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Meeting Needs of the Community

Rural church in poverty, drug-stricken area helps residents turn lives around.

Along the boundary line between Stone County, Missouri, and Carroll County, Arkansas, roads meander past rolling pastures, rocky streams, and woods. But the peaceful scene hides a darker side of the Ozarks. Many families live in poverty. Some commute to work at poultry processing plants or small-town restaurants, but jobs are not plentiful. Some are hindered by disability or lack of transportation. Some turn to drugs for money, or to cope with the lack of it.

Just south of the state line in Oak Grove, Arkansas, The Harvest is addressing those problems.

Chartered in 1948 with 25 members, the Assemblies of God church grew over the years, with construction of the current sanctuary in 1997. However, in 2004, after a change in leadership, attendance declined, and interim pastors served with district supervision.

In 2005, evangelist Todd L. Rogers filled in and the congregation asked him to stay. Subsequently, the church began to grow again; finances improved; facilities expanded. A food pantry began serving up to 300 families monthly.

Rogers, 53, says he can’t pinpoint specific steps responsible for the turnaround; the Holy Spirit simply began to move and people responded. As the church grew, though, so did the number of church families affected by the area’s drug culture. Rogers himself, growing up in an Assemblies of God church, struggled during his teen years and abused alcohol before rededicating his life to God in 1988. His wife, Karin, has a similar story. They married in 1990 and entered evangelistic ministry, and both wanted to help people caught in substance abuse.

Karin started a Celebrate Recovery group at Harvest in 2007. Another recovery ministry in nearby Berryville had been looking for a Spirit-filled church to partner with, and now Freedom Seekers, led by Ron and Kim Hutchins, is an important outreach of Harvest Assembly.

Growing up in neighboring Stone County, as a teenager Jason Schwyhart saw his father killed in his home by a rival drug dealer. The youth’s anger, drug use, and gang activity subsequently landed him in serious trouble. After miraculously being delivered from an almost certain death penalty due to his under-age involvement in armed robbery and murder, he began bargaining with God.

“I knew what God wanted, and even promised to devote my life to helping others, but I wanted to do it my way,” Schwyhart says. Still consumed by bitterness, he soon reverted to run-ins with the law, and planned to flee, robbing banks and settling old scores.

Amazingly, before running, Schwyhart decided to attend a Sunday church service to connect with family he might never see again. As he sat at Harvest Assembly, Rogers began interpreting a message in tongues uttered through a congregant.

“I’ve never said this before in my years of ministry, but God is giving someone their last chance,” Rogers stated solemnly at the service. Schwyhart knew God wanted to reach him, and that morning he committed to follow Christ. He gradually realized that by harboring revenge, he actually served the same enemy responsible for his father’s death..

After discipleship at Harvest Assembly, Freedom Seekers, and Crane Christian Church where his mother attends, Schwyhart wanted to make good on his promise to help others. Schwyhart, 47, serves on staff at Hope Homes of the Ozarks, an Adult and Teen Challenge ministry of Freedom City Church in Springfield.

“Jason really had some issues,” recalls Rogers, “but he applied himself to growing spiritually and I’m thrilled at what God has done.”

Harvest Assembly offers discipleship opportunities for people returning to faith, recovering from addiction, or just looking for fellowship and spiritual growth. Sunday School classes, including youth, children, and several adult electives, teach fundamentals of faith and Bible study. Practical teaching on Wednesday nights includes topics such as divorce recovery or finances. The Sunday night Freedom Seekers meeting and meal is open to anyone, although many attendees are in recovery or satisfying court requirements. The food pantry still serves the area, and the church partners with a government program to provide transportation for low-income area residents to medical appointments.

The Rogers’ son, Braydon, coordinates media and TV ministries, daughter Mariah Baker leads the transportation ministry, and her husband, Heath, is youth pastor. Youngest daughter Shaylne serves on the worship team.

Rogers is grateful for the lives being changed through Harvest Assembly. He believes Schwyhart’s testimony underscores the importance of welcoming the Holy Spirit to move in every service.

“That’s the whole point of being Pentecostal,” Rogers says. “You can plan, but all the programs in the world can’t replace the Holy Spirit working in someone’s heart.”

Photo: Todd Rogers (left) helped Jason Schwyhart turn his life around. 

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.