“Little Rock Saints’ Foundation of Faith,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 78–79
A riverside rocky bluff named La Petit Roche (“The Little Rock”) by a French explorer in 1722 marks the site of Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas. Settled in 1820, the town was visited in 1835 by southern states missionary Wilford Woodruff, but it wasn’t until the baptism of the Ben Baker family in 1900 that the Church gained a foothold in the Barney area, thirty-five miles north of Little Rock. Ben was a general store owner who supported the Church by aiding missionaries and opening his home for Church services. News of a foundling branch attracted other LDS families to the area. In 1914 the one-hundred-strong Barney Branch built a chapel on land donated by branch president Davis Baker, Ben’s father. As persecution increased, the chapel doubled as an alternative school for their children. Two years later a cyclone devastated settlements throughout the county but left the chapel and all branch members unharmed.
By 1930 the Church in Little Rock had its own branch. Decades later, growth continued to come mainly from families who moved into the area. Texas-born Dick Cobb is one example. In California in the mid-1950s, he and his pastor decided to investigate the Church to prove it wrong. Their plan backfired. Convinced that the Church was true, Dick joined and later baptized several people who had once been part of his former denomination.
“Some of them asked me if I had it right this time,” he says, chuckling. That nearly four decades later he presides over the 2,100-member Little Rock stake whose focus is on missionary and activation work is answer enough—he’s still got it right!
In 1974 Joy Geisler’s life also took an unexpected turn. In answer to her many prayers that her newly married daughter would have a Christian home, the couple one day announced their plans to join the Church. Joy was very active and content in another faith but decided to investigate the Church out of concern for what her future grandchildren would be taught. A few months later she was baptized.
“The Christian concept is so much fuller now,” she says, referring to her understanding of the plan of salvation and other truths of the restored gospel.
In 1980 Harold and Lanniece Lewis were looking for a church that was right for them when they stopped at a Little Rock restaurant. Lanniece asked the waitress about the beautiful wall pictures and learned they were LDS temples. Later taught by missionaries referred to them by the waitress, the black couple was baptized.
“My conversion came from logic,” recalls Harold, now bishop of the Little Rock Second Ward. “Later it came from the heart, when an unexplainable feeling came over me that this was my church—the place where the Lord wanted me to be. I felt like my heart was melting. I had tears in my eyes. I felt at home.”
Another convert to the Church is Margie Malczycki, a single mother with a seven-year-old son, Marcus. She is grateful for how the Lord, working through her bishop, has seen her through tough adjustments and bolstered her self-esteem and testimony in the process.
“When you give the Lord a chance, he will teach you,” says Margie. She tells how she felt the Lord’s healing balm after putting complete trust in his perfect love.
Since that turnaround, she has become a self-sufficient breadwinner and a frequent temple attender. She also enjoys teaching a Primary class in the First Ward.
“I tell all the children: ‘Look at the little ones—eyes so big, taking in everything. You’ll grow up, go on a mission, get married, and spend your adult life trying to get right back where you started.’”
Heeding the stake’s call to fill its twelve chapels, Little Rock Saints find it easy to broach the topic of religion with their neighbors of other faiths. Then “the challenge is to present the Lord’s program in a manner that these good people understand and respect,” says Jack Woodworth, a stake high councilor. Baptized with his family in 1955, Jack had been introduced to the Church by his boss, then himself a recent convert.
With three wards in town and another stake across the Arkansas River in North Little Rock, the Church here is poised for progress as its members reach out to others yet cling to their sure foundation of faith, testimony, and gospel fulness.