About Us

Our Church History

American Baptist work began in Shelby County, Iowa on January 21, 1868 when nine people met in the Court House at Harlan to organize the First Baptist Church of Harlan.  The ensuing year was eventful, among other achievements was the addition of a “Danish Branch” when Danish Baptists who began settling in the East Nishnabotna River bottoms, presented their certificates of membership to the church with a request to have services in their native tongue.  Two years later a wooden chapel was constructed which was constructed to house the First Baptist Church during the first eighteen years of its existence.  In 1886, James Long donated a new brick building to the First Baptist Church and the old wooden building was given to the Danish Baptists for a church of their own.  Here the work continued prospering to a degree, when in 1929; a merger between the two churches ended the eventful history of the First Baptist Church. 

Almost simultaneous with the merger in 1929 came the great crash in the New York Stock Exchange followed by economic depression, but in spite of this an adequate brick building was erected and dedicated in January of 1936.  This church was called Bethel Baptist Church.   In 1954, a goal of 500 in Sunday school in April was almost reached but an outbreak of chicken pox curtailed the goal.  Due to pastoral leading, the American Baptist Missions program of the church was deleted from the church budget.  

New Beginnings

It all began in the spring of 1958 when a group of dedicated people, feeling the need for the distinct testimony of an American Baptist Church in our community, held several meetings at the Baptist Memorial Home to discuss the possibility of such a project.  After much discussion and prayer, it was decided to proceed.  The name of “First Baptist Church” was chosen.  

We were fortunate to secure the Old Park School Building in which to hold our services.  Those of us who were involved will never forget our “work day” on May 22, 1958.  A couple who had recently moved from California became invaluable to us as janitors.  Art Jacobsen was always there when needed to fix leaky pipes and many other repair jobs needed in the old school building.  He and Sarah continued their janitorial duties for many years after we moved into our new church building.  

The first service of this group was held on Sunday, May 25, 1958 at the Old Park School with 90 in attendance at Sunday school and 145 in the Church service.  Ninety-six Baptists signed as Charter Members on that day.  Charter membership was closed on December 31, 1958 with 204 members.  

When first beginning to think of the “History of the First Baptist Church”, you think of the various people who played an important part in the organization of the church, but then you realize that you cannot do this.  After looking back over the past 10 years, you find that so many contributed so greatly to the organization and since that time that you decide the entire membership deserves at least some credit.  Below is just an attempt to give a brief history of the important dates and milestones in the history of First Baptist Church.

  • June 11, 1957 – Our first meeting.  Around 100 people met with Reverend Neil berg of Clarks Grove, Minnesota.  Temporary Clerk and Committee of 10 were appointed.  This committee worked hard all the rest of 1957 and called another meeting February 3, 1958 with Dr. A.J. Knight in charge.  This night is was decided the “we band ourselves together for the purpose of raising a witness for the American Baptist Cause and to encourage a cooperating Baptist Church in this community.”
  • April 4, 1958 – Meeting led by Dr. Paul Smith, Sec. of the Iowa Baptist Convention.  It was decided that night to have Sunday Evening Services asking Reverend Lawrence Thompson, who was a member of our group, to be our speaker.   We had Sunday Evening Services from the first part of April through May 18, 1958 at the Baptist Memorial Home with good attendance.  Reverend Lou Eckols had several of our services.  
  • April 27, 1958 – The Church name was decided upon as FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH.  There was a clean-up day at the Old Park School. 
  • May 25, 1958 – Our first Sunday morning services with 90 in Sunday school and 145 in church services.  
  • June 1, 1958 -  Our first Communion Service.
  • June 3, 1958 – Our first Family night.
  • July 6, 1958 – Our first baptismal service in joint services with Cuppy’s Grove with 5 baptisms.
  • July 26, 1958 – Articles of Incorporation were completed.
  • August 21, 1958 – First election of officers. 
