HAZLEHURST — Anyone looking for southern charm and down-home hospitality might well find it in Hazlehurst, GA. The city’s website says that the southeast Georgia town is a “friendly place to spend a day or even a lifetime.”
Hazlehurst is described as a “historic and peaceful place with great local restaurants and bistros, gently rolling hills, and natural beauty edged by two of Georgia’s greatest and most pristine rivers, the Altamaha and Ocmulgee.”
And there are many folks in Jeff Davis County who would argue that Hazlehurst’s First Baptist Church is becoming the centerpiece of the community, perhaps even the whole county.
The church has a rich history of ministering in the area for more than 130 years. But in a day when many churches are struggling to survive, First Baptist is giving evidence of life, growth, and spiritual fervor.
The church is expanding its campus and has purchased the property of the former middle school across E. Coffee Street from its present facility; and a new spacious worship center is under construction that will be connected to the church’s education building.
The church broke ground for the building in February of 2017 and Pastor Brad Waters hopes the church can hold its first worship service in the new facility within the next few months. The church has already given $2.5 million for the worship center and no debt has been incurred to date.
Richard Lee, who has been called “America’s Patriot Pastor,” was one of the preachers for this year’s Bible Conference and saw the new worship center taking shape. He proclaimed, “Many will come to this place to worship and many others will at least see it and know that First Baptist Church has a vision for reaching the lost.”
First Baptist Hazlehurst has been a leader in baptisms in the Consolation Association for years and has a history of being a leader in Cooperative Program gifts. The church continues to give generously to the Cooperative Program even in the midst of an extensive capital fund raising program.
Host of Winter Bible Conference
Last week the church hosted its annual Winter Bible Conference. In addition to Richard Lee, the conference speakers were Kenny Grant, Herb Reavis, Jerry Vines, Robby Foster, and Phil Hoskins. In these services the church was filled and each service was bathed in prayer and marked by the joy of fellowship, the thrill of song, and the power of preaching.
Pastor Waters started having the Bible Conferences 14 years ago when he was pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Monroe. He explained that one of the reasons for having the conference is to be a blessing to preachers. Each year the conferences attract pastors from the local area and beyond.
This year Barry Snapp, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Rockmart, attended the Conference on Tuesday evening and commented, “I was blessed by the celebratory Christ-centered music and praise. Then I was thrilled as Dr. Vines preached an expository classic about God’s glorious salvation.”
In fact, Jerry Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached a sermon titled, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (God’s work of redeeming the lost) based on I Peter 1:9-12 and it was a homiletical masterpiece and was proclaimed with passion.
For those pastors looking for a great sermon outline his three major points were: (1) The prophets set the stage for the greatest show on earth; (2) The apostles wrote the script for the greatest show on earth; and (3) The angels love to look on the greatest show on earth.
Incidentally, for pastors and laypersons who want to read great sermons, Pastor Waters and his church are making available a collection of Evangelist Jess Hendley’s sermons in a book titled, The World Crisis and the Only Way Out. You can read more about the book in an article in The Christian Index posted on Jan. 5.
A Bible conference extended
Pastor Waters will have a booth at the Georgia Baptist Evangelism Conference Jan. 29-30 at Central Baptist Church in Warner Robins, where the volume will be available to pastors at no cost.
In 2014 The Christian Index reported on the Hazlehurst Bible Conference that was scheduled to last four days and ultimately lasted for weeks. The Jeff Davis Ledger reported, “Before the conference ended there had been 22 services, 13 preachers, ten visiting musicians, and an outpouring of blessings from heaven.” The county newspaper called the conference “a phenomenon.”
In 2016 The Christian Index likened the Bible Conference to the camp meetings of the early 19th century that resulted in the transformation of thousands of lives.
The hospitality of Pastor Watters and First Baptist is an example of not only southern cordiality, but also genuine Christian warmth and kindness. The writer of this article has been to the conference on several occasions and has found the welcome to be most pleasant and gracious.
Albany, GA native Paula Deen, the American celebrity chef, reportedly said, “I am proud to be a Southerner. I think Southern hospitality is very – not just a term – I think it really exists. You can come to Savannah, and the people are so sweet and so nice.”
I think the queen of southern culinary delights could have said the same thing about Hazlehurst. For example, if you ever go to 2 Brothers Restaurant, as has this writer on several occasions as a guest of the pastor, and try their cubed steak and gravy, fired chicken, their biscuits (Oh, my goodness), and vegetable casseroles you will experience fabulous southern cooking and down home hospitality you will never forget. Just ask Jerry Vines. On several occasions he has dined in this favored Hazlehurst eating establishment with unmeasured delight and embarrassing gusto.
Pastor Brad Watters is becoming known throughout the state as a premier expository preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and is leading his church in such a way that it is becoming the centerpiece of Jeff Davis County.