Church History


FOREWORD

First Baptist Church is a story about building.  It is more than just a building made with men’s hands, but the building of lives.  First Baptist Church has had a great impact on the Village of Dwight over the past fifty years.  Over 5,000 young people have been saved since First Baptist Church was started.  Dwight’s motto is “A great past with a greater future.”  As you will see, First Baptist Church has had a truly great past of soulwinning, ministering, preaching, and practicing the old-time religion for fifty years here in Dwight.  We have an even greater future in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Hope of our faith.

When I was given the opportunity to research the history of the First Baptist Church of Dwight, it didn’t take long for me to stand in awe of this great work.  Its pastors, its ministries, and especially its people are tremendous trophies of the grace of God.  My heart began to love this church and to grow thankful for this church as never before.  It is my sincere desire that as you thumb through the pages of First Baptist Church, you will feel some of the same love and thankfulness radiating from your heart as well, which in turn will help you keep this great work going forward for the Lord.  Many churches do not have the opportunity to see their fiftieth anniversary.  We must especially praise God with Nehemiah as he said in Nehemiah 2:18b, “…And they said, Let us rise up and build.  So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”

Sara Bryant

 

PASTOR LEONARD KUHNERT
1957-1965

Brother Leonard Kuhnert was a Southern Baptist from Pinckneyville, Illinois.  At age thirty-four, he felt the Holy Spirit very specifically calling him to be a missionary to Illinois.  He put his home for sale and contacted Mr. E. H. Moore, Secretary of Stewardship and Missions at the Carbondale office for the Southern Baptists, requesting a list of names and addresses of people wanting help in beginning a Southern Baptist church.

When Mr. Moore realized that Brother Kuhnert did not have any Bible college training and was just going to start a church simply because he felt led of God, he laughed at him and would not give him any help.

Brother Kuhnert nevertheless did not quit but only strengthened his resolve in doing what he knew God had called him to do.  He stated, “I must listen to God rather than man.  It is a well-known fact in Illinois, that if you do not follow all of the suggestions of the Carbondale office, you will be hindered in anything you undertake for the Lord.”

In February of 1956, Brother Kuhnert attended a World Missions Conference in Du Quoin, Illinois.  Mr. Harold Cameron, Pioneer Missionary for northern Illinois, stated there were 160 towns in Illinois that wanted a Southern Baptist work.  Brother Kuhnert asked Mr. Cameron for a list of names and addresses of these people, but again his request was not granted.

At the end of February, the Kuhnerts sold their home.  During the last week of March, Brother Kuhnert drove to northern Illinois for a more detailed conference with Mr. Cameron, only to again be denied any information.  As Brother Kuhnert spoke with laymen in churches, he was told that the Calvary Baptist Church in Streator, Illinois, had voted to start a mission in Dwight, Illinois.  Since the church in Streator was without a pastor, the church could not help him at this time.

Two weeks later, Brother Kuhnert contacted Mr. Aubra Denney, who was interested in a Southern Baptist church in Dwight.  After meeting with Mr. Denney, Brother Kuhnert knew this was where God wanted him.  The next day he rented an apartment at 208 North Washington Street in Dwight and moved his family on April 4, 1956.  On April 5, 1956, Brother Kuhnert was informed that if he wanted any help in getting his mission in Dwight started, he would need to be sponsored by the Calvary Baptist Church in Morris.  On May 2, 1956, the Calvary Baptist Church in Morris voted to request a subsistence from the Home Mission Board for nine months for the mission pastor.

On April 15, 1956, the First Baptist Mission met for the first time in the Kuhnert’s home with twelve people present.  The mission met regularly from then on in different member’s homes with a Sunday school, morning and evening worship services, and a mid-week prayer meeting.  The average attendance in these early months was twelve, and the first offering was five dollars, which went to the church in Morris.

Upon arrival in Dwight, Brother Kuhnert started looking for a building in which to meet.  He found out that the Christian Science Society building (now the Gothic Church) was for sale for $5,000.00.  On June 9, 1956, the First Baptist Mission leased the building with the agreement that they would have the first opportunity to buy it.  Brother Kuhnert consulted the Home Mission Board, which responded by saying a down payment of $1,500.00 was available immediately and had been approved.  An agreement was made between the Calvary Baptist Church in Morris and the Christian Science Society in Dwight for the purchase of the building.  The agreement was signed on July 21, 1956.

After four months, the Calvary Baptist Church had heard nothing in reply to their request for a salary for their mission pastor.  Since Brother Kuhnert had not received any money for over four months and had heard nothing regarding where the down payment was (and it was due in two weeks), he decided to contact Mr. E. H. Moore for an appointment.  On October 14, 1956, an appointment was held with Mr. Moore, and he agreed to loan the Calvary Baptist Church in Morris the full $5,000.00 for the building in Dwight.  He said he would also see that his application for a salary would be approved.

