WWII-era couple's sacrifice yields new Hispanic church

by Lonnie Wilkey/Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, posted Monday, July 24, 2017 (2 months ago)

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) -- Missions has been a way of life for Earl and Violet Newcomb since the mid-1950s in helping start six churches.

Earl Newcomb served as song leader while operating a business in Franklin, Tenn., and Violet served as pianist and church treasurer.

"Lord, open the door and we will go," they always said.

In 1975 the couple helped begin their last church, Harpeth First Baptist in rural Williamson County. They bought the property (which included the old Harpeth Community School that was open from 1914 before closing in 1974) and later sold it to the church.

Harpeth First Baptist peaked in attendance in the 1990s before dropping off, said William Burton, church planting specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.

By 2014, the Newcombs were the only members who attended regularly. Their faithfulness to give, however, kept the doors open and provided for an interim pastor to preach once a week. And the church continued to give 10 percent of its offerings through the Cooperative Program and 5 percent to the Nashville Baptist Association.

"They kept it going like that for two years," Burton said, noting that the couple had approached the Tennessee mission board at one time about donating the property for a church start and that other churches had been in contact about helping them revitalize. The timing, however, never worked out.

"We were not discouraged," Violet Newcomb said. "We left it in God's hands as people walked away" from the church.

Daughter Debbie Hicks acknowledged there were "a few dry years" at the church and noted she asked her parents, "Why don't you go and join another church?" But they persevered and refused to give up on the church they helped to start.

In the meantime, approximately 684 Hispanic households had moved into the Spring Hill/Thompson's Station area near Harpeth First Baptist Church.

"We prayed about it and God opened the doors for a Hispanic congregation to come here," Violet Newcomb recounted.

That congregation was Iglesia Bautista La Esperanza (Hope Baptist Church). A merger of the two churches began in November 2015 and today it is known as Esperanza Church@Harpeth First Baptist.

Burton, who is working with the congregation as a volunteer church planter, said it is not the traditional Hispanic congregation as it is a Spanish-English church, with both music and preaching in both languages during each part of the service.

Burton noted that the merger combines the best of both church revitalization and church planting. "There is not a model quite like this," he acknowledged.

The Hispanic congregation has taken off, having baptized nearly 50 people since last November.

"We knew the Lord wanted to plant a church here," Burton said. "We just didn't know it would occur in the manner that it did."

When the Hispanic congregation began meeting, the sanctuary was in disarray and there were even snakes in the attic. The church received some grants to help with the remodeling and church members have done the work. They are now constructing an addition to the sanctuary that will increase seating to about 180 people.

Since the merger, the Newcombs have maintained their membership there. "They have adapted so well to the change," Burton noted.

What's more, the Hispanic congregation has "adopted" the couple who are seen as "grandparents" by the entire church, Burton said. "They love the Newcombs."

Daughter Sherrie Kennedy said her mother has been touched by how loving and caring the Hispanic congregation is. "They gave Mom and Dad a peace that they had done the right thing."

Burton said the experience with the merger has been especially good for the Hispanic congregation as "they have inherited a missional heritage from Harpeth First Baptist Church, a heritage that we hope will continue and influence other ethnic congregations as well as the generations that come through giving through the Cooperative Program, the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions as well as other Southern Baptist missions offerings."

In addition, Burton said the congregation has seen "a World War II-era couple [Newcomb received a Purple Heart after losing his leg in the Battle of the Bulge] lovingly embrace them and welcome them into the church. It's incredible what God has done."

The Newcombs have seven children who are well aware of their parents' commitment, made even before some of them were born. "When they entered the ministry, they never looked back," Kennedy said. "They sacrificed for the ministry. They knew they wanted to impact lives for Christ."

"They just wanted to serve God," Hicks said.

Daughter Elaine Newcomb agreed. "It's always been for His glory, not theirs."

Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.baptistandreflector.com), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
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