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After tornadoes, churches get busy ministering

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Following are reports from several states struck by the March 2 tornadoes.

By Monday, 39 deaths had been reported from Friday's storms, including 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one each in Alabama and Georgia.



Two Alabama Baptist churches were damaged when tornadoes moved through the northern section of the state early March 2. Severe damage, at least one death in Alexander City and seven injuries were reported.

Flint River Baptist Church in Meridianville sustained major roof damage from the tornadoes. Ron Lynch, church ministries director for the Madison Baptist Association, reported that Flint River pastor Steve Bell reported no injuries at the church at press time.

Fairview Baptist Church in Athens received significant damage to its roof, windows, back carport and shed, Limestone Baptist Association director of missions Robert Fullerton reported.

Despite the damage, pastor George Whitten and Fairview Baptist members were "on a spiritual high" and "doing OK" as they worked to put tarps on the church's roof before the next storm passed through the area, Fullerton said.

The March 2 tornado hit Limestone County within a half mile of the area devastated by the April 27, 2011, tornado, Fullerton said.

"We were almost cleaned up from last April, but now it looks bad again," he said in an email titled "Here we go again."

"It looks like the 400 Mission Serve volunteers we have lined up in July for Rebuild Limestone County will now have much more to do than we had expected as far as cleanup and recovery.

"People are hurting and it feels like we have been put in a time machine and gone back to April 27 of last year," he noted. "It's like three steps forward and two back."

The Moss family and Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville feel the same way.

It had been only a few weeks since a dedication service was held for the Mosses' new home, which was built by Mount Zion Baptist after the family lost its home in the April 27 tornadoes last year. The new home was among the houses in the path of the March 2 tornado hitting the Harvest area near Huntsville and was, at minimum, severely damaged.


Mount Zion Baptist members didn't waste any time getting to the Mosses' house to help with cleanup, and all parties are beginning to plan what needs to happen next.

Three Alabama Baptist disaster relief units from Madison Baptist Association are assisting in the areas around Huntsville, and Limestone Baptist Association is taking care of the damage in the Athens area.


Kentucky Baptist disaster relief leaders are fielding requests and have mobilized teams to serve communities affected by a string of tornadoes that struck around the region March 2.

An incident command center was opened over the weekend at the Kentucky Baptist Building in Louisville where state convention staff and volunteers are receiving damage assessment reports from hard-hit communities.

About 110 Kentucky Baptist disaster relief volunteers, with an additional 25 poised to begin work on Tuesday, are providing hot meals, clean-up assistance, emergency communications, hot showers and laundry service in several counties.

Forty-five of those volunteers are serving in hard-hit West Liberty in Morgan County. The Red Cross has asked Kentucky Baptists to increase to 5,000 the number of meals provided each day.

Also, at every location, chaplains trained to counsel people in times of crisis, are providing comfort.

Coy Webb, director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention Baptist Men on Mission department, lauded the volunteers. "Normally it takes about 48 hours to get organized and deployed but our volunteers have been ready and willing to respond."

Clean-up efforts were made more difficult Monday after a cold front overnight dropped two to four inches of snow on many of the disaster areas.

The heavy snow collapsed one of the disaster relief tents being used in West Liberty.


Webb noted that many of the volunteers serving Monday were themselves affected by the storms.

"It really is a case of neighbor helping neighbor," he said.

Webb said impassable roads initially made it difficult for emergency personnel to determine needs in some areas.

As of late Sunday, Kentucky Baptist volunteers had established feeding and shower units, chainsaw crews and chaplaincy teams to serve in West Liberty, Debord and London in eastern Kentucky and in Crittenden in northern Kentucky. It was the second time in a week that West Liberty had been hit by tornadoes.

"West Liberty is really hurting," Webb said. "We are sending chaplains, chainsaw and other clean-up crews, and likely our new emergency child care unit."

Kentucky Baptist churches in Grant, Kenton, Morgan, Pendleton and Laurel counties have opened their doors as storm shelters and disaster-relief staging areas. Many other churches in the commonwealth are serving as emergency shelters and donation drop-off points.

In addition to Morgan, Grant and Laurel counties, Kentucky Baptists are expected to be called upon to serve in other areas hit hard by the March 2 storms which struck western, central and eastern Kentucky. As of early Monday, the death toll in the state stood at more than 20 people.

Because of the difficulty in accessing disaster areas, Webb said it is important for volunteers to wait until they know for sure how best they can help.

"When you see these devastating images on the news, it's hard not to want to jump into action, but sometimes that is not what is best in the early hours of something like this," Webb said. "The blessing is that Christians can do something right now: We can pray for God to offer the healing and comfort that only He can provide."


Kentucky Baptists are encouraged to visit often for updates. Trained Kentucky Baptist disaster relief volunteers are asked to e-mail or call 502-489-3582 or toll free in Kentucky at 1-866-489-3582.

"Right now only trained volunteers are needed," Webb pointed out. "We encourage anyone in our churches interested in serving in a hands-on way to join us for training on March 10 in Lexington. There is every chance that we will need you to serve right away."

"We never have enough volunteers," he said, explaining that because of personal responsibilities, many of the men and women serving now may be unable to serve at another time, making a large pool of volunteers vital, especially if the storm season is active.

The March 10 training will be held at Porter Memorial Baptist Church. For details or to register, visit


Southwestern Ohio was struck by five tornadoes Friday, with the strongest destroying dozens of homes in Moscow. More than 200 people there were left homeless.

Duane Floro, a ministry evangelism strategist with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, told Baptist Press a kitchen unit from Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ohio, served about 250 meals Sunday and planned to serve 50 lunches Monday before ceasing operations. Floro said continued disaster relief feedings were not needed in the area.

Sam Kelley, who coordinates disaster relief for the Ohio convention, arrived in Moscow Friday after the storms and began assessing the needs.

"Pray for us to have an opportunity to go in there and share encouragement and hope with those that have gone through some difficult days," Floro said.


First Baptist Church in Henryville, Ind., was just yards away from the path of one of several tornadoes that caused extensive damage March 2. Now the church is among several Indiana Baptist congregations ministering in response.


Cecil Seagle, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, traveled to Henryville with his wife on Saturday.

"I got out of the car and started wandering around just to meet and love on people," Seagle told Baptist Press. "Everywhere you look, it looks like a moonscape. There is unbelievable carnage -- buses turned upside down. Up at Interstate 65 and the Henryville exit was a truck stop. I've seen a lot of stuff, but I have never seen tractor trailers picked up and moved any number of yards -- turned upside down, stacked on top of each other, just an incredible view of the might and power of a storm like this," Seagle said.

When Seagle was in Henryville, he saw numerous cadaver dogs assisting in the search and rescue efforts. Officials were working to secure gas lines and other dangers so that people could be allowed access to the area for cleanup.

On Sunday morning, Toby Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Henryville, preached from Lamentations 3:19-24, which includes verse 22's affirmation: "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail." He reminded those who gathered of God's love and prayed that God would use the tragedy for good, even in generations to come.

Church members and others in the community as well as students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Louisville, Ky., converged at First Baptist Henryville to assist residents in need.

"The church was full of people looking for hope," Seagle said. "The sense I had was the typical absolute shock: 'Everything I've worked for and everything I own has been obliterated,'" he said, adding, however, "These are Hoosiers. They are resilient. The typical response was, 'We've got to clean this mess up.' We were seeing them already pulling limbs and taking debris to a pile. I watched a family as they were stacking bricks. There was nothing left of that house except some partial walls here and there.


"The other thing that I heard over and over again is, 'We'll be back. This town will be back. We're here to stay.' That's what I hear across Indiana," the executive director said. "These hardworking folks are going to pull together, and in that there's great hope."

Three towns in southern Indiana were particularly affected by the storm. In addition to Henryville, Marysville and Pekin also were hit. In Marysville, the lone Southern