On October 20, 1956, the Calvary Baptist Church received a check for $5,000.00 from the Illinois Baptist State Association for the purchase of the building in Dwight.  On December 1, 1956, Brother Kuhnert received his first paycheck for the months of October and November in the amount of $150.00.  His check was seven months late and $25.00 a month less than what he had been promised.

First Baptist Mission was now ready to constitute itself as a Southern Baptist church.  Brother Kuhnert sent out an invitation to area Southern Baptist churches to join in the establishment of the First Baptist Church.  Not one church showed any interest.  This happened twice.  Finally on December 15, 1957, the First Baptist Mission became the First Baptist Church of Dwight.  However, it was not constituted as a Southern Baptist church, but as an independent Baptist church with the “Scriptures as its sole authority in matters of faith and practice.”  The final draft of the constitution and by-laws were read and accepted, including twenty-four articles of faith and a church covenant.  The church also asked Brother Kuhnert to be the pastor of the church, and he accepted.

All seemed bliss until the Illinois Baptist State Association in Carbondale received word that the church in Dwight was now independent.  Mr. Charles M. Howard from Carbondale sent a letter to the clerk at Calvary Baptist Church in Morris stating that the First Baptist Church had gone against the “Mother Church” in adopting their own Articles of Faith, constitution, and by-laws.  It was also stated that since First Baptist Church was not Southern Baptist, it had misused the funds and property given by the Southern Baptist Convention.

The only way that the First Baptist Church could have continued on its current property was to declare themselves cooperative Southern Baptists, amend its by-laws and

constitution, and state forcibly that they were Southern Baptists.  The church would also need to affiliate with the Great Lakes Baptist Association, and upon affiliation with this association, the church would pay off its part of the loan and for the next twenty years must remain loyal to the Southern Baptist fellowship.  If First Baptist Church did not comply with these rules, then the First Baptist Church would need to  vacate their property by June 16, 1959.  First Baptist Church did not apologize for its independent stand and vacated the building on Franklin Street.

The church members met in the Kuhnert’s home until Sunday, September 18, 1960.  On this day, First Baptist Church had its first church service in the basement at 401 North Clinton Street, which is the present location of the church today.  This property was purchased in August, 1960.  Brother Kuhnert and the men in the church did much of the work on the basement themselves.  A 32 X 48 foot foundation was dug and cement block partitions were placed for the Sunday school classrooms.  Mr. John Haegele, a contractor, built the framework for a brick veneer exterior.  The superstructure was completed by that winter.

The First Baptist Church continued to take its stand as an independent Baptist church.  It was not alone.  The pastor from the First Baptist Church in Streator sent a letter of encouragement to Brother Kuhnert and complimented him on his stand.  He also enclosed a tract entitled “The People Called Conservative Baptists.”

In May of 1965, with the church running about sixty-five, Brother Kuhnert knew it was time to leave and move on to another work.  First Baptist Church was off to a good, strong start.

Brother Kuhnert went home to be with the Lord in December 27, 1999, in Pinckneyville, IL.

 

PASTOR DEAN LANG
SUMMER OF 1965 – APRIL 12, 1970

Brother Lang, then twenty-nine, was the pastor of the Harrison Baptist Church north of Rockford, Illinois.  This church was located near the Pecatonica River, and Brother Lang was used to having fishermen drop in as visitors at church services.  After one church service, Brother Lang saw three men in casual clothes sitting in the back and assumed they were fishermen.  After the church service, these three men asked if they could go to the Lang’s house and talk to them.  Brother Lang recalled that the men were Elmer Riber, Carl Baker, and Glenn Starks.  These three men said that they had come to hear him preach and wanted him to be the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dwight.  Brother Lang told them that he was not at all interested.  His present church was doing well, and he had just moved into a new parsonage.  He said he was content to spend the rest of his life there.  These men kept calling him and said they had three people to be baptized and had no pastor.  They asked if Brother Lang would come the next Sunday and baptize them.  Brother Lang told them no, and that he had his own church.  This happened again, and his reply was still the same.  Finally, after much persuasion, Brother Lang agreed to go to Dwight on a Friday night and baptize the three converts in a horse tank that was in the basement of the church.  He recalled that the building was small and had about fifteen members.

After Brother Lang returned home, God began to work on his heart and impressed upon him that he needed to go to the First Baptist Church and be their pastor.  Brother Lang told the Lord he would not contact the church, but if they called him and asked him to preach a two-week revival as soon as he became pastor, then he knew it was of the Lord.  The following Wednesday night after church, Brother Lang received a phone call from the First Baptist Church telling him they had unanimously voted to call him as their pastor and asked if he could preach a two-week revival after he got there.

