Sand Hollow ministers at a near-ghost town, and globally

The following article was reposted with permission from November 8, 2023 issue of Baptist Press

JoEllen and Dallas Claypool
JoEllen and Dallas Claypool have served Sand Hollow for twelve years

RURAL Southwest Idaho (BP) – Nearly half of the Sand Hollow Baptist Church congregation spends an electronics-free missions week each summer in Atlanta, Idaho, which is 45 miles from the nearest paved road.

This is only one of the ways “everybody’s favorite little country church” has a global focus. With its other tagline of “Jesus loves you and so do we,” Sand Hollow Baptist ministers to the congregation and others in need.

“My first sermon in Sand Hollow was encouraging people to keep on keepin’ on, and it is a theme that has helped me as well,” Pastor Dallas Claypool told Baptist Press. “It’s lonely sometimes, but you can always get refreshed by reading God’s Word.”

The church that gathers people from scattered homes across a swath of southwest Idaho – the pastor’s family shops for groceries in Ontario, Oregon – has grown from 6 to 65 since Claypool was called as pastor in 2006. It was his first pastorate, and he had no seminary training. That same year, a house fire destroyed all the family’s belongings. He, wife JoEllen and the youngest two of their seven children lived in two temporary homes before moving into a fifth-wheel trailer on the church property for a year.

A second tragedy beset the family 11 years later. Their 16-year-old son Eli took his life.

“The year before we lost Eli, a man in the church lost his son to suicide,” JoEllen Claypool told Baptist Press. “So we had already done a lot of work on grief. Because we’re in ministry, we know people are watching us, looking for a chink in our armor to see how we will conduct ourselves in a trial.

“There are many ways to mourn,” the pastor’s wife continued. “Dallas and I grieve differently, and we’ve learned to respect each other in that.”  

Dallas Claypool read in a book “some time ago,” about the 60-60-60 method of prayer and encouraged the congregation to pray for 60 seconds every 60 minutes for 60 days as a way to catalyze the habit of praying.

“It’s a challenge, but people respond to it well,” Claypool said. “Anytime I’ve read about revivals, none ever happened without people on their knees praying. I believe in prayer. I’m alive and in the pastorate today because of the prayers of others.”

Over the last dozen years, Claypool has developed what he calls the “Rich Relationship Circle.” A rich relationship with God leads to a rich relationship with others, which leads to having a rich servant’s heart which helps to reach the lost with the Gospel, leading to an even better relationship with God.

“Our goal is a rich relationship with God,” Claypool said. “You can’t have that without a relationship with Jesus. Be saved: Know Jesus. Read the Book. Pray. Attend church. If you don’t, you’re missing out on having rich relationships with others, and you won’t be serving, impacting the lost.

“The glue for me is James 1:22,” the pastor continued. “There are a lot of immature Christians because they’re not doers of God’s Word. Be obedient to what God’s Word says. The Bible is the key if you want to have a good, productive, balanced Christian life.”

Group of members work on building
Members of Sand Hollow replaced a falling-down sidewalk with a new boardwalk at a 100-year-old school building in remote Atlanta, Idaho.

This brings us to Atlanta, established in 1861 as a gold and silver mining town. It’s almost a ghost town, with about 35 year-round residents and no onsite pastor at the Atlanta Chapel. The town is less than a mile off the Sawtooth Wilderness.

“It’s really cool,” Claypool said. “I think we’ve had a lot of success in being Jesus for the locals.”

Over the last five week-long summer mission trips, Sand Hollow Baptist has painted a 100-year-old school (today used as a library and one-room schoolhouse tourist attraction), replaced the structure’s decrepit sidewalk with a wooden boardwalk, put in a slide, built six bunkbeds for the retreat center at the chapel, hauled and cut wood, and this summer painted a resident’s home.

“She asked us why,” the pastor said, adding that the church always provides all materials. “We told her we’re just being Jesus to her. Now she’s liking all our [Facebook] posts, and the Lord is working on her.”

In addition to blessing the community, the mission trips have blessed Sand Hollow Baptist, the pastor said.

“It’s been a great opportunity for our church to come together,” Claypool continued, adding that the week comes with no telephone and no television. “It’s definitely strengthened our people. We’ve gotten to know one another and found out we’re all pretty much the same. We just express our love differently.

“Our church is in the middle of nowhere, but they’re building subdivisions all around us,” the pastor said about future opportunities to impact its community. “Right across the street they’re considering putting in 25 homes and up the street, 25 more.”

The church’s fifth Sunday special offering started as a way to pay the propane bill for the church in the winter. As the church grew, regular tithes and offerings kept the pipes from freezing, and members suggested other needs such as The Boise Rescue Mission, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, seasonal SBC offerings and VBS materials.

Member serving Cotton Candy
When Sand Hollow members spend a tech-free week each summer in isolated Atlanta, Idaho, they bring treats for the (very few) locals, including cotton candy.

“This is what the people wanted to do,” Claypool said. “Sometimes we don’t know how else to serve but give money.”

Members are given envelopes to pray over and put on their refrigerator, to be filled bit by bit for ministries throughout the year and suggested over time by members. They include two ministries for women, a Wycliffe translation missionary and the Special Olympics.

“There’s an excitement about it,” Claypool said. “The stories they tell about how they filled their envelope inspires us to continue to pray over them and put them on our refrigerators as a reminder.”

The church’s budget allocates 6.5 percent of undesignated offerings for missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in North America and throughout the world.

“We feel confident in giving our money to the state convention because we see value in what they and the SBC are doing,” Claypool said. “When you give your money to missions through the Cooperative Program, you’re building God’s kingdom. It’s as simple as that.

“Many years ago, we needed help and people showed up,” Claypool said. “Now it’s our turn to do what Jesus did and start washing feet.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KAREN L. WILLOUGHBY

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.