Fireworks -- the good kind -- at Salem Assembly of God
When the tent went up in the field next to the Salem First Assembly of God on Highway 62, it appeared that the church was planning an old time revival.
But, a few days later, signs were posted announcing Uncle Sam's fireworks company was open for business.
Other signs indicated the Assembly's youth group, newly named the Chosen Generation, was running the operation.
"I've been involved in fireworks sales to raise money for churches for about ten years now," said Glen Blevins, the church's new youth minister.
Blevins spent a number of years as youth minister in Cushman in Independence County.
"It's a small town, so we just had a little stand to sell some fireworks to help fund the youth program," said Blevins, who has also helped a pastor in Rogers run a fireworks stand.
This year in Salem, Blevins went big time.
Uncle Sam's, a company based in northwest Arkansas, came in and set up the huge tent next to the church and dropped off the fireworks.
"The night the fireworks arrived, we began unloading, taking inventory and putting the fireworks on tables for sale," said Blevins. "It took from 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (June 21) to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon."
That was just the start of the long hours for Blevins.
Someone had to be at the tent 24 hours a day, to guard against theft and to cover the fireworks in case of rain.
Blevins and his two sons, Wesley and Cody, took turns sleeping on a small cot in the corner of the tent, and Blevins stayed at the tent nearly around the clock, helping youth group and adult church members run the business.
"The tent is about the kids," said Blevins, "so I don't mind the long hours."
Blevins did mind the storm that blew through Salem on Monday, June 20. He was perched on the cot, trying to sleep when, around 5 a.m., thunder boomed and the winds picked up.
"The wind was blowing in the sides of the tent and the top was all puffed up like a hot air baloon. I was running around trying to cover up the fireworks," Blevins remembered. "But God is good."
The storm blew down an Uncle Sam's sign but the tent survived unscathed.
Blevins was confident all of the work would be worth it. Uncle Sam's paid the youth group a percentage of the profits, creating money for Blevins to work with, as he tries to excite and encourage his young members and recruit new ones.
"We have pledged 35 percent of our profit to Speed the Light. It is an Assembly organization that provides vehicles for our missionaries," said Blevins. "Since our missionaries are all over the place, a needed vehicle could be a car or a boat, bike or donkey."
The remaining 65 percent of the church's pay will go to the youth department.
"It's kind of fun and we're raising money so we can do things," said Chosen Generation member Hailey Coggins, who was at the cash register on a steaming hot afternoon. "Everybody is putting in hours to help out."
Coggins added laughingly that Blevins "kind of bribed us," promising that members who work at least 15 hours will get a small cash bonus.
Blevins is the first paid, full time youth minister at the Salem Assembly.
Lee Ann McHenry helped recruit Blevins, after eight years of serving as a volunteer youth minister. McHenry gives Blevins high marks, as do church youth.
"He's awesome. He's really funny," said Hannah Worsham. "He really connects with us kids. He thinks of you as his friend or a member of his family."
The Chosen Generation youth group has about 25 members, some who have joined since Blevins began his ministry this spring.
Blevins recently hosted a movie night and drew an enthusiastic crowd for a performance by a Christian band.
"I plan to make some noise and let Salem youth know we are here," said Blevins.
Blevins says pastor Ken DeShane has been supportive of his ideas, including the challenging idea of running a fireworks stand for two weeks.
"It may sound unusual, but July 4th fireworks are a big deal around here and this corner lot (at Highway 62 and Pinto Place) gets good traffic," said Blevins.
According to Blevins, early sales were good, but he was eagerly waiting for Independence Day weekend.
From past experience, he knew that is when people stop looking and comparison shopping and start buying for a weekend of big bangs.
"We've had a lot of people come in and look around and say they are trying to figure out how much money they'll have to save out of their paycheck, to cover the fireworks they want," said McHenry.
"Money is always tight and I know some people probably spend more than they can afford," Blevins added. "But they've got to have their fireworks, so we can't turn them down."
If the fireworks tent is a good money-maker, you can expect to see it appear again next year.
That is okay with Hannah Worsham. "Our youth group has really bonded and we like to work together."