Well, that settled it!  Brother Lang told the First Baptist Church that he could not leave the church he had built from nearly nothing to now a thriving church without giving them three months to find a new pastor.  At the end of three months a new pastor was found, and Brother Elmer Riber sent a semi-dump truck to get the Lang’s furniture and belongings.

Brother Lang never asked the First Baptist Church what they would pay him, but only asked if they would find a house that he could rent.  They told him that they had just purchased a parsonage at 209 North Washington Street.  After the Lang’s first Wednesday night service, the church had a business meeting and

agreed to pay Pastor Lang $150.00 a week.  This was $100.00 a week more than he had received at his former church!  It was a pleasant surprise for the Langs and a sweet testimony of how God protects those who fully put their trust in Him.

Ministries

The church grew rapidly under Brother Lang’s ministry.  The first new ministry started was a mailing ministry.  Later, a radio ministry began.  Brother Lang would broadcast live five days a week from his office at church with a special hook-up to 1250 WIZZ from Streator.  This was a popular program for many years.  The church’s first bus ministry was started with two blue buses that ran to Dwight, Gardner, Coal City, Mazon, Saunemin, Cullom, Kinsman, and all areas in between (over 250 miles each Sunday).

Church Growth

When Brother Lang came to First Baptist Church, it was a small brick building on a single lot.  After he arrived on Wednesday, he began the two-week revival on Sunday.  The first week of preaching was centered on the church members and trying to get them excited about seeing souls saved.  Brother Elmer Riber told Brother Lang he would furnish gas for his car.  On the second day of the revival, Brother Lang stopped by the construction company to get a tank of gas.  Brother Riber had just locked the door but told Brother Lang he would turn the pump back on.  Brother Lang was surprised that he was closed during the middle of the day.  Brother Riber explained that all of his men called and said they needed to go soulwinning.  Brother Riber agreed and said that he was going, too.

By the end of the second week of the revival, the church was packed with over two hundred people.  Pews were full, people were standing in the halls, down the aisles, and sitting on the platform, leaving only enough room for Brother Lang to stand.  Many people were saved.  After the following Wednesday service, a motion was made to build onto the church.  Before Brother Lang could say a word, someone else made a second motion, and everyone raised their hands.

Thursday morning, Brother Lang was praying at the church when he heard Brother Riber’s big truck pull into the church parking lot with the necessary equipment to dig a basement.  Brother Glenn Starks knocked on the pastor’s door and said that Brother Elmer had told him Brother Lang would draw the blueprints and set the stakes of where he was supposed to dig.  Brother Lang remembers tearing a page off of his calendar and very quickly drawing the plans for the first stage of the new basement.  While the basement was being dug, he went ahead and drew the plans for the additions that would be built over the next five years.  The basement was extended from the bottom of the stairs (under the auditorium) to the second set of stairs (under the main office).  This area used to be a large fellowship hall and kitchen.  Brother Lang remembers using a jack hammer for a full week cutting the doorway through the old basement wall.  The cement walls were poured as well as the floor; then, it was covered with tar paper until spring when the auditorium could be extended on top of it.  The baptistry tank that is here today was welded by Brother Glenn Starks and Brother Lang out of plate steel.

A baptistry and two small offices were added when the auditorium was extended.  The church soon ran out of Sunday school space, so Sunday evening youth services were held.  They were called Sunbeams, Whirly Birds, Jet Cadets, Omega, and Jay-Hi Astronauts.  The next year the “L” shape was added onto the building by extending the basement for more classrooms.  Because of this, the rest of the city block was purchased.  Grass and trees were planted, and the church bought a  tractor to keep it all mowed.

Particular Blessings

First Baptist Church experienced a very strong growth spurt that started with one of those long-sought-after revivals.  Right after the auditorium was extended, Brother Lang announced that the church was going to have a Sunday school contest to see if it could grow to be the largest Sunday school in Dwight.  It didn’t take him long to find out that First Baptist Church already was the largest.  However, at this time Dwight had a very large Danish population and most of the people were either Lutheran, Catholic, or Methodist.  Most of the people in town were not very familiar with what a Baptist was.  Through the newspaper and radio ministries, people in the community learned of our church.  Five years later when Brother Lang left, he had seen most of the people in the church saved and baptized.  One special experience he recalled was when Mrs. Allie Riber was  baptized and joined the church.  Brother Lang remembered how happy her husband was at this joyous event.

