Indian Baptist Church, A Baptist Landmark Among the Choctaws in Smithville, OK

“Many, many people, both Indian and non-Indian, but mostly Indian, came to know the Lord that first year and a half…”
The meeting place of Indian Baptist Church, Smithville, OK.

The meeting place of Indian Baptist Church, Smithville, OK.

The History of Indian Baptist Church

Indian Baptist Church was started as Indian Baptist Mission near Smithville, OK in 1969 by Missionary Josh Harjo. Brother Josh and Sister Ramona for some time had carried a burden for the Choctaws in southeastern Oklahoma. During their deputation the Harjo’s made frequent trips from Fort Worth, TX to different areas in the Choctaw Nation. With every trip and each visit it was clear that God was directing the Harjos to work among the spiritually desolate areas of southern Leflore and northern McCurtain Counties. On June 1, 1969 Josh and Ramona Harjo packed all of their belongings and moved with their five young children to Smithville.

“We packed all of our belongings, (not very much in the eyes of the world, but so rich, spiritually), into our old 1960 Ford station wagon and moved from Fort Worth, TX to Smithville, OK. We rented an old, rather large country house, borrowed a few chairs to put in the long hallway, set up an old upright piano at the end of the hallway. It had been given to us. The first service of the Indian Baptist Mission was held June 15, 1969. […] There were only seven in attendance (Josh and I and our five children).”1

Indian Baptist Mission saw many souls saved during the first year and a half of ministry. The Lord blessed in such a way that lives were changed, families restored, and young men called to preach.

“Many, many people, both Indian and non-Indian, but mostly Indian, came to know the Lord that first year and a half. Among those firsts were Lendel McGee, Juanita Futrell, Jerry Bohanon, Silvena Bush (instrumental in seeing most of her family saved), Carla Hopper (instrumental in seeing her dad, James, and later her mom, Ada Mae saved), and Winfred Going (surrendered to preach and began working with us).”2

In spring of 1970 Indian Baptist mission was organized as a church out of Calvary Baptist Church in Perry, Oklahoma, pastor W. W. Baker. The church was organized while they were still meeting in the old country house; some of the charter members were Jerry Bohanon, Juanita Futrell, Lendel McGee, Mike and Slivena Bush, Winfred Going, and Edna Mae Going. The church bought an acre of land 1½ miles east of Smithville on Highway 4. As the land was being cleared and improved, an old brush arbor was built for the congregation to meet under. While meeting under the brush arbor God moved in some magnificent ways. During a two week revival the Lord saved 29 souls, among whom were some of the roughest drunks and bootleggers in town.

A foundation was poured and work began on a meeting house for Indian Baptist mission in fall of 1970. The men would work on the building when they were home or off from work. When the men couldn’t work on the church the ladies would take a saw or hammer in hand and continue the construction. “Dedication of the building was held in June, 1971; two years from the day we had our very first service. A fellowship meeting on that day brought hundreds of people from all over the area; preachers and pastors from all over Oklahoma and Texas [and] as far away as Tennessee came to participate in the dedication.”3

Waymond Cooper became the first full time pastor of Indian Baptist Church, (affectionately called Indian Mission or Indian Baptist Mission) in the fall of 1972. Under the leadership of Pastor Cooper and working in close association with Missionary Josh Harjo, Indian Baptist Church started three other churches in a relatively short amount of time and a fourth one in 1984. These works were started in Wright City, Talihina, Okmulgee, and later in Bethel, Oklahoma. All of these works were scripturally started with authority from Indian Baptist Church.

The Heritage of Indian Baptist Church

Perhaps the heritage of Indian Baptist Church will be more easily understood by starting at the beginning. There are several men and churches that had an influence on Indian Baptist Church, some directly and some indirectly.

The first was Dr. J. Frank Norris pastor of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX and president of the Fundamentalist Baptist Bible Institute and Bible Baptist Seminary. Pastor Norris was a powerful, bold and courageous preacher. He taught and preached from the Authorized Version (KJV) of the Bible. He believed and taught the Doctrines of Grace4, Church Truth5, Pre-Millennialism, and confrontational evangelism. J. Frank Norris once said, “I would do anything to keep a man out of Hell.” Pastor Norris spent his life earnestly contending for and defending the faith, and preaching the gospel of the Grace of God to sinners. During his late ministry there were two men both of which sat under his teaching and preaching while attending the Bible Institute; Bro. Dan Tidwell and Bro. W. W. Baker.

In the early 1940’s Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX was started with the help of Dr. J. Frank Norris. “In 1945, Dr. Oldham became the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas.”6 After bro. Tidwell graduated from the Baptist Bible Institute he became the director of music at Calvary Baptist Church. It wasn’t long until God called Bro. Tidwell to start a church in Perry, Oklahoma. In the late 50’s early 60’s Calvary Baptist Church in Perry, OK was started with authority from Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX. Pastor Tidwell was the first pastor of the church and saw several years of God blessing and building the church. The second pastor of Calvary Baptist in Perry was Bro. W. W. Baker.

In 1967 Josh and Ramona Harjo joined Calvary Baptist Church in Perry, OK. “We discovered a church not too far, eighteen miles, from where we were living. Pastor W. W. Baker was a dynamic, hard hitting, but compassionate pastor.”7 This was the same church they would remain members of until God used the Harjos to start Indian Baptist Mission in Smithville. In late winter or early spring of 1970, Pastor Baker helped Bro. Harjo organize Indian Baptist Church with authority from Calvary Baptist Church.

To summarize, J. Frank Norris helped start Calvary Baptist Church of Grand Prairie, TX while training Bro. Tidwell and Bro. Baker in College. Bro. Tidwell was sent out of Calvary Baptist Church of Grand Prairie, TX and started Calvary Baptist Church of Perry, OK. Bro. W. W. Baker became the second pastor of Calvary Baptist in Perry, OK. Pastor Baker and Calvary Baptist Church were the sending church and pastor of Bro. Josh Harjo and gave authority for Indian Baptist Church to be organized.

The Heartbeat of Indian Baptist Church

For the past 44 years of ministry Indian Baptist Church has remained faithful to the Lord and to sound doctrine. The church continues to carry on the heritage that was passed down from men like Dr. J. Frank Norris, Pastor W. W. Baker, Missionary Josh Harjo, and Pastor Dr. Waymond Cooper. The Heartbeat of Indian Baptist has always been and currently is to glorify God. Indian Baptist Church “earnestly contends for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

The church believes in using the Authorized Version (KJV) of the Bible, church truth, the Doctrines of Grace, separation, supporting missions, confrontational evangelism, and pre-millennial eschatology. The old Baptist landmark still remains in Smithville, OK and may it forever stand. May the heartbeat of Indian Baptist endure as they exalt the Saviour, edify saints, and evangelize sinners.

Footnotes

  1. Harjo, Ramona. In the Shadow of the Steeple. Lansing, Michigan: Calvary Publishing, 2010. p. 19.
  2. Ibid, p. 20.
  3. Ibid, p. 26.
  4. Norris, J. Frank. Norris – Wallace Debate. p. 183.
  5. Norris, J. Frank. Lectures on Revelation. Preface p. 8 & 9.
  6. Oldham, Earl K. About Us. Earl K. Oldham Library. Arlington Baptist College. March 27, 2014. http://ekolibrary.jimdo.com/7
  7. Harjo, Ramona. In the Shadow of the Steeple. p. 14.