The first moderator of our church was Gerald Larson, Arthur Knudsen was chairman of the Board of Deacons and Howard Rasmussen was chairman of the Trustees.  The church Clerk was Ila Jorgensen and the Treasurer was Don Blakely.  Norman Sondergard was our Sunday school Secretary and held that position for many, many years in our new church building.  Ruth Sorensen and Margaret Pauley were the first people to do church calling for prospective members.  

On July 6th we held a joint baptismal service with the Altamont Baptist Church at Cuppy’s Grove.  July 26th the Articles of Incorporation were compiled and signed.  

Our first Pastor, Reverend Robert B. Willhoite, was called on September 21, 1958 and a parsonage was purchased on October 1, 1958 on 7th Street.  On October 29th we held an installation service for Reverend Willhoite and his family.  Another baptismal service for 10 persons was held at the Altamont Baptist Church on December 14th.  By the end of 1958, 204 people had signed as charter members. 
On May 29, 1959, a contract was signed with the Harlan Contracting Company for our new church building.  Ground breaking services were held on May 31st.   A corner stone was laid on August 30th.  The building committee was divided into three separate committees, namely:  Structure; Interior: and Grounds, with Howard Rasmussen as general chairman.  Our church was fortunate to have the guidance and excellent advise of one of our members, Morris Frederickson, who had been a building contractor in Harlan for many years.  
Many of our people attended the American Baptist Convention in Des Moines in June.  

The very first meeting in our new church building was our Christmas program held in our partially finished basement on December 20, 1959 at which a most interesting guest was a little mouse.  Our seats consisted of planks set on cement blocks.  
The move from Park School to our new building was made during the week proceeding May 29, 1960, and on that Sunday we met in our new building with songs of praise and much joy in our hearts.  Our membership now numbered 222.  June 17-20 were “Days of Dedication” which included 2 banquets, a night of music and a very fine historical pageant written by Esther Stofferson.  It was truly a memorable time as we celebrated the occupancy of our new House of God.  Our first church paper (monthly) was started during this year with Arlo Sondergard as editor with postage being 1 ¼ cents per copy.   
  • 1961 – The Church Board adopted a Standard of Achievement to measure the progress and growth of our Sunday church school.  A class for 2 years olds was started.  The Sunbeam choir was started this year under the direction of Mary Louise Wittrup and Mrs. Otis Wittrup.  This fine group of children gave us many pleasurable moments singing during our church services.   The Senior Citizens coffees were started this year with Jack and Rhoda Graves as the coordinators.  
  • 1962 -  A camping program was especially emphasized for the youth of the church at Dayton Oaks as well as Leadership Training programs which were well attended.  Fifteen members attended conferences at  Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin.  Fern Rold returned home from India on October 18th after 32 years of Missionary service.  Mrs. Willhoite started Junior Church with much enthusiasm from the children.  
  • 1963 – A very successful Vacation Bible School was held with 23 decisions fro Christ and 13 re-dedications.  More than 20 persons received their attendance pins in the past year for Sunday Church School attendance.  Men’s Fellowship of the church won the travel trophy at the Association meeting.   Mrs. Annabelle Plagman was editor of the church paper and mailed it to 203 households.   The American Baptist women purchased the first choir robes for the choir.  
  • 1964 – Reverend Robert Willhoite served as Pastor until February when he accepted a call to become Pastor of First Baptist Church in Newton, Iowa.  Reverend M.C. Carstensen served as interim Pastor until October 1.  On September 10, approximately 100 people from First Baptist Church attended the Billy Graham Crusade in Omaha.  On October 1 we installed Reverend Gary Nelsen and family as Pastor of our church.  October 15, 16, and 17th the State Baptist Convention was held at First Baptist Church with 740 registered guests.  Many people in our community helped with housing, food, music, Chamber of Commerce Welcoming Committee and Harlan Newspapers with publicity.  Friday night banquet was sold out and held at the Harlan Community High School gym.  Every member worked together to make the convention a success.  
