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miracle in the desert

Heritage Free Will Baptist Church

by Paul Thompson

For more information about the FWB Home Missions Department (now North American Ministries), please visit

Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?
Job 38:25-27

IT HAPPENED DURING THE WEDNESDAY NIGHT MISSIONS SERVICE at the National Association of Free Will Baptists in Anaheim, California, July 1980. I asked God to call someone to go to Arizona to start a Free Will Baptist church. He answered my prayer that night by saying, “I want you to go.”

When I visited my daughter in Prescott, Arizona, in the fall of 1979, I tried to help her find a church to attend. Again, during a visit in July 1980, I traveled throughout Arizona. When I saw the vast numbers of people living there and heard about the great influx of people streaming into this area where Mormonism and other cults flourished, I began to question our denominational leaders. Why couldn’t we begin a mission work in this area?

For two years I made excuses, trying to convince God that I should continue pastoring Heritage Temple Free Will Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio—the church I thought was my life’s work. However, on July 11, 1982, I found myself at the pulpit of that great church giving six months’ notice of my resignation. I explained that God was sending me to Arizona.

We arrived in Gilbert on July 21, 1983. My son Tim and his family, along with three other families, came to help with the mission. Tim got his transfer to Heaven three years ago. His wife Cinda is the director of Heritage Christian Academy. His daughter Charissa has an M.A. in education and also teaches in the academy. Erin is a graduate of Southern Nazarene College and works as a trauma nurse in Phoenix. The Haidet family remains very active in our church, and after several years, the other two families returned to the Midwest. I cannot thank those men and women enough for their work here.

I think the greatest tool at a missionary’s disposal is the knowledge that God called you and sent you to a particular place for a particular purpose. Without this assurance, the adversary will send us away in defeat. Someone once said, “God gives you a vision; then you experience the death of a vision; then you experience the double death of a vision; then you experience supernatural fulfillment.” We have experienced all of this, and by way of a glorious, hard time, today we are enjoying supernatural fulfillment. I received quite an education through this process, but I learned a valuable lesson. If God calls you to a work and sends you to a place, you are indestructible if you will be faithful to the call and commission until God is finished with you.

Photo (top to bottom): Original building (horse stable); first constructed building; aerial view of the Heritage campus; church and campus 2005

God moved Heritage FWB Church from a rented “cafetorium” to converted horse stalls (that had to be cleaned out). Together, the congregation worked through five major building programs and many remodeling projects to carve out a beautiful campus in the middle of the fastest growing city in America. To quote our banker, “It has beautiful curb appeal.” Today, the facilities are valued at more than seven million dollars.

But money cannot measure the worth of a church. The value of the church is measured in the precious men and women who gather to worship the One who first loved us. Our Internet web cast is seen and heard around the world, sharing the good news of Christ. Heritage Christian Academy enrolls more than 450 students and extends through eighth grade. The school is a fertile field for evangelism, with a direct influence on at least 75% of our congregation. The church AWANA program has planted the Word of God in the hearts of thousands of young people.

Our church remains aware that we are a product of Home Missions, a department headed by Roy Thomas and Trymon Messer when our church began.  These men, along with a godly board of directors, allowed us to come to Arizona under their umbrella. Last year, this grateful congregation gave 17.2% of our income to outside causes.

A dedicated pastoral staff joins more than 40 employees who count it their chief business in life to extend the influence of Christ in society. Through a distance-learning partnership with Hillsdale College, we offer the Masters of Arts degree and provide ACSI certification for prospective teachers. “To God be the glory. Great things He has done!” Heritage Temple FWB Church is truly a miracle in the desert.

Paul J. Thompson has been with the Heritage FWB Church in Gilbert, AZ, for twenty-three years. The small church that began in a horse stable has developed into a sprawling campus, with a large auditorium, school, and gymnasium as the church continues to grow.


©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists