Prayer, fasting and missions.
After a few years of emphasizing obedience in these things, Three Forks Baptist Association (TFBA) was established in 1841 in the mountains of North Carolina. It is named after Three Forks Church – originally founded in 1790 – in Watauga County.
Decades before TFBA’s conception, a number of Landmarkists including Daniel Parker and Alexander Campbell preached strongly against the establishment of a state convention and in addition, missions. The Mountain Association, formed in 1799, was known for its “anti-missions” stance where neighbor Yadkin Association was friendlier toward it. In fact, historian M.A. Huggins writes that as “the years passed the Mountain [Association] came to be the recognized leader of the anti-missionary Baptists of Western North Carolina.”
In the early 1800s, a priority of missions – amidst other variables – influenced a number of historical events:
O.S. Hawkins, left, was the featured speaker during Three Forks Baptist Association’s 175th anniversary. Barry Nealy is director of missions for Three Forks.
In 1805, Martin Ross and others organized the first Missionary Society in North Carolina, called the Philanthropic Baptist Missionary Society.
In 1814, the North Carolina Baptist Society for Foreign Missions was established and Domestic Missions in 1817.
In the Chowan Association, Ross introduced in 1826 a resolution requesting the organization of a Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
On March 26, 1830, The Board of the Baptist Benevolent Society met in Greensboro to pass the motion that the Society be transformed into a state convention. A proposed constitution, written by Thomas Meredith, was presented to the convention which officially affirmed the institution known today as “The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.”
Eight years later, Mountain Association declared itself “an anti-missionary body hostile to the Baptist State Convention and other institutions of the day.” Huggins writes, “[T]he formation of the [Three Forks] association occurred about three years after the Mountain [Association] became definitely anti-mission.
According to minutes in 1841, a meeting was held at Three Forks Baptist Church to establish a new association known today as Three Forks Baptist Association. Ten churches were in attendance: Bear Creek, Beaver Creek, Cove Creek, Ebenezer (Zionville), Old Fields, Pine Grove, Roan Creek (First Baptist Church in Mountain City, Tenn.), South Fork, Three Forks North Fork and Three Forks South Fork.
On Sunday, Oct. 19, Three Forks celebrated its 175th anniversary at Watauga High School. O.S. Hawkins, CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources, gave the keynote message.
Barry Nealy, TFBA’s director of missions, said Hawkins was a great pick for the keynote because he “represents the mission efforts of Southern Baptists.”
Encompassing 37 churches, TFBA has birthed several ministries over the years such as its jail ministry. Nealy said the association’s pastors are enthusiastic about preaching at the jail. “The men and women are … attentive to [the pastors]. We have a couple who act as the chaplains [Kris and Becky Fowler] who go in with pastors. These pastors rotate within [the jail], and speak in each of the cell blocks for ten to fifteen minutes.”
Numerous rededications and professions of faith have been made through this ministry.
Nealy said Kris Fowler started a nonprofit, Eagle Rock Ministries, which began as a ministry that bought gifts for inmates’ children and families. Last year Fowler had more than $30,000 donated, and approximately 750 children were provided for in four counties.
Housed at First Baptist Church in Boone, TFBA’s Christian Outreach Center was started in 2007. The center, directed by Larry Woodrow, aids over 100 families every week to receive food items.
According to center’s website, “[E]ach family meets with a counselor for encouragement, guidance and prayer before selecting several food options for their home, much like we do at the grocery store. A team meets on Wednesday mornings to assemble and distribute about 300 food bags to school children selected by their guidance counselors. These are placed in the child’s backpack on Friday at school so that those who need free lunches can have some nutrition available on weekends.”
Three Forks also works with local community colleges and universities such as Appalachian State University and Lees-McRae in Banner Elk to minister to campus students.
Nealy said another well-received ministry of TFBA is Bethlehem and Beyond. It was created to emphasize the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as the true meaning of Christmas. Connecting with local business owners and the surrounding community, the ministry includes caroling, a live nativity and church parade floats during the month of December.
“All of these activities are meant to put Jesus into the discussion and not Santa Claus,” Nealy emphasized.
Nealy said the TFBA has residential quarters to host mission teams for local projects or church retreats. This lodging can accommodate 25 people. “Missions teams will come up and ski in the winter and then go work with a local agency like the Hospitality House. … The ministry of hosting and having lodging is much below what they’d have to pay to stay in a hotel.”
Founded on missions 175 years ago, TFBA continues their missions heritage to this day.