R.E. Clark, associational missionary for Northwest Arkansas Baptist Association since 1999, was honored Feb. 24 with Ouachita Baptist University’s 2010 Associational Missionary of the Year award.
Ouachita presents the award each year to one of Arkansas’ 42 associational missionaries in recognition of the missionary’s exceptional service to churches, pastors and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. The award was presented during a banquet on the Ouachita campus held in conjunction with the annual retreat of Arkansas associational missionaries at DeGray Lake State Park.
“When we select a missionary of the year, we are really honoring all of you in the work that you do,” Ouachita President Rex Horne told the associational missionaries at the banquet. “You are on the front lines. You are close to the churches. You are involved in ministry at the place where the water hits the wheel. We are so grateful for what you do.”
Horne had high words of praise for Clark’s work in northwest Arkansas.
“He has a love for missions and the churches there in northwest Arkansas, which is our fastest growing area,” Horne said. “He is a strategic thinker who has led his association in strategic planning, particularly in missions and ministry endeavors. … He is a Kingdom builder who is for the expansion of God’s Kingdom wherever it may be.”
Clark insisted he was just at the right place at the right time.
“When I came to northwest Arkansas, I came at just the right time,” Clark told his fellow associational missionaries. “It has not been anything I have done. … I find myself looking back at this giant wave that’s coming and I just have been paddling as fast and as hard as I can to try to stay ahead of it. I didn’t know a thing about being an associational missionary. I just had a calling.”
He expressed regret that his first wife, Kay, was not there to share in the honor. She died in 2008 at age 53 from complications from Lou Gehrig ’s disease. “She walked with me through all those years,” Clark said through tears.
In an interview following the banquet, Clark related his conversion and call to ministry. He said he became a Christian at age 25 behind the deli counter at a grocery store he owned.
“I fell on my knees on a Monday morning, and I asked Christ to save me,” he said.
He started in the grocery business at age 13, working for a dollar a day. He became an assistant manager at age 16 and bought his first grocery store when he was 19.
About a year after his conversion, at age 26, Clark accepted God’s call to ministry. He served as pastor of churches in Louisiana and Oklahoma, and was pastor of South Lake Charles Baptist Church of Lake Charles, La., when he was called to lead Northwest Arkansas Association.
Northwest Arkansas “was beginning to blossom,” he said. Wal-Mart was there and growing, along with Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport.
“The world literally was coming to northwest Arkansas,” Clark said. “Two weeks prior to my arrival they had just opened I-540, connecting to I-40. Two months prior to that, the airport had opened. The world literally poured into Benton County and northwest Arkansas.”
Northwest Association had 42 churches, missions and ministry points at that time. Now there are 67, an increase of 25.
Under Clark’s leadership, the association began reaching the large Hispanic population. They now have a Hmong congregation, Korean churches, Hispanic churches and a cowboy church. In some cases, Hispanic churches and Anglo churches meet as separate congregations inside the same building. The association even has a church reaching families of autistic children.
“We’re reaching a diverse group of people who were never touched before,” Clark said. “I’ve just stayed there and tried to be aware of what God is doing.”
The association is involved in mission partnerships with Brazil, Bosnia and Haiti and has helped equip small-membership churches and pastors to participate in overseas mission trips.
“That’s been one of the greatest blessings, seeing them go to the world, then be inspired to come back and to really see that the world is in northwest Arkansas.”
Clark said many of the association’s churches are involved in mission partnerships and projects of their own, sending volunteers around the world.
Baptisms in the association have continued to increase.
“The ratio of the people it takes to win one person to the Lord in northwest Arkansas continues to go down,” Clark said, noting the association is nearing the 25-to-1 ratio per total membership, compared to the current ratio in the Southern Baptist Convention of almost 48-to-1.
Clark said he is pleased that many of the association’s churches have long-tenured pastors, and currently none of the 67 churches are without a pastor. “When people come, there is so much happening, they just stay and keep working,” he said.
Clark’s new wife, Trudy, celebrated the Associational Missionary of the Year honor with Clark.
She and her first husband were members of Clark’s first pastorate. Her husband, David, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty several years ago.
“I knew David. Trudy knew Kay,” Clark explained. “Her children used to play in my home, and my children used to play in hers.” He noted that Trudy attended Kay’s funeral.
“About two months after the funeral, Trudy sent me some material that had helped her through the grieving process,” Clark said. “Out of that, we began to communicate, and the Lord just brought us together. … We both understood when God brought us together – she had been married 35 years and I had been married over 36 years – that we couldn’t take that part of our lives and shelve it.”
Each of them has four children from their first marriage. Now, together, they have eight children and 15 grandchildren.
“It is tremendous having her in my life and in the ministry,” Clark reflected.
By Charlie Warren, editor of the Arkansas Baptist News