  • 1965 – The mission budget increased by $5000.00 this year- a measure of maturity and growth as it indicates interest and concern outside of one’s self.  Two trust funds were started, the Tinus Sondergard Camp Fund and the Knudsen College Fund, given by Arthur and Nina Knudsen.   Gerald Larson was elected to a 3 year term on the Board of the Iowa Baptist Convention.  Thirty teachers went to Atlantic to a Christian Education Conference put on by our National Leaders.  Due to crowded Church Sunday school rooms, a study committee was formed for the purpose of planning an educational building.  
  • 1966 – A building committee was appointed to proceed with building plans for building an educational unit for additional Sunday school rooms.  A Friendship Crusade with Dr. Lee Regier from Morgan Park Baptist Church of Chicago was held with nine decisions for Christ made.  The American Baptist women (ABW) gave a most generous gift of new carpet for the Sanctuary.   First Baptist Church people attended the Southwest Iowa Association of American Baptist churches 100 years of Missionary Outreach Centennial at Red Oak, Iowa on October 27.  It was a most inspiring service.  
  • 1967 – In May of 1967, the church voted to begin construction of our new educational wing at a cost of $102,000 plus interest.  Fern Rold Circle, Hope Circle, and Ruth Circle became an extension of the American Baptist Women’s Missionary work.   Our church received added beauty this year with the addition of colored windows in the sanctuary which were provided with memorial gifts given by loved ones.  Spot lights were put on the front of the church building this year.   
  • 1968 – Celebrated 10th anniversary of our church in May.  We also dedicated the new Christian Education wing, the renovated front of the church and the colored windows in the sanctuary.  It was a beautiful, inspiring day for all of us.  A Spiritual Renewal weekend was held with a team from Sioux Falls, SD challenging us to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ which was a wonderful spiritual experience for many people.  New furniture in the church lounge was donated by the KYB Class.  A new air conditioning system was put in the church building with a memorial gift from the family of Harold C. Pauley.  The church paper will be a weekly paper beginning this year.  Additional parking area was surfaced this year as well as a new sound system installed.  
  • 1969 – Reverend Gary Nelsen served as Pastor until spring when he accepted a call to the Ridgeview Baptist Church in Danville, Illinois.  Reverend John Stone filled the pulpit during the summer months.  Pastor Owen Wherritt from Merrill’s Grove and Wayne Corzatt from Altamont graciously filled the pulpit until Pastor Peter Kemper was called in December.  The church voted to sell the present parsonage and build a more suitable home for our Pastor and his family.    
  • 1970 – Pastor Kemper and family joined us in January as our new Pastor.  Pastor Kemper dedicated a portion of his time to counseling members of the AA Organization.  Mary Beth Kemper held religious classes for the mentally handicapped citizens in our area.  Special emphasis was placed on mission work with three Missionaries coming to our church and a challenge to youth to consider opportunities in the Mission filed.  The new parsonage was completed and the Pastor and family moved in.  Dedication of the parsonage was held on September 20, 1970.  
  • 1971 – This was a year of experiencing God’s blessing.  Involvement and enthusiasm were on the increase with offerings, mission giving, membership, attendance and ministry for Christ ever increasing.  Easter Sunday attendance was 296.  Pastor Kemper was involved with many county and Area IV organizations in a responsible position.  Monthly Sunday school visitation was started with many youth taking part in the camping program at Dayton Oaks.  The teen choir presented a cantata titled “Life” under the direction of Bette Allen.  New hymnals were purchased for the church from memorial gifts.  
  • 1972 – Reverend Albert Crocker, a blind evangelist and his dog, Todd, came to our church for a series of meetings.  His messages stirred the entire community.  He spoke to the High school students as well as other groups in town.  Many first time decisions for Christ, rededications, and deeper commitments to Christ were the result of these meetings.  Dale Stohr was our youth minister for the summer and left an impact on our entire church family.  Pastor Kemper and Jean went on a preaching mission trip to Haiti and came back so filled with the love and concern for these people.  It rubbed off on us all.  Twenty-seven prospective members made their commitment to Christ. 
  • 1973 – Reverend Al Crocker visited our church again for a weekend and was the key note speaker at the Key 73 Rally held in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.  Church members participated in a Bible study for all people in our area called “Key 73”. A rewarding experience for our church people was the Lay-Witness Mission Weekend for our entire church.  The church had a “60 years of Service” Anniversary party for Reverend M.C. Carstensen on June 24, 1973.  A church evaluation weekend was held with suggested recommendations for growth in fulfilling  our mission.
