Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director
Yesterday a devastating wildfire ravaged the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. People lost their homes, cars, and businesses. Having once served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gatlinburg, those people, unknown to most of you, are very real to me and my family. We lived there. We spent 5 special years there. Our kids went to school there. It was our home and now bits and pieces are forever gone. We are extremely grateful that as far as we know, all of the people we love in that place are safe. We are terribly saddened however that some of the places we loved are now gone. We have spoken to a number of our friends throughout the day. Some have lost everything but the clothes on their backs. But they haven’t lost their resiliency and the small town of hard working and industrious folk will rise again. I am certain of it. But today they grieve and weep and we join with them in the sadness of loss.
Perhaps my favorite place to eat on the planet was a local spot in Gatlinburg named, The Mountain Lodge. Last night the fire reached the restaurant and in moments it was gone. Ron and Jennifer Smith have run the place for decades. They are the best of people. Strong in their faith and strong in their commitment as members of the community, their first thoughts were not of the loss of their family business, but of their employees who are suddenly without work. Ron and Jennifer are friends of ours and were great supporters of the church when I pastored there. Ron and his brother Don prepared the Wednesday night meals… best food in town. Jennifer was a surrogate mom to every kid in the youth group. She and my wife, Linda, laughed and cried their way through youth camps and mission trips as counselors. Ron and Jennifer are safe and we are grateful. Yet we are heartbroken.
The Mountain Lodge was more than a great place to eat… it was THE place to eat. Most of the population of the town ate there every week, if not every day. It was the heart of the community. Yes, the food was great, but the sense of belonging was even greater. In that place you were known, accepted, and wanted. Even after all of these years have passed, whenever we stepped into The Lodge, people called us by name, hugged our necks, and Jennifer always stopped what she was doing to come sit at the table and play catch-up. Occasionally, I would step back in the kitchen to speak to Ron. That’s where he always was. He has to be the hardest working man I have ever known. We stopped one day to do a little math… we figured that he had served over 3 million plates of food out of that kitchen through the years. 3 million. Ron and Jennifer served food, made friends, and connected the community together through good times and bad all in that small restaurant. If you never had their cream of chicken soup, or the cinnamon rolls, or the hamburger always served upside down, you have missed something special.
It’s been a tough few days in Gatlinburg. It’s going to be a long, hard road out. I would humbly ask for you to remember that community. Support them in ways that you can. And pray faithfully for every family and the losses they have sustained.