith. These efforts built up a good group of kids who also began regularly attending our Sunday evening meetings. Among them were two girls who starting coming to our Monday Moms & Tots program. Eventually, we met their parents, who began attending Sunday evenings and eventually professed salvation.
By this time, the number of believers in the area had grown from 12 to 32. Admittedly, there were only a handful saved in the years we had worked in Denver. But God gave us additional blessing in bringing other saved couples to us. We began to notice that, as the believers worked, planned, met and prayed together, a body was beginning to form.
There were a number of discussions with the elders in Hickory about what to do. Should we recognize God establishing an assembly in Denver? I look back with thankfulness on their patience, support, and guidance. The September 2007 announcement in Truth and Tidings magazine summarized the decision. “Elders from Hickory write: ‘After much prayer and consideration, we believe that the Lord is leading to establish a new assembly in Denver. The gospel has been preached in this area over the last 10 years, with some blessing seen throughout the years. Believers have moved into the area, and it seems the Lord is directing a number of believers into the Charlotte region.’”
It was an exciting first Lord’s Day in Denver, yet I cannot emphasize enough the difficulty of an assembly saying goodbye to over one-third of the believers. Hickory would now be smaller, and they would feel a definite loss. We would, and still do, miss them.
Almost immediately, the Lord gave us an opportunity to be involved in the establishment of another assembly. A group of former Amish from southwest Virginia began attending the assembly meetings. Some of them had trusted Christ and over the next few years, quite a few more were saved. They were driving 2 ½ hours each way on Sundays to break bread with us. We also met with them in their homes each week for Bible studies as God continued to work among them. Eventually, one-third of the Denver assembly was made up of believers from Crandon, VA. In October 2011, they began meeting as an assembly and we felt that same loss Hickory had experienced. Now we miss these dear believers also.
Reflecting upon those years from 1997-2007 brings back many emotions. I recall personal failures and some honestly poor decisions. Yet, I also remember God’s goodness, power and tender grace.
I feel these reflections would be incomplete without a word about Mr. Oswald MacLeod, who the Lord used in the establishment of the Hickory assembly. In a letter written to me dated October 30, 1995, he wrote: “For a long time we have felt the need of someone to settle in this area and preach the gospel, for there is still ‘much land to be possessed.’ So if you have exercise as to giving yourself to the work of the Lord, we hope you will have this area before you.” In further correspondence dated November 22, 1996, he said: “Your suggestion regarding Denver, to my mind, is a good one. The few Christians living in the area would surely be a nucleus and a help, and God could work.” Mr. MacLeod wrote me many times over the years giving encouragement, needed guidance, and practical wisdom. His desire for the spreading of the gospel in this area carries on. It is our longing that God would raise up many more assembly testimonies in the South for His glory.