Darthula Baptist Church sits atop a hill overlooking the North Fork of the Holston River in Scott County, Va. Although this white building with the green roof appears modest and unassuming, its ministry reaches far beyond the quiet little community of Hiltons.
The church’s earliest days date back to the 1800s. According to a history of the church, the founders of Darthula Baptist Church could be designated as John H. Hilton and Darthula Hilton.
Darthula Hilton was the childless widow of John Wesley Hilton. Tradition says, John H. Hilton, another member of the community, gave the land and Darthula donated the money for a church building, but Darthula died before the project was ever undertaken.
According to her will, Darthula was to be buried on the land “John H.” was to give for the church and school. The site included a Hilton family graveyard some 100 yards east of what is know as Lunsford’s Mill.
Darthula's request was to raise her husband, “John Wesley,” who had been buried on their farm about one mile east of the church site, and bury them together.
John Wesley and Darthula are buried side by side where a big river rock tomb is located on the church grounds in the cemetery located behind the church.
On Aug. 19, 1882, 15 months after Darthula's burial, John H. Hilton executed a title bond and $500 was given to erect the structure to be used for a school building and a place to hold religious services of any religious denomination of “good standing.”
The Darthula framed building operated as a church for 69 years, and as both a church and school for 34 years. It stood until the spring of 1951 when discussions and opinions arose as to the need of either repairing or rebuilding the existing building.
Homer Larkey, a talented and experienced carpenter and cabinet maker, expressed desire to construct a new building.
All the materials of the old building were utilized, and in July 1952 the new building was completed. The Rev. Ted Duncan was pastor of the church at this time.
This new stuccoed building stood until it was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of Feb. 1, 1965. The cause of the fire was never determined.
So, once again, there was a need for a place of worship in the Hiltons community.
Ezra Addington was the most active member in the undertaking of another new building. Five days a week, he worked on the building and on Saturdays he solicited and collected offerings toward its construction.
Homer Larkey again took the lead in planning the third structure and did a large portion of the work. Some jobs were also done by the Rev. Herbert Tuck, his son, Bobby Tuck, the Rev. Paul Blessing and a group of summer missionaries under the direction of the Student Department from Richmond, Va.
The building was constructed during the summer of 1965 and the new church building was dedicated the first Sunday in October 1966.
Layton Bentley is the current pastor of the church. Bentley first served as pastor of Darthula from 1979 to 1986. He then returned in 1991 and has been pastoring the church ever since.
“We’re not a big mega church. We don’t want to be. We’re not interested in a big building. But we do want to be a church God can be proud of,” Bentley said. “When he comes, we want to be in the field working.”
And working to reach the multitudes is what Darthula is doing.
“In 2003, God really began to deal with my heart about hands-on missions. We have always been mission-minded, but not to the point that we were doing hands-on missions. This was more than just sending money. This was hands-on,” Bentley said. “Then in 2006, God hooked us up with Body and Soul Ministries from Belize. Darthula and about eight different churches, different denominations, from Hiltons formed a team to go to Belize. We took a team of 24 to Roaring Creek in Belize. There was a missionary couple there that had a medical clinic they needed help with. We raised money and went down and built a bathhouse.”
Darthula has been part of a team that has continued to go every year ever since that first trip. The team has dug a well, built a dining hall, a lodge, a church and a parsonage. Dr. Joe Smiddy, a pulmonologist in Kingsport, has lent his expertise and connections in the medical field to put together a medical team to send to Belize.
“The area we go to minister to is very, very poor. Poverty on this scale is just life-changing when you see it,” Bentley said.
Darthula has expanded its mission work by sending shoe boxes to children in Belize at Christmastime for the past several years. Each shoe box is filled with personal hygiene items, toys, candy and warm-weather clothing.
“We started this project in 2010 along with some other churches around here. The first year we sent 420 shoe boxes to Belize. In 2011, it grew to 960 boxes and in 2012 we had 1,250 boxes. This year our goal is 2,000 boxes,” Bentley said. “The shoe boxes are the only presents the children will get for Christmas. The way God has set this up is we take the shoe boxes to the little churches in Belize and let the churches give the shoe boxes to their children. That way there’s a double blessing. God blesses us for helping the church and the church gets to be a blessing to their children.”
Darthula has also teamed up with Crosspoint International, a ministry in Kingsport, to send a mission team to Nicaragua. Earlier this year, Bentley made his first trip to Nicaragua to preach a crusade and help build a parsonage.
But it’s not just other countries that Darthula is reaching out to. Locally, the church also supports Marathon Ministries; food banks in Scott, Sullivan and Hawkins counties; Relay for Life; Hiltons Helping Hands; Hope House of Scott County and Mountain Connections. The church also has a successful puppet ministry.
“We’re not just in Belize or Nicaragua. We’re out here ministering to our own community,” Bentley said. “We have our hands in it all. And God is really blessing us for it.”
Unlike many churches today that struggle to bring in — and keep — the younger folks, Darthula’s congregation consists of lots of children and young people.
“We have so many children and young people. When Christ was here, multitudes flocked to him. I believe when God is in the midst, they will come,” Bentley said. “Our church is packed out. We had 150 in attendance the Sunday after Easter and, on Easter Sunday, we had over 400 different people come through our doors for our services even though we’re kind of off the beaten trail. It really is a God thing.”
Darthula offers Sunday school at 10 a.m., followed by the church service at 11 a.m.. Sunday evening service is at 6 with a Wednesday evening service at 7.
Darthula Baptist Church is located at 1741 Lunsford Mill Road.