  • 1974 – A very successful Jr. High Area IV Rally was held in our church in March with 130 young people registered.  Pastor Kemper resigned on May 5, 1974 to assume his new duties in Ohio July 1.  Pastor Kemper’s farewell service was held on June 23, 1974 with a very large attendance.  The entire community took part in this event filling the church sanctuary.  We were fortunate to have Dr. E. L. Goss as our interim Pastor until October 1, doing an excellent job of nurturing us.  The church called Reverend Donald Thrash to be our Pastor to begin his ministry here on November 1.  He was installed on November 17.  
  • 1975 – Twenty-five candidates were recommended for baptism.  Several of the candidates chose to be baptized at Prairie Rose Lake in an impressive service.  Reverend Amadeo Albuquerque of Nicaragua was our School of Mission speaker.  Pam Chappell was our summer youth worker.  A very enjoyable Valentine banquet was held in February initiated by Reverend Thrash.  The Senior High BYF gave a very touching Easter dramatic presentation of the Resurrection of Christ under the direction of Paul and Margaret Pauley to a full sanctuary.   The all church Sunday school picnic was held at Prairie Rose Lake with a large attendance.  Membership totaled 338.  
  • 1976 – A chalk artist, Jerry Beltz, conducted evangelistic services with several commitments to Christ.  Fifteen new members were added to our Lord’s work.  Our Pastor was the coordinator of the youth ministry program during the year holding several retreats during the summer.  Many people are working in all areas of our mission to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Fred Young from Central Seminary held a Bible Conference emphasizing “Personalities of the Old Testament.”  Two college choirs, Sioux Falls College and Bacone College, presented two beautiful concerts.  
  • 1977 – Brent Larsen was hired to work in educational ministries with a great deal of his time spent with the youth program.  Twenty new members joined the church family.  Judson College choir presented a concert enjoyed by all.  A Valentine banquet was held for the whole church.  The children’s choir was started.  Pastor Don and Marilyn Thrash made a trip to the Holy Land and shared their experiences with the church and community.  We had the first live nativity pageant in Harlan in our church parking lot.  Arlin Sorensen started a new Sunday school class for young married couples which grew and grew, bringing in other young couples.  This class has been divided several times. 
  • 1978 – Brent Larsen left for other employment.  Arlin Sorensen started the BYF program for the youth.  Pastor Thrash made a pastoral visit to every home of resident members along with over 700 hospital, nonmembers, and member visits.   A church brochure was sent to all new Harlan residents with a follow-up call.  Two special seminars on Spiritual Gifts were of great benfit to members.  Pastor Thrash served as President of the County Clergy Association.  He also started the weekly “Parson to Persons” column in the Harlan Newspaper.  Deacons lead devotions at our monthly pot-luck suppers.  Membership grew to 355.  
  • 1979 – We have a solid core of dedicated Christians in our church with a great deal of leadership ability.  Our church had a float in the Harlan Centennial parade.  The church sanctuary was repainted, the first time since the building of it and the lettering on the front of the church was put up.  Senior Citizen activities are well attended.  Dr. Webber from Judson College held special meetings in the fall.  A very impressive candle light service closed the year.  
  • 1980 – The one board system was put into practice this year with the 5 departments meeting together.  Many years of planning and work were put into this new Board system before it came to pass.  The Parson to Persons column in the local paper is going well.  Dr. Unmack conducted a Bible study seminar for us.  Wednesday night family night was begun with a pot-luck supper followed by BYF programs and Bible study.  New shingles were put on the church roof.  Also the roof on the educational wing was recoated.  Due to hail storms this was paid for by the insurance company.  A Shepherding program was implemented using couples as our Evangelism Outreach Teams.  A mortgage burning service was held on October 26, 1980.  Our church buildings are completely paid off.  We thank God for His blessings.   The Senior High youth group went on a ski trip to Colorado with Paul and Margret Pauley.  
  • 1981 – The senior citizens program is a big success with people from the Harlan area coming for programs and fellowship.  Many things have been purchased for the church from the senior citizens.  The nursery is growing and it now requires two people for the babies. A display case with lights was built to hold the many mementoes Fern Rold donated to the church from her many years of Missionary work.  The Shepherding program was disbanded due to failure finding dedicated couples to do the visitation.  The church women are very involved with visitation at the Baptist Home and White Cross work.  A shopping cart managed by church women is available to residents of the Baptist Home on Wednesdays.  
  • 1982 – Pastor Thrash and family concluded his work here and accepted a call to Dayton, Ohio to assume duties March 1.  Reverend John and Dorothea Ashley came to Harlan as our Interim Pastor.  A puppet ministry was added to the BYF program this year with a good growth in the number of children attending.  Water in the parsonage basement has been a problem.  With the encouragement of Pastor Ashley, the men of the church spent a lot of time digging, carrying mud, and removing concrete floor.  A drainage system was installed to take care of the problem.  A very big job but done with much love and concern for our parsonage dwellers.   
  • 1983 -  May  21 we celebrated our 25th church anniversary.  It was a catered meal served in fellowship hall.  Don Blakely served as Master of Ceremonies for the program of recalling our history.  The “Good News Five” singing group from Des Moines entertained us with gospel music.  On June 1, Pastor John Leggett came to be our Pastor.  Pastor Leggett sponsored get acquainted coffees to which every member was invited to attend.  We had a carry in supper for Reverend Dick Worley, Missionary from Thailand who showed us pictures and spoke of the Mission work in that far off land.  Twenty-seven new members joined First Baptist this year.  
  • 1984 – A diaconate planning retreat was held in February planning goals for the year.  The Sunday Church school picnic was held at Cresthaven Park with a pig roast.  We hosted the Area IV Mini-Conference this year.  School of Missions was held three Sunday evenings ending with a Zairian meal.  Ruth Circle prepares food trays for all our shut-ins yearly.  
  • 1985 – Pastor Leggett was elected to the General Board of American Baptist Churches in the USA and the Board of National Ministries.  Many members participated in the Crop Walk in October.  A phone-a-missionary to Reverend Charlie Ho, a Christian Center Administrator, was a special event in our church.  The church steeple was replaced after it had to be taken down due to damaged masonry work.  
  • 1986 – A new sound system was installed in the Fellowship Hall as a memorial gift from a member of our senior citizen program.  Judson Hand bell choir presented a beautiful music program to our congregation.  Vicki Gillespie became our choir director and the choir has become a beautiful and enjoyable experience for everyone.  A church softball team received 2nd place in a tournament.  Our church voted to participate in the “Alive in Missions” program which was over and above Mission program to expand the Mission of the American Baptists through overseas Missions and new church development.  Our church members pledged $30,000.00 toward this special mission emphasis chaired by Dale and Ruth Sorensen.  Two families attended the World Mission Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. 
  • 1987 – First Baptist Church voted to enter into the American Baptist “Grow by Caring” program.  Another diaconate retreat was well attended and set forth goals for the year.  Reverend Duane Gibson from Des Moines held special meetings in September.  Our church won the league softball team championship and the tournament championship.  Eight families went to Green Lake, Wisconsin on a work trip with Greg Feekes coordinating the work.  Area IV Men’s Fall Rally was held in our church under the leadership of Clark Ahrenholtz with a delicious steak fry.  Sunday evening services discontinued except for special occasions.  
  • 1988 – Grow by Caring is our emphasis for the year.  A 3oth anniversary party of our church was held in May with some of our former Pastors in attendance.  Janet Swensen was hired as church secretary.  Jim Zea faithfully serves as our camp coordinator and many of our youth are participating.  Reverend Leggett adopted a pastoral call to Cherokee, Iowa to begin November 1.  A farewell pot luck was held for Pastor Leggett and Dottie in October with many guests attending.  Thirty new members became a part of our church family.  New risers were built to be used for various children’s programs accommodating well over 100 children.    The diaconate voted to offer Jeff Nelsen, son of former Pastor Gary Nelsen, the position of interim Pastor from January 1, 1989 through August 1, 1989.  