Particular Trials

If Brother Lang experienced any particular trial he was willing to share, it would have been his health.  He had experienced heart and lung trouble since he was a teenager.  His asthma also became worse after he came to Dwight.  It came to the point where he was under oxygen most of the time and would have to hold on to the pulpit for support while preaching.  Sometimes he would choke, and Brother Clarence Huseman would have to sing another song until he stopped.  It became so bad that he was no longer able to go soulwinning, to preach, or to continue his pastoral duties.  Brother and Mrs. Riber drove Brother Lang and his wife to Mayo Clinic.  There the doctors told Brother Lang that he would have only three months to live unless he moved to a dry climate in the West.  Brother Lang preached his last sermon on April 12, 1970, and then moved to Denver, Colorado.  When he arrived there, Dr. Jack Hyles had recommended him as pastor of a church in El Paso, Texas.  He has been there for thirty-seven years and is still pastoring the New Mexico branch of that church and is running the Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch.

A Monkey for a Member?

Brother Lang had read in the newspaper that he could buy a real monkey for not very much money.  He sent for it, and the monkey arrived on a train in Dwight.  Brother Lang would present the monkey at the service each Sunday and tell the church he would give the monkey away to the child who brought the most visitors during the program.  He even announced this on his daily radio program, telling folks to come see the real live monkey at First Baptist Church.

Dr. Joe Boyd was the guest preacher for a revival during that time, and he thought it was the greatest promotion he had ever heard.  He even went so far as to order a monkey for himself and had it shipped to the Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he would be speaking next month.  The Big Day came at Dwight, and the church was packed.  Brother Lang asked the young people who had brought visitors to stand and tell how many, but none of the mothers would allow their children to stand.  Not a single child stood, and Brother Lang was stuck with the monkey.  Finally, a church family that lived in the country agreed to take the monkey.  That winter, the monkey died.  Dr. Boyd called a few weeks later and said that he thought Brother Lang had a good idea, but none of the parents would let their children count their visitors.  Brother Lang said, “I know, Brother Joe.”

At Present

Thirty-three years ago, the Langs started the Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch which has had an impact on thousands of lives.  It was in Dwight in a meeting with Dr. Bill Rice III that Mrs. Rice said she would interpret if one deaf person came.  The next morning, Brother Lang found a sixteen year old deaf girl.  Her parents were Methodist, but they agreed to attend the revival with their daughter.  This girl was saved during the meeting, and God used this incident in Dwight to give Brother Lang a burden for the deaf, to whom he ministers now, along with Indians, inner-city children, and church young people.

PASTOR RALPH WINGATE, JR.
PASTORED JULY 16, 1970 – NOVEMBER 25, 1973

Just one month after Brother Lang resigned and went to Denver, First Baptist Church contacted Evangelist Bill Rice III regarding any possibilities for a pastor.  Brother Rice gave him the name of Brother Ralph Wingate, Jr.

The Wingates visited the church in May of 1970.  They stayed with the Ribers that weekend and did not think the Lord would call them to Dwight.  Through some very unusual circumstances, however, the very next day Brother Wingate knew the Lord was leading him here.  Brother Wingate was twenty-three years old when he became pastor of First Baptist Church on July 16, 1970.

Ministries

Brother Wingate continued the progress of the radio ministry.  He also continued weekly soulwinning and re-started the bus ministry.  (The bus ministry had stopped after Brother Lang resigned.)  Before Brother Wingate left in 1973, there were several bus routes running to the towns  surrounding Dwight every Sunday.

Brother Wingate felt a tremendous burden for the deaf he had seen in Dwight and wondered how he could reach them.  In December of 1972, the deaf ministry was started with the help of Brother Eugene Kimmel, an evangelist for the deaf.  Brother Kimmel came to First Baptist Church and taught a two-week sign language course to the church members.  Approximately forty church members took the sign language class.  Five or six deaf people started attending the church services, and many deaf children were saved as a result.

Church Growth

During Brother Wingate’s pastorate, the church purchased eleven acres immediately behind the church from the Oughton family.  The new Sunday school wing which is now the fellowship hall and elementary school classrooms were completed at this time.

There were thirty-five people present on Brother Wingate’s first Sunday as pastor.  The attendance record of 309 was broken during the next three and a half years.  During the last three months of Brother

Wingate’s ministry, the church grew to an average of 240 on Sunday morning.  In 1972, the church also baptized the most converts up until this time.  It was under Brother Wingate’s ministry that Brother Carl Chitwood surrendered to full-time Christian service and later became Brother Pierce’s assistant.  Brother Chitwood is now pastoring in El Paso, Texas.

In 1971, Brother Wingate hired the church’s first full-time assistant pastor, Brother Mike Carroll.

Special Speakers

The Bill Rice III family came for several conferences as well as Dr. Tom Malone.

Particular Blessings

Brother Wingate felt that the building and growth of the church was a particular blessing to him.  He stated that the church people were exceptional people, and that as a young preacher, he learned a great deal from them.  He hoped that they learned from him as well.

At The Present

After Brother Wingate left Dwight, he pastored the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Connecticut for ten years; and in 1983, he went to the Calvary Baptist Church in Normal, Illinois, where he is presently pastoring.

