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Calvary Baptist Church moved from George Air Force Base in '70s
Not many churches are purchased, moved and ready for services without months spent on building it from the ground up — but Cavalry Baptist Church is an exception.
The 37-foot-wide, 81-foot-long and 32-foot-high building formerly located on George Air Force Base was purchased for $5 and moved to its current location by retired Pastor Tom Ratcliff at 9966 I Ave. in 1979.
Ratcliff, 76, and his late wife, Pat started Calvary Baptist Church on March 12, 1978, with church services initially held at the Hesperia Grange Hall, according to Ratcliff.
About a month or so after the church started, during a Wednesday prayer service, a 10-year-old boy had a prayer request. Ratcliff said he asked what the boy wanted “God to do” and he said, “We need a church building.”
“It just kind of blew my mind at that time and not long after that that’s when the article came in the paper (advertising a) church building for sale at George Air Force Base, for $5 contingent upon moving it,” Ratcliff said.
The government wanted the multi-million dollar chapel, which was built in the 1940s, moved so it could build what Ratcliff believes was the engineering department, he said.
The total cost to move the building, which took two days, was $32,000, with $18,000 for moving and additional money going for permits and to raise both telephone and electrical lines; $8,249 was paid to the Continental Telephone Company and $3,000 to Southern California Edison, according to Ratcliff.
With a plan to move the church to Hesperia in one night, he said, the night of the move there was only a truck and driver, and no one to “move the line,” which resulted in the need for more permits and the building to stay parked overnight in the Continental parking lot.
“You can’t park a big building like that just anywhere,” Ratcliff said.
And before the church building came the property.
When Ratcliff was told 5 1/2 acres of property was available on I Avenue, he said “by faith” they tried to raise enough money to come up with a down payment. They were short on the needed amount the day before escrow would close. However, a check for what he believes was $500 arrived from Pastor Dr. J.C. Joiner of New Testament Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz., giving them enough to close escrow.
“He knew nothing about us trying to purchase the land, he just knew that we had started a church and their church had voted to send some money to help us out,” Ratcliff said. “It was perfect timing.”
“It’s actually amazing,” current Pastor Walt Arnold said. “What I really think about is what did it take, what gall, what determination must have Pastor Tom had to have endured to make this happen,” he said, with it being difficult to get on the base, purchase the church, move it and rebuild the foundation.
In 1975, as a valedictorian, Ratcliff earned his bachelor of arts degree in pastoral theology from Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College in San Dimas.
The church was started as and remained an “independent fundamental gospel preaching church,” for his 35 years as pastor, said Ratcliff who retired Sept. 1, 2013.
“I actually had been praying for years that God would help me to be a part of what he’s doing there,” said Arnold, who has been a pastor for five months with his wife, Sandy. “I just wanted to help — I didn’t really envision being a pastor, but I did envision being a part of that congregation.”
Arnold said he was compelled to “take up his mantle” from Ratcliff’s vision of a playground and swing set with children of all ages who were being ministered to.
One can talk about and share God’s love to a child as young as an infant even though the infant is unable to speak or comprehend words, Arnold said, by caring for the child, loving it, keeping it warm, speaking sweet words and holding it. He said that concept also applies to loving on people of all ages by making sure they’re warm, fed and clothed.
“The thing about him that I admire the most is his steady determination — he’s been there 35 years,” Arnold said of Ratcliff. “Through thick and thin, ups and downs, rain or snow, he (was) still there for 35 years.”
Service times are 9:30 a.m. for Sunday school, worship at 10:30 a.m. and service at 5 p.m.