  • 1989 -  Pastor Jeff Nelsen was called as our Pastor on the condition he finish his seminary classes at Central Seminary during the next 2 years.  Over 140 parents and children attended Adventureland in June based on the BYF program throughout the year.  This is a vital outreach and ministry of our church.  The large loan taken out to repair the roof of the educational wing is paid.  A beautiful arrangement of flags where American Baptists have Mission work was coordinated by Connie Feekes for World Fellowship Offering.  It adds beauty to our sanctuary when displayed.  Special meetings with Reverend Gary Nelsen were a part of our spiritual growth.  A time of fellowship with our church was held for Pastor John and Dottie Leggettbefore they moved to Wisconsin and with John and Dorothea Ashley as special guests.  New robes and baptistery curtains were purchased with memorial funds.  
  • 1990 – Our church is in need of additional education rooms so a committee was appointed to evaluate the possibilities of expansion.  A church pictorial directory was approved.  Mission Days was a big event in the life of our church with Area IV churches invited.  Dr. John Sundquist, Executive Director of International Ministries, was guest speaker.  Many people helped with leadership roles in our church while Pastor Nelsen was at seminary.  Credit must be given to Patricia Nelsen and Janet Swensen for their extra work.  It takes many helping hands to carry on with the mission our church stands for in the Spirit of Christ; especially as our Pastor is away 3 or 4 days a week at Seminary.  We had an increase in membership to 308 members.  Due to the closing of the Merrill’s Grove Baptist Church in Fiscus, we welcomed those members into our fellowship.  They were certainly a welcome addition to our church family.  
  • 1991 – We had an installation and ordination service for Pastor Jeff Nelsen on June 9 after his completion of seminary work at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas.  A new organ for the sanctuary was purchased.  Care boxes were sent to our troops in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm was in Iraq with Bonnie Fiscus spearheading the project.  The people of Merrill’s Grove donated their beautiful stained glass windows, choir chairs, and other gifts to our church.  Dr. Mark and Sandi Thompson were selected to be our Missionaries, serving with American Baptist Missions in Haiti.  BYF continues to grow with over 200 teachers and pupils involved.  New lounge furniture was given to the church by Juanita Hansen in memory of Marvin Hansen.  Also a new, larger copy machine was purchased for the office.  
  • 1992 – The new stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary.  They were a gift from the Merrill’s Grove church people.  The diaconate approved having 4 or 5 categories in the financial giving which would be: Current, United Missions, Memorial, and the 5 Special Offerings.  Many small group meetings were held throughout the year.  BYF attendance averaged over 190.  
  • 1993 – The house next door to the church was purchased for Sunday school and BYF rooms.  A highlight of the year was a celebration commemorating the Merrill’s Grove church’s 100th and First Baptist Church’s 35th anniversaries.  Two worship services were held on Sunday morning this year.  
  • 1994 – A new Church pictorial directory was published.  A Lay Witness Renewal Weekend was held in September.  First Baptist Church received a large bequest from the Norman Sondergard  estate to be used for a permanent addition to the church.  A building committee was selected.  The diaconate voted to contribute $21,000.00 over the next 3 years to the “Decade of Decision” program of the Region.  Pastor Jeff Nelsen left to answer the call to Cherry Hills Baptist Church in Springfield, Illinois. 
  • 1995 – Plans were made to raise funds for the new Church addition.  Minister-At-Large, Carl Rambo came to First Baptist Church as our interim Pastor.  
  • 1996 – A building Committee proposal of the new church addition was circulated.  The house next to the church was sold and taken off sight.  Pastor Bill Wright (Minister- at-Large) came to Sheppard us until Pastor John Hester came to First Baptist Church in August.  
  • 1997 – The new church addition was completed.  With a large contingent of members and guests, we had a dedication service and dinner in March.  The BYF  program on Wednesday night continues to be very successful.  
  • 1998 – Two couples attended the World Mission Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin.  The Missions program is a very important priority in our church program.  The State Youth Rally was held at First Baptist Church with a large gathering of youth and sponsors.  It was a huge success.  
  • 1999 – Reverend John Hester resigned as Pastor.  Reverend Carl Rambo came as our interim Pastor.  In June we had an Envisioning and Church Life Renewal Conference on a weekend with our Mid-American personnel.  We had a Mission Fair weekend with Edith McCarthy, retired missionary from Thailand, as our guest speaker.  
  • 2000 – We had a volunteer group from our church go to the Dominican Republic on a work mission trip.  Missionary Steve Crane from the Dominican Republic was a guest speaker in our church one weekend.  Reverend Walt Hickman from Omaha, Nebraska served as our interim Pastor until Pastor Gundar Lamberts arrived in October.  
  • 2001 – Another volunteer mission work team went to Chili in February.  The new stained glass window in the front of the addition was completed after nearly 2 years of work with Brad Sorensen as the director.  This was an anonymous gift to First Baptist Church.  The stained glass window inside the New Fellowship Hall was given in honor of Dale and Ruth Sorensen by their children.  
  • 2002 - Pastor Jim Warren joined the staff, along with his wife, Helen.  Their musical talent greatly enhanced our worship services.  Our church held revival meetings with speaker and artist Jerry Beltz.  A youth mission trip to Crow Indian Reservation in Montana was taken in June.  A mission trip to Latvia was also completed with several volunteers.   
  • 2003 - Our church, as a whole, went through the Purpose Driven Life book by Rick Warren.   As a result, classes were implemented to increase personal spiritual growth for members.  He Wanderers Sunday School class held their annual retreat.  Pastor Elmars Plavinsh from our sister church in Latvia was in Harlan for a visit.  Our outdoor service in June included a movie called “The Climb” and a concert by “Heart Song”.  Pastor Jim continued to direct the “Lighthouse” ministry of small groups in the homes throughout Shelby County.  
  • 2004 - As our focus was to become more outward focused into our community, leadership                            training with “Lead Like Jesus” was completed.  Small groups continue to grow in numbers.  Our sanctuary was remodeled and was dedicated in July.  Pastor Jim lead a jail ministry at the Shelby County jail and a Half-way house in Council Bluffs.  
  • 2005 - Our church family continued to grow.  Pastor Gundar was elected to the Region board.            He attended several conferences in the area and the American Baptist Evangelicals national meeting at Northern Baptist Seminary.  Pastor Jim continued to develop the jail ministries.  Our church was blessed to be debt free.  
  • 2006 - The BYF program continued to grow.  Jay Thornton started as our Youth Director.  Our church put on a play called “Watch the Lamb” during the Easter season.  We hosted several musical guests during the year.  Pastor Gundar went on a mission trip to Latvia and we had a team of 15 teens and adults go on a mission trip to Mississippi.  A youth event called “Extreme Surrender” was held in December, which hosted Chad Hambrick and musician, Scott England.  Tragically, on December 26, Pastor Jim died due to complications from surgery.   Our church family deeply grieved the loss of such a Godly man.  
  • 2007 - Two mission trips were completed this year, one to Latvia and one to Mississippi.  Both trips greatly impacted lives.  Our church continues to be support and be involved with Shelby County Outreach, a service group that helps struggling families within our community.  Jay Thornton continued to lead the youth program.  
  • 2008 - May 25th marked the 50th anniversary of First Baptist.  As part of the celebration, Reverends Jeff Nelsen, Gary Nelsen, and Carl Rambo were guest speakers through the year.  A group of people went on a mission trip to Guatemala.  We hosted a couples’ conference with Gary Smalley via satellite and the “7 Project” for the area youth.  Another group went on a mission’s trip to Mexico in July.   In the fall our church completed the “One Month to Live” Campaign.  Many people were renewed and drawn to a deeper relationship with Christ.  
  • 2009 – Pastor Gundar served as Pastor until June when he accepted a call to become Pastor in Bozeman, Montana.  Roger Manning came to be our interim Pastor.