PASTOR DAVID PIERCE
PASTORED DECEMBER 1973 – JULY 1981

Just before Brother Wingate resigned, the Pierces attended a Midwestern Fellowship meeting in Dwight.  Brother Wingate submitted Brother David Pierce as a possible pastor.  First Baptist Church called Brother Pierce as their pastor, and the Pierces moved to Dwight in December of 1973.

Ministries

The first prison ministry and nursing home ministry were started by Brother Pierce.  On Monday mornings, Brother Pierce would go to the Dwight Correctional Center (women’s prison) and conduct a service.  In the afternoon, he would preach at the Heritage Manor Nursing Home in Dwight, and in the evening, he would go to the Pontiac Correctional Center to conduct a Bible study (which was more like a preaching service) in the prison.  He also gave correspondence courses to interested inmates.

Under Brother Pierce’s leadership, Dwight Baptist Academy opened its doors on August 28, 1975.  It was the first denominational school in Dwight.  In its first year, Dwight Baptist Academy consisted of four-year-old kindergarten through sixth grade.  Brother Richard Vaupel was the school’s first principal.  Dwight Baptist Academy was founded because the parents of First Baptist Church had a burden for their children.  They felt that there was a lack of moral and spiritual standards in society; therefore, a safe place was needed for their children to attend.  In its second year, Dwight Baptist Academy went through the twelfth grade with its first graduating class consisting of two seniors:  Rick Huseman and Mark Pierce.

Church Growth

During Brother Pierce’s ministry, he saw spiritual growth among the people.  He also continued running buses in the surrounding small cities.  It was under Brother Pierce’s ministry that Brother Kevin Walker surrendered to full-time Christian service during a revival with Dr. Carl Hatch.  Brother Walker later became Brother Woodward’s assistant for five years.  He and his wife, Loretta, are now in evangelism as “Round-Up Ministries”  conducting meetings and revivals across the country.  Brother Jesse Coley also surrendered to full-time Christian service during this time.  He is now a missionary with Bearing Precious Seed.  Several church members also dedicated their lives to serve on staff at Dwight Baptist Academy.

On April 15, 1975, First Baptist Church purchased another 7.97 acres of land from the Oughton family.  This property is located behind the church and extends to the creek bed.  After this, the gymnasium was built.  It was originally considered to be built as a school building; however, when the final decision was made, a gym was built so that it could be used for school and church use.  The gymnasium was dedicated to Brother Elmer Riber in 1985 by Brother Woodward at a special Founder’s Day service.

At the Present

Brother Pierce is currently pastoring in Franklin, Kentucky.

PASTOR TIMOTHY GELATT
PASTORED NOV. 1981 – 1984

Brother Gelatt was candidating at a church nearby when First Baptist Church was in need of a pastor.  After hearing about his availability, the pulpit committee asked him to candidate at First Baptist Church.

Ministries

Brother Gelatt held Vacation Bible School during the summer for all children to attend.  The church also started Women’s Missionary Society groups.  Each group represented a missionary family supported by the church.  These groups would remember the missionary families by sending cards and gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.  During this time, the church had a missionary pantry set up in the church basement.  Church families would donate supplies to the pantry.  Whenever a missionary came to visit, he was welcome to take any supplies he needed from the pantry.

Particular Blessings

Brother Gelatt shared that the weekly Bible studies held at the Dwight Correctional Center were a great success.  Many women were saved and grew as Christians.

DR. DANIEL WOODWARD
PASTORED June 16, 1985 – Present

In January of 1985, Brother Woodward was in line to see Dr. Jack Hyles at the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, concerning pastoring a certain church.  Brother Kevin Walker, also a student at Hyles-Anderson College and from the First Baptist Church in Dwight, Illinois, was in line behind Brother Woodward.  While they were waiting, Brother Walker asked Brother Woodward if he would be interested in coming to Dwight to preach, since the church was without a pastor at this time.  Brother Woodward agreed but told Brother Walker that Brother Hyles already had a church for him.  When it was Brother Woodward’s turn to meet with Brother Hyles, Brother Hyles told Brother Woodward that the church situation had fallen through, and he would get in touch with him when he had another church opportunity, which never came.

When Brother Woodward came home from church that night, he received a call from Carl Baker asking if he would be interested in filling the pulpit at the First Baptist Church in Dwight.  Brother Woodward told Brother Baker he would be glad to do that.  After filling the pulpit, Brother Woodward was asked to candidate for pastor.  Though Brother Woodward was voted down, the Woodwards felt certain that the First Baptist Church was God’s will for them.  Brother Woodward never candidated elsewhere at this time but had fourteen different opportunities to pastor; however, every one of them fell through.  It was very obvious to him that the Lord was preparing him for Dwight.

