History of Bonaire First Baptist
Our church, Bonaire First Baptist, had its beginning as a mission of the Houston Factory Baptist Church. Many years ago, Houston Factory, now known as Houston Lake Baptist Church, and the Rehoboth Association decided that a Baptist Church was needed to serve the growing Bonaire Community. At the time, the Houston Lake community was older than Bonaire, had a larger population and was the site of Houston County's first major industry.
The organizational meeting to establish the Bonaire Mission was held July 14, 1904. Houston Factory Baptist and the Rehoboth Association, of which we are a member to this day, contributed $60.00 to the establishment of the mission at Bonaire. On 29 February, 1908, two lots were purchased from Mrs. Ellen J. King and W. B. Watson for the sum of $33. Mr. Matt Parker and his son, Jim, undertook the construction.
Some of the early meetings of the new congregation were held in the Bonaire school. Others were held in the homes of individual members - a practice that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. What we now know as Bonaire First Baptist Church was formally organized and dedicated August 28, 1910. We began with nine members who were secure in the promise of our Lord and Savior as recorded in Matthew 18 that "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" Those nine original members were: Mr. E. Walton, Mr. L. B. Bray, Mr. W. O. Bray, Miss Anna Parker, Mrs. Ellen Perdue, Mrs. G. L. Slocumb, Mrs. S. L. Pierce, Mrs. J. M. Kimbrough, and Mrs. A. L. Sasser.
The first pastor of our church was W. B. Bassett, a popular and locally well known minister from Macon, Georgia. He had his own tent and conducted tent revivals wherever the spirit led. The Bonaire First Baptist Church membership was too small for a full-time pastor, but the Sunday school met every Sunday. Reverend Bassett conducted services one weekend each month.
Our church records from 1910 through 1939 were inadvertently destroyed some years ago. Perhaps that is why the little that remains seems so vivid. One can almost visualize the congregation singing the great Christian hymns to the accompaniment of a pump organ played by Merryl Sasser. In 1922, the Women's Missionary Society was formed at Bonaire First Baptist Church. Mrs. A. L. Sasser was the first director.
In 1930, the United States of America was sliding into the abyss know as the Great Depression. Bonaire First Baptist Church was twenty-three members and had a Sunday School enrollment of twenty-two. The preacher was paid $150.00 that year. The 1930's were hard years, even for those accustomed to hardship. The economic prosperity and population growth, which seem so normal for Houston County today began with World War 11 and the construction of Robins Air Force Base. In 1939, the members realized that the building needed to be repaired and remodeled. A contractor gave a price of $585.00. The church accepted the report, but selected a committee of carpenters and deacons to actually do the work. A committee of ladies was appointed to help raise the money to pay for the material. Then as now, all was accomplished as a labor of love for Christ.
Monday night, October 13, 1941, members of this church met to receive the answer of a minister who had been invited to be the new pastor. He and his wife were both students at Mercer. Because of financial obligations, he had to have $25.00 per month. The church really wanted him, but as this was so much more than they had been paying a pastor, the members hesitated to promise to pay this amount. The members were canvassed and after praying for guidance they decided not to call this minister. When the light bill came due in November for $1.50, the treasury only had $1.30. One of the members gave 20 cents so the light bill could be paid. These happenings were just a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Bonaire First Baptist Church has, from our beginning, been a hub of this community. Our members care for each other and their neighbors. Our motto is "A church family that cares for each other and guests are welcomed as family!" Those are not just empty words. The records shows that, in good times and bad, this church has ministered to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of its members and others. In January 1942, after it was unable to call the pastor it wanted, this church approved the expenditure of $50.00 to buy a cow for the Baptist Orphan's Home to provide meat for the children. Not forgotten were the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brother, ye have done it unto me."
In October 1954, the Reverend Henry Ford Wilson was called to be pastor of Bonaire First Baptist Church, and he continued in that position for a little over ten years. During his tenure, the total membership grew from 136 to 330.
Under Reverend Wilson's leadership, the men of the church began work on a pastorium in late 1954 and completed it in 1955. Mr. A. L. (Eula) Sasser donated the building lot. Also during those ten years, fifteen Sunday school rooms were added, and the sanctuary was remodeled to include a baptistery. Prior to that time, baptismal services had been conducted at various locations such as Thompson's Pond, Gilbert's Pond, Ferguson's Pond and Sandy Run.
In January 1969, during the five-year tenure of Reverend Oscar DeLoach, the church membership approved a $50,000 bond issue to build the new sanctuary. The project was completed that same year. Also during the ministry of Reverend DeLoach, the church was incorporated as the Bonaire First Baptist Church. Although it had originally been the only Baptist Church in the area that was no longer the case. Over the years, Kathleen Baptist, Faith Baptist and Bethlehem Baptist were all founded by former members of this church, although this church did not sponsor them.
On February 9, 1982, our pastor, Reverend Billy Anglin died after a bout with cancer. He was much beloved by the congregation and during his ministry of five and one half years, the church had 169 additions by baptism and transfer of membership.
The growth of Bonaire First Baptist continued at a steady pace. The steeple was added to our new sanctuary on September 21, 1982. On July 15, 1984, church members approved another building and renovation program. New Sunday school rooms and a nursery were added. The old sanctuary, used as a Fellowship Hall, was renovated and its outer walls paced with brick to match the new sanctuary.
Pastors who have served Bonaire First Baptist church are: W. B. Bassett, E. E. Keen, C. P. Taylor, Dewitt Cox, Harry Northington, E. W. Edwards, Arthur Hinson, B. L. O'Brien, Earl Stirewalt, Robert Smith, Aquilla Chamblis (served in 1919 and again in 1930), Hamilton Daniels, James McRay. Kenneth Sellars, H. J. Pritchard, D. W. Brand, John Pollock, David Truax, Tom Harrell, Henry Ford Wilson, Sr., Charles Smith, Oscar DeLoach, John Clark, Int., Huey Brock, Henry Evans, Int., Billy Anglin, C. L. Fightmaster, Conrad Pirkle, Int., George Tribble, and Sidney Odom, Int.
Our present pastor, Reverend Kenny Rodgers, joined us on July 17, 1988. A dedicated and energetic servant of God he has been a blessing to Bonaire First Baptist Church. Church membership by the end of September 1999 had grown to 860 under his leadership; the pastorium was enlarged and completely renovated. In 1992, the Fellowship Hall was renovated and a second story with seven Sunday school rooms added in what was once the loft of the old sanctuary. Also, in 1992, the new sanctuary was expanded to provided additional seating capacity and completely renovated with a raised ceiling and all new furnishings. All of these projects were undertaken by the church membership and completed without incurring any debt.
The church continued to grow and in March 1994 the congregation decided that a larger building was needed. Ten acres of land was purchased in March 1995 on the corner of Highway 96 and Old Perry Road. Dedication and Ground breaking services were held in June 1996. The church decided that a Family Life Center building, to be used for worship, would be build first and a sanctuary would be built later after 1/3 of the required funds had been raised. Construction was initiated September 11, 1996 and the first worship services in the new building was held March 9, 1997. In January 1997, a doublewide trailer was purchased to house the church offices and the sale of the old church building to Bonaire United Methodist church was completed.
A tradition in this country is to have an annual day of Thanksgiving - a day on which to look back over the past year and thank God for His blessings. It is the usual practice of Christians to thank God for His blessing everyday as individuals and whenever they come together as a group. That is as it should be. However, only after we look back over the years to see where we were and how far we have come can we really begin to comprehend what God has done and the blessings that He has showered upon us.