THE HISTORY OF GOD’S WORK IN CALOOSA
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning, God was with Caloosa Baptist Church. He has continued to be with and bless Caloosa Baptist Church to this day. There have been times when, in their humanity, our leadership and/or some of the congregation allowed their focus to be turned from obeying Jesus to following their own emotions. In these times, God loved Caloosa Baptist Church enough to bring His discipline upon us. But, God’s purpose in all of His discipline is to restore the love relationship He desires with His people. This has always been true for Caloosa Baptist Church and has always been the outcome of His discipline of Caloosa Baptist Church.
We began as Caloosa Baptist Chapel, Inc. on August 12, 1984 with 56 founding members, most of whom came from First Baptist Church in LaBelle. Later, in March 1985, another 41 members joined and were considered Charter members. Our first worship service was on August 19, 1984 in what was called the Ennis Building, which is now the Hispanic Church building. Mr. Fred Williams agreed to be our interim pastor until we found a permanent one. On September 30, 1984, Mr. Homer Brewer was called and agreed to become our first permanent pastor. On February 19, 1986, we changed our name to Caloosa Baptist Church, Inc.
The Ennis Building was vacant at the time we started having our worship services in it. We purchased the building on October 10, 1984 by assuming the mortgage that was already on the building. There was almost no land associated with the building other than the footprint of the building. Due to this lack of space for parking, 20 acres of land adjacent to the Ennis Bldg. from Route 80 to the River was purchased on April 11, 1985. This was a significant piece of property, but came with a large mortgage for a new and small church. God was praised for providing such a wonderful piece of land that would meet the needs of Caloosa Baptist Church far into the future. Watch God at Work!
Over the next few years, Caloosa grew and prospered, but soon outgrew the Ennis Bldg. and had to move Bible studies to the local hotel next door and the Civic Center across the street. This didn’t last very long as the lack of space caused the membership to decline. As the decline occurred, the debt service became a real burden on the finances. Caloosa decided to try to sell some of the 20 acres to reduce the debt. In 1989, offers were received for a new grocery store fronting on Route 80 and one was accepted. During 1991, this offer was cancelled by the buyer, other offers were accepted and later cancelled by the buyers until, in June 1992, the grocery store backed out of opening a location in LaBelle. This terminated all of the activity to sell any of the excess property to reduce the debt. The members of Caloosa were not very positive about the future of the church.
BUT GOD -
As the burden of the debt service increased it seemed the darkest for Caloosa. But, in December 1992, a famous local restaurant, Flora & Ella’s, had to relocate and an agreement was reached to sell a parcel of land on Route 80. That same month, a large and anonymous unsecured and unlimited term loan was made to Caloosa that did not require any payments. It was decided to apply $200,000 of these new funds to the mortgage on the 20 acres, which was done in January 1992, In February 1993, the Clewiston National Bank offered to consolidate all of the remaining debt of Caloosa! After these transactions, by early 1993, a significant portion of the debt was eliminated and there was breathing room in the budget. In July 1995, an offer was received and agreed to for another parcel of land just west of the new restaurant location (to become a Pop Eye’s). By the summer of 1995, almost all of the debt for the Ennis Building and the 20 acres was paid off. After years of struggling with debt, God intervened at the darkest hour to significantly lighten the burden of the debt and within two more years after that, had provided for Caloosa to be essentially debt free. We had sold some property along Route 80, but still owned significant property to the River! Watch God at Work! Later, two more parcels of land were sold on the north end of the property. The proceeds would later be just enough to build a new sanctuary with cash.
As 1995 came to a close, Caloosa still had substantial land, was debt free, had a strong cash balance, but a small building. From the beginning of 1996 to the middle of 2000, Caloosa continued in the Ennis Building. In the Fall of 2000, a committee was formed to investigate the design and construction of a new sanctuary. It took several years to finalize a design and obtain the permits and variances needed to build a new sanctuary. The permitting process consisted of the usual governmental delays and miscommunications, and changes. But, finally on August 26, 2004 work commenced on the new sanctuary. A member of Caloosa who was a contractor became Caloosa’s construction representative. Over the following year, numerous members gave of their time and resources to provide much (or most) of the labor needed to build the sanctuary. Many times, materials were needed and members and/or local merchants provided what was needed free of charge. Also, during the first few months of construction Florida was hit with four hurricanes. While this delayed some construction and made some critical materials hard to find, no damage was incurred and work went on.
On July 31, 2005, the first worship service was conducted in the new sanctuary. The next day the Certificate of Occupancy was received. On August 21, 2005, the sanctuary was dedicated. Many previous members and local Baptist leaders were on hand for the ceremony. Watch God at Work!
In 2012 the former Flora & Ella’s building was in foreclosure. Discussions and negotiations were commenced for Caloosa to buy back the land that Caloosa previously sold, with a very nice building now on it, On June 27, 2012, the purchase was completed. Many volunteers joined in the cleaning and remodeling of what is now called the Grace Building. Within a few months it was ready for occupancy and became the Administrative offices of the church, Bible study classrooms, meeting rooms, fellowship facility, and a very fine kitchen with good storage.
Caloosa Baptist Church now had a very good sanctuary, a multi-use building, two portables, and 8.2 acres of land with good frontage on Route 80. God had a plan to provide outstanding resources for Caloosa, including returning some of the land that was sold complete with a very needed and usable building. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declared the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In Romans 8:28 we are promised, “And we know in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Watch God at Work!
GOD’S APPOINTED LEADERS
Our first pastor was Mr. Fred Williams, the former President of Gulf Coast Bible College in Fort Myers, Fl. He served as an interim pastor until a permanent pastor was found and called. Mr. Williams conducted the first worship service on August 19, 1984 in the Ennis Building. On September 30, 1984, Mr. Homer Brewer, who lived in Hendry County, was called and became our first permanent pastor. Mr. Brewer led the church for 23 years through seasons of difficulty, prosperity, land purchases and sales, and the building of a new sanctuary. He delayed his retirement until the sanctuary could be completed and a new pastor found and called. In the Spring of 2007, a member of Caloosa was attending a funeral on the east coast of Florida which was led by a Dr. Les Morgan from Tacoa Falls, Ga. Upon returning from the funeral, the member recommended Caloosa consider Dr. Morgan as our new pastor. After being invited to preach at Caloosa, the congregation voted to call Dr. Morgan, which he accepted. On July 1, 2007, Dr. Morgan preached his first sermon as Caloosa Baptist Church’s senior pastor. The attendance that day was around 50 people.
Dr. Morgan later recommended Mr. Doug Russell to the congregation as Youth Pastor. Caloosa called Mr. Russell and he accepted the call. He was from a local family and had grown up in Hendry County. Later, Dr. Morgan married Val who became the church Secretary. Caloosa exhibited the love of Jesus Christ to one another and to the community and God in accordance with His promise in John 13:34-35, brought many new people to our congregation. Our biggest Sunday attendance was 287 on Easter Sunday of 2014.
However, from late summer 2012 through early 2015, the unity of Caloosa started to lessen due to taking our eyes off of Jesus. In early March 2015, all three of our staff resigned. It was another dark time for Caloosa.
Immediately after the departure of the staff, several guest pastors filled the pulpit and brought God’s Word to Caloosa. In May 2015, The Royal Palm Association gave us the name of a pastor whose ministry was helping churches in times of transition. Dr. Gary Merkel was just finishing such an assignment at First Baptist Church in Immokalee, Fl. and would be available the first Sunday in June. Caloosa called Pastor “G” to be our intentional interim pastor and he accepted. Pastor G and his wife, Mary Jo, were a blessing directly from God. He lived out the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and exhibited a positive attitude that did much to heal the church and restore our focus on Jesus Christ. God blessed our finances and we ended the year on an uptrend and with a solid cash balance.
Unfortunately, Pastor G was called to a small church in Alabama in January 2016. We said a fond farewell to Pastor G and Mary Jo and returned to having guest pastors bring God’s Word on Sunday mornings. It did not take God long to provide for His people. Upon recommendation of the local Baptist Association, we invited Dr. Charles Deglow to fill the pulpit on several Sundays. We fell in love with his calm style and powerful sermons and called him to be our interim pastor for this season of the life of Caloosa. He graciously agreed and served as out interim pastor until Spring of 2017.
After about two years of searching for a new pastor, the Lord brought a resume to Caloosa in the Summer of 2017 from a source we didn't even know about. On Labor Day 2017, we contacted Mr. James Hunt who was pastoring a church in Gutherie, OK at the time. Through a series of numerous interventions and divine appointments by God, Caloosa called James Hunt to be our new pastor on October 15, 2017. We started 2018 with a new pastor that was the secific choice and appointment of God and God worked numerous mieacles to get James and his family out of OK and into a house that was specifically built by God for him and his family to meet their needs and financial ability, all before either James or Caloosa even knew we would need a new pastor!
In early summer of 2018, Caloosa was provided an opportunity to host a very special mission team from Louisana that conducted vacation Bible schools during the summer. This opportunity came up very unexpectedly and with very short notice. The VBS went off without a hitch and 35 children and youth were brought into the Kingdom of God! This led Caloosa to discern God's will was to call a Children and Youth pastor, which Caloosa wasn't planning to do until 2019 or 2020.. Little did we know that God had already provided for the Associate Pastor we would need. Ryan Ayala and his wife Patricia had already been attending Caloosa since 2017, even before we had called Pastor James! After much prayer by the Search Committee and by the Ayalas, Ryan was called in March 2019. God has always had a plan for Caloosa Baptist Church and had blessed Caloosa with two specifically choosen and appointed Pastors to lead the way in His plan.
Caloosa has seen and continues to see God's hand in bringing new faces into the congregation through transfer of memberships, salvations, and baptisms. Caloosa remains focused on being in the center of God's will and being watchful to see where God is working and joining Him in His work.