In June, Brother Woodward was asked to come back by petition.  The young couples in the church, led by Brother Baker, wanted Brother Woodward to come back for another vote.  Many members had left over the past four months, and Brother Woodward carried eighty-six percent of the vote to become pastor.  He became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dwight on June 16, 1985, and is lovingly known as “Preacher.”

Ministries

Bus Ministry

The bus ministry was re-started by first running a Dwight route; then adding over the years routes to Odell, Pontiac, Streator, Gardner, Godley, Braidwood, and Wilmington.

Nursing Home Ministry

A weekly nursing home ministry was re-started in 1989.  Church services are held at the

Heritage Manor Nursing Home every Wednesday evening.  In 1996, a ministry to the Grundy County Home was started.  Services are held at this nursing home facility once a month.

King’s Kids

The King’s Kids ministry was started in the fall of 1991.  This meets on Wednesday evenings and is for children ages four to twelve.  Children sing songs, play games, and hear preaching.  Its main emphasis is upon memorizing the Word of God.

Prison Ministry

The prison ministry at the Pontiac Correctional Center was re-started in February of 1993 with the help of Dr. Ron Gearis and the Rock of Ages Prison Ministry.  Men in the church faithfully preach to the inmates every Thursday and were asked by the prison to also preach twice a month on Sunday mornings.  The average attendance is fifty at the Thursday meetings and thirty at the Sunday meetings.  The Lord has used this great ministry to become one of the largest outreach ministries of First Baptist Church as far as salvations.  The Rock of Ages Prison Ministry also holds an annual prison revival at the Pontiac Correctional Center.

Midwest Christian Boys’ Football Camp

During the summer of 1995, First Baptist Church began to host the Midwest Christian Boys’ Football Camp.  The camp director is Pastor Tim Booth from Haughton, Louisiana.  The goal of the football camp is to “develop discipline and determination to serve God and defeat Satan.”  This football camp is currently the only one of its kind in that, it is designed for young men who do not have the opportunity to play tackle football, such as those who attend Christian schools or are home-schooled.

The Lord has used this ministry to have a far reaching impact on young men across the nation.  Pastors with football experience come from all across the country to give a week of their lives to coach and teach these young men not only about football, but also about life.  In 2007, the camp grew to an attendance of nearly three hundred young men.  Two hundred sixty-seven decisions were made that year ranging from salvation to young men called into full-time Christian service.  This camp has been made possible because so many members of First Baptist Church volunteer their time to serve in this great ministry.

Midwest Christian Ski Camp

The Midwest Christian Ski Camp was started in January of 2000.  It was started as a ministry to give seventh through twelfth grade Christian school students as well as homeschooled students an opportunity to ski and have fellowship with other young people from churches of like faith.  Their busy schedule includes eating, skiing, and preaching for two days.  In January of 2007, approximately two hundred young people were in attendance.  This ski camp is currently held at the Cascade Mountain Ski Resort in Wisconsin.

Vision Unlimited

The Vision Unlimited ministry started in 1987.  This is a scheduled giving program that helps save money for future additions to the church.  The parking lot was paved through Vision Unlimited, as well as several other projects.

Dwight Baptist Academy

Dwight Baptist Academy was re-organized in 1985.  On September 2, 1986, Dwight Baptist Academy started its first preschool program.  The curriculum was switched from A.C.E. to a traditional curriculum in 1990, and the academy has become a model school for many Christian schools in the Midwest.  Faith Baptist Church in Bourbonnais, Illinois, sent a bus-load of students to Dwight Baptist Academy from 1990 until 1995, when their church was able to re-establish a Christian school.  In 1995, a computer lab was built downstairs that housed sixteen computers.  This put Dwight Baptist Academy on the cutting edge of Christian education.  Dwight Baptist Academy has worked hard to raise the funds necessary to upgrade the lab and remain in the forefront of computer learning.  In 2007, Dwight Baptist Academy changed its curriculum back to the A.C.E. program to better meet the needs of the students and staff.

In 1988, Dwight Baptist Academy opened its first food operation at Dwight Harvest Days as a school fundraiser.  Over the past nineteen years, this annual fundraiser has grown from a $6,000 to a $30,000 event.  In 1995, a second operation, the annual Threshermen’s Reunion in Pontiac, Illinois, was added.

Since 1985, Dwight Baptist Academy has been involved in hosting basketball and volleyball tournaments.  Christian young people from all over the nation look forward to coming to participate.  They enjoy the competition, the fellowship, the traditional “Pizza Blast,” and the strong, fundamental preaching that has brought about many decisions for the cause of Christ.

Teen Ministries

Teenagers have an opportunity to go door-to-door soulwinning for two hours on Wednesday afternoons.  This ministry has seen many people saved.

