Ebenezer Independent Missionary Baptist Church, located in the Old 15th District of Del Rio, takes its name from the Hebrew word which means “Stone of Help.”
Originally built around 1892, the building served the community as both a school and a church and became immortalized in Catherine Marshall’s award-winning novel Christy.
Published in the 1960s, Marshall’s novel is based on the story of her mother, Lenora Whitaker, who came to the remote community to teach as a Presbyterian missionary/teacher in the early 1900s.
Over the years, countless boys and girls in the area began their educational journeys here, and many went on to become highly successful and productive citizens throughout the world.
As the years passed, however, improved transportation and economic growth led to many of the schools being consolidated into larger facilities. Eventually the Presbyterian mission closed, but Opal Corn Myers, a former student at the school, kept the church doors open with the help of an occasional visiting minister. One service was held each month at 2:00 p.m. on a Sunday.
The structure remained the property of the Presbyterian Association until July 20, 1969, when that group sold all their county church buildings to raise money for a new church being built in Newport.
Douglas Amick notified “Miss Opal,” who quickly organized people in the community. They bought the building, had it dismantled, and reconstructed it on its present site. There it became the Ebenezer Independent Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Bill Webb was the first pastor, serving from August 3, 1969 until May 2, 1971. Herman Rowland was ordained as the first deacon on July 11, 1971.
Rev. Bill Webb, Franklin E. Turner, Sr., Mitchell L. Turner, Herman Rowland, and Opal Myers were named as the first trustees.
No history of this church would be complete without a tribute paid to “Miss Opal.”
Born February 1, 1911, she was a daughter of Arthur Jackson and Flora (Hall) Corn.
As a child, she attended the mission school and was profoundly impressed by the workers who devoted themselves to the community took to heart their mantra, “You can become anything you want to be.”
Her teachers took note of their young student’s dedication and secured a scholarship for her to attend Highlands Institute in Kentucky. She later attended Milligan College.
She returned to the Old 15th and taught school for 37 years, starting at Davis School in 1933. She also taught at Rowe and Sand Hill and spent the last part of her career at the new Del Rio Elementary School. While teaching at Rowe School, she became concerned about the poor nutrition of many of the children and started a lunch program there.
She married Ben Perry Myers (1909-1965) and they had four children: Correne, Cary, Seldon, and Larry.
Her religious life was one of intense devotion. She taught Sunday School for more than 67 years, last teaching one week before her death on May 8, 1991. Her dedication to her community, especially the children, continues to be remembered by her former students who recall gifts of clothes, food, and other necessities which helped ease their own economic burdens.
At her death, “Miss Opal” was buried next to her husband in the churchyard. Today two large purple rhododendrons flank their graves, their magnificent blossoms each spring calling attention to the memory of this amazing woman.
Over the years, many improvements have been made to the church, including indoor plumbing, improved seating, siding, and other amenities. Church members gather each spring for decoration services in the cemetery, which dates to pre-Civil War times.
Pastors through the years, in addition to Rev. Webb, have included James Hall, Walter McKinny, Bobby Garber, Larry B. Ball, Willis Miller and Rev. Winford French.
“Miss Opal” would have enjoyed knowing Rev. French was pastor, because his wife, Carolyn, is one of “the Turner girls,” a family whose history runs deep in the area.