"We had our first service in the auditorium on the first day of this year's Big God event," said Gene Robinson, pastor of the church. "This is a huge endeavor for a church of our size."
But it's not the first time the 50 or so church members have taken on a task that might seem overwhelming to some. For over 15 years, the group has quietly operated a food pantry from the Rocky Comfort location, serving over 600 families a month.
"We do big endeavors," Robinson said. "We moved 75,000 pounds of food through our doors last year."
The group has assisted other food pantries in the area, including Joplin, Nevada, Hollister and northwest Arkansas.
"People in America are starving right now," Robinson said. "The number of people in need right here in this area is incredible. Some don't have running water, electricity or indoor facilities. Maybe because they were raised that way, or maybe it's because of the economy. We're just trying to reach those people who fall through the cracks."
Chapel of the Ozarks was founded in 1979, and Robinson has been leading the congregation since 1990. Two years ago, the church pulled out of the Freewill Baptist Association and became a non-denominational worship center.
The move from Rocky Comfort came as a "slap upside the head from God," according to Robinson.
"I had always envisioned a bigger property for our food ministry, but I saw it in Rocky Comfort," Robinson said. "One evening, one of the church deacons said we should consider buying this property.
"Within two or three days, two other people spoke to me, urging us to buy this property," Robinson continued. "Within two or three days, God confirmed what He wanted to happen. It says in the Bible, 'In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.' [2 Corinthians 13:1.]"
The congregation prayed on the matter then told the board of trustees to go ahead and move on acquiring the property.
"This is a God thing," Robinson said. "We have the two main buildings, a 1,700-seat arena and a 135-foot by 150-foot exhibition barn that we plan to use a portion of to house our food pantry outreach."
The site also contains 20 acres, 30 RV sites and a kitchen.
An outdoor pavilion will be turned into a youth ministry area, while the grandstand area will once again host concerts, circus shows and, hopefully, the Barry County Youth Fair.
"It's my hope to bring the Barry County Youth Fair back here," Robinson said. "There is ample parking, more room, and this is a good place for such an event."
Robinson also hopes to see more camp meetings, Big God events and visiting evangelists making use of the property as well.
"We will host any event that is in line with Christian-based principles," Robinson said.
While the other events will help "pay the bills," as Robinson said, the church's main priority is continuing the well-established food outreach ministry.
"Ours is a free program," Robinson said. "We run off of donations and have no income or government guidelines to restrict the people we serve based on income or citizenship status. We truly keep the church separate from the government."
The church hosts food distributions every other Thursday throughout the year. Food is distributed from 1 and 6 p.m.
"We've only had to close twice due to inclement weather," Robinson said. "Food doesn't sit here with us. It rolls over fast. God never lets us run out of food. By the time we have finished one distribution, we're on the phone calling for more donations. Those empty shelves are filled again before the next distribution."
Robinson said the church works with the Missouri Department of Conservation through Share the Harvest, as well as a number of other groups.
"We distributed emu meat once," Robinson said. "It tastes like beef."
One area the pantry is lacking is a dairy provider.
"I would love to have a dairy company come onboard to help these families," Robinson said. "But there are a lot of major manufacturers who would rather throw food away than give it away."
Volunteers are in the process of re-fitting the kitchen so the church can start a community kitchen program, preparing hot meals for the community twice a week.
"It's a slow process," Robinson said. "We have to move over some storage containers and freezers from Rocky Comfort and get an industrial cooking range. It's a matter of having both the volunteers and equipment at the moment."
Robinson said the local Ministerial Alliance has been a great help in packaging and shelving food as it is trucked in.
"We worry about the Kingdom of God; it doesn't matter what name is over the door," he said. "Our goal is to feed the hungry and share the Gospel."
The congregation has decided to maintain the rustic interior of the former event center.
"We're a non-traditional church, more like family than a church," Robinson said. "You'll see our congregation show up in blue jeans, so we fit right in with the original design of the building."
Robinson said work on the property would continue over time.
"Our primary focus is our outreach ministry," he said. "From there, all other things will grow. As long as God provides the resources, people and needs, we'll continue."
The property will be dedicated in a special service and open house taking place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct.28. Refreshments will be served.
For more information, contact Robinson at 417-236-4291.