In February of 2006, Phil Cavanaugh came on staff as assistant/youth pastor of First Baptist Church.  His wife Amanda joined him in July after they were married.  Brother Phil and Amanda are a great blessing to First Baptist Church.  Brother Phil conducts youth activities, directs the bus ministry, preaches chapel, coaches basketball at the academy, and anything else his Preacher needs him to do.  His wife Amanda also teaches at the academy and is a great help on staff.

In March of 2007, a church service at the Fox Developmental Center in Dwight was started that meets every other Wednesday.  Brother Phil Cavanaugh preaches at this service and teenage volunteers of First Baptist Church help in various areas in the services.

Summer Camp Ministry

First Baptist Church has also had a great part in supporting Christian camps.  For several years, First Baptist Church sent young people to work at Cedar River Baptist Camp in Iowa and Mt. Salem Revival Grounds in West Virginia.  Over the years, First Baptist Church, along with Riber Construction, has poured concrete at the Apache Creek Deaf and Youth Ranch in Texas, Cowboy Town at the Bill Rice Ranch in Tennessee (which is dedicated to Brother Elmer Riber), the Hephzibah House in Indiana, and at Cedar River Baptist Camp in Iowa.

Reformers Unanimous

On June 20, 2005, the Reformers Unanimous ministry was started.  This was a faith-based addiction program designed to direct the addicted back to God’s support group—the local church.  This ministry met on Friday evenings until the fall of 2007.

Church Growth

When Preacher first came to the church, there were sixty-eight people present his first Sunday morning.  The church people were very discouraged after having gone without a pastor for a year and a half.  The church began to grow.  In the spring of 2001, a new attendance record was set at 663.  The average attendance now is consistently about 265 on Sunday mornings.

The Zappa property was purchased in 1990.  This gave the church an additional two and a half acres and an easement to West Waupansie Street.  This property was able to be purchased through the Vision Unlimited program.  In 1994, the house next door (323 North Clinton Street) was purchased as a home for the housing of staff.

In January and February of 1992, the auditorium was remodeled.  New carpeting was laid, the walls and beams were painted, the church pews were refinished, and new light fixtures were added.  This was done above and beyond the giving of Vision Unlimited, and the work was done primarily by the church members.

In the last twenty-two years, the church has had many special meetings with nationally-known speakers.  First Baptist Church hosted the God Save America Midwest Regional Conference in 1993 and 1995.  This conference proved to be very instrumental as a model for other churches across the nation desiring to hold a conference.  This powerful conference was held in the Elmer Riber Gymnasium and had a record attendance in one evening of close to one thousand people.  Over the years, First Baptist Church has been challenged by great men of God including:  Dr. Jack Hyles, Dr. Ron Gearis, Dr. Keith Gomez, Dr. Randy Taylor, Dr. Dennis Corle, Dr. Joe Boyd, Dr. B.G. Buchanan, Dr. Bob Smith, Dr. Terry Anglea, Dr. Rick Fox, Dr. Andy Edwards, Dr. Jim Vineyard, Evangelist Bryan Sharp, Brother Tim Booth, Missionary Rick Martin, and definitely not least, Dr. “Uncle Mel” Rutter–the first missionary the church supported.

Missions

When Brother Woodward first became pastor, he was not familiar with Faith Promise giving for missions.  The church had a waning Faith Promise missions program in operation.  Dr. “Uncle Mel” Rutter came to host the annual missions conference and stayed up all night with Preacher teaching him the principles of Faith Promise giving, just like a Paul teaching a young Timothy.  Because of this influence, First Baptist Church now supports sixty-four missionary families in twenty-seven different countries.  (Two of these missionary families are “home-grown”–Jesse Coley and Evangelist Kevin Walker.)

First Baptist Church holds an annual missions conference.  During this time, the church is divided into four missionary families.  They include:  William Carey, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, and Adoniram Judson.  These missionary families meet prior to the conference and take care of fruit baskets and evening meals for the visiting missionaries during the conference. In 1997, the “Rope Holders” was started.  This was a way for the members of First Baptist Church to give to the missions conference in increments of twenty-five dollars.  This covered the cost of the conference and also provided the missionaries with new suits for the men and new dresses for the ladies.  Once a church member gave to the Rope Holders, his name was engraved on a plaque.

An Unforgettable Flight

On October 21, 2001, First Baptist Church had its fall Big Day.  The promotion was a helicopter that flew over the church grounds and dropped candy for the children who attended church that morning.  Since

this promotion was after the September 11 attacks, many neighbors were alarmed to see a helicopter flying over the church and suspected trouble.  Many called 911 and reported a black helicopter dropping something on children over the Baptist church.  Because there were so many phone calls about this, a report had to be filed with the FAA and the FBI.  When officials reached the church parking lot around two in the afternoon, they found the parking lot deserted.  The Dwight police contacted Pastor Woodward at home and asked what had happened.  He explained about the Big Day promotion, and the police told him that it would be best if the church let them know ahead of time before doing this particular promotion again.

Particular Trials and Blessings

No work for God has ever been built without trials and blessings along the way.  It is what is learned from those trials and blessings that really matter.

In September of 1985, just three months after Preacher arrived, he contracted viral encephalitis and became deathly ill.  Other people in the area also contracted this virus caused by a mosquito bite and died.  When Preacher was admitted into the hospital in Streator, the doctors at first were not quite sure what the diagnosis was.  God miraculously intervened and brought Preacher through this.  It was four months before Preacher fully recovered enough to preach in the pulpit once again.  During this time, the church was left in the hands of Brother Kevin Walker, a very able assistant pastor, whom God used to build the church while Preacher was recovering.  The church did well, and Preacher learned that this was not his work but God’s work.  Preacher developed a speech stutter as a result of his sickness.  Thoughts would come from his mind to his mouth backwards.  At one time, he had to completely write out his sermons word-for-word.  Today, by the grace of God, he has the liberty to preach from an outline once again.

In 1989, the church had contact with a missionary in Mexico and decided to take a missions trip by bus to Mexico.  While in Mexico, the bus broke down, and the group was stranded there longer than expected.  But God was in the delay and used it to greatly affect lives for eternity.

The blessings that can be learned from trials are extremely important.  The biggest blessing that Preacher has learned is that you can  stay where God wants you to be and allow Him to use you as He sees fit.  Even though trials and hardships come, God is the God of the valley as well as the mountaintop.  The whole ministry and life of the Christian is not about making a big name for yourself, but about doing the will of God for your life.  Preacher knows it is God’s will for him to be here in Dwight, and that is a blessing.

Another blessing of utmost importance is seeing the people of First Baptist Church rally together in tragedy, work through hardships, and not quit, but deal with valleys that occur and see God’s hand in them.

One particular financial blessing occurred when the church had a specific need for ten thousand dollars.  The staff had been praying specifically for this amount.  A check came in the mail from an anonymous donor for ten thousand dollars!

Bill and Nell Reece were a special blessing to our Preacher.  Brother Reece was the song leader and choir director for many years for Preacher. He and his wife, Nell, were very close to the Woodwards.  The Lord took Nell home to be with Him in May of 1995 during a fatal truck accident.  Brother Reece retired and moved to Missouri.

Connell Willis has been a special blessing to our Preacher.  He has been a close friend in time of need to the Woodwards through some of the darkest hours.

Brother Eric Bryant has been a very faithful and loyal assistant pastor to Preacher for over sixteen years.  Preacher and Brother Bryant have cried and rejoiced together over the years, and Brother Bryant has been there for his Preacher through thick and thin.  Both Brother Bryant and his wife, Sara, selflessly give countless hours of faithful service to the Lord and to their Preacher.

Preacher says that he could list the names of every faithful member of First Baptist Church, for each one has been a special blessing in areas such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, encouragement, care, investment in his children, etc.  He has never known such a hard working group of Christians that are grateful to their Saviour and busy building for eternity.

CHRISTIAN SERVICE

Here is a listing of those currently in Christian service at First Baptist Church or as a result of First Baptist Church

  • Eric and Sara Bryant
  • Tracy Campbell
  • Phil and Amanda Cavanaugh
  • Carl and Marilyn Chitwood (Pastor-El Paso, Texas)
  • Jesse and Maggie Coley (Missionary- Bearing Precious Seed)
  • Jane Colvin
  • Justin and Erica Leasure
  • Billy and Mary Ann Marks (Assistant Pastor-Plattsmouth, Nebraska)
  • Dawn Mize
  • Alisha Pierce
  • Paula Wagenschutz
  • T.J. Wagenschutz (Sports Coach in Ft. Wayne, Indiana)
  • Kevin and Loretta Walker (Evangelist-Round-Up Ministries)
  • Pastor Daniel and Cindy Woodward
  • Rachel Woodward

On August 20, 2000, Billy Marks was ordained to go into the ministry.  Billy is a graduate of Dwight Baptist Academy and Hyles-Anderson College. Billy is the first young man to graduate from Dwight Baptist Academy and go into the ministry under Pastor Woodward’s ministry.  Billy is currently serving as the assistant pastor/youth director of the First Baptist Church in Plattsmouth, Nebraska.

CHALLENGE

No building project is easy.  It takes time, hard work, and cannot be done alone.  First Baptist Church is no exception.  As you can see, it has taken time, hard work, sacrifice, and faithful people. 

May the history of First Baptist Church cause you to look to the future, and may you rise up and build on this firm foundation.

When the next history of First Baptist Church is written, will you be known among the builders?

DISCLAIMER

This is but a brief history of First Baptist Church.  It is in no way exhaustive, which we regret, for the hand of God has truly been evident in every aspect of our church’s life.