A Century of Strength: Branson Still Rooted in Faith

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BRANSON, Mo. -- America seems to be drifting further and further away from the vision of our Founding Fathers.

Yet, in the heart of our country, a well-known vacation spot turning 100 this year continues to cling to its Christian roots. It's determined to not let go, despite pressure to change.

Travel to Branson, Mo., and you'll find more than live entertainment, festivals, and amusement park rides. You'll discover an oasis of Christian values and family friendly attractions.

"We have a hundred-plus shows in town, and every theater here, nobody's afraid to profess God," Bucky Heard, a Branson performer, said. "Nobody's afraid to profess their faith."

A Test of Faith

When he's not performing at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater, Heard is a worship leader at an area church.

This year, an EF-2 tornado, with 120 to 130 mph winds, put his faith to the test.

The "Leap Day tornado," as it became known, landed on the Branson strip, doing more than $20 million in damage to the tourist town.

The storm pounded Heard's theater. However, he said the Branson community came together to help those struggling after the tornado. Miraculously, a rebuilt theater reopened just six weeks later.

"It's by God's grace that our theater's back up, and not one life was lost here in this town," Heard said. "And we give Him the glory 110 percent!"

"Every day I come to work it's a little better because you see less plywood," Bill Derbins, general manager of Hiltons of Branson, said.

Derbin's referring to the plywood covering blown-out windows -- around 3,800 panes of glass belonging to the tallest building in the city, the Branson Hilton.
    
Derbins told CBN News the hotel took a direct hit from the tornado. But he also said a hard-working, united community has pitched in to help make possible an October reopening date.

"We've got a lot of conventions booked going into 2018 now, so the future's very bright for both the hotels, the city, with the entertainment and all the theaters," Derbins said.

Roots Firmly Planted

Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley agreed. She attributed that success to a Christian heritage and city leaders, residents, and visitors during the last 100 years making sure those roots stay firmly planted.

"Leaders in our community have been willing to say out loud in a very public way, 'I am a Christian.'" Presley said.

"And I do believe that this is a way that we ought to present our businesses and our lives that reflect those values of Christianity, no matter what faith you are," she added.

Devout Christians Jack and Pete Herschend, who founded Herschend Family Entertainment and one of Branson's main attractions, Silver Dollar City, are among the leaders standing strong.

"What's made Branson different I think is that the community has decided not to compromise," Jack Herschend told CBN News.

"The Christian culture is something that people want," he said. "Often times they can't really identify it, what it is about this place that they love."

"We wanted the business to be operated in a way that would be pleasing to Christ," Pete Herschend said. "I don't have concern for Branson or Silver Dollar City as long as the values stay in place."

Banking on Faith Only

The National Travel Association recently named Branson as one of the top four faith-based travel destinations in the country. 

However, it has been tough at times for this community to maintain that mission as outside interests have fought to change the culture there.

Groups have tried to bring gambling to Branson. Although there are casinos in other parts of Missouri, the state constitution does not allow them in the Branson area. The issue went before a statewide vote.

"We were really at the mercy of our citizens throughout the state to make a decision really for us, and we spoke to them," Presley explained.

"We helped them understand why we believed it would be bad for our area, and we were successful in defeating that," she said.

Presley said gambling can bring more money to a city's coffers, but also an increase in crime and a change in the flavor of a community.

Key to Survival
    
She acknowledges that in this tough economy the visitor numbers are down slightly and sales tax revenues are flat. But in comparison to other cities across the nation, she said Branson is doing very well. 

"I do believe that it's okay to live what you believe, and I think that we will be fortunate in continuing to do that and will be rewarded," Presley shared.

The mayor and other community leaders believe a Christian culture and family friendliness are the keys to survival.

The numbers back them up. This town of only 10,500 attracts 8 million visitors each year.

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Mark Martin

Mark Martin

CBN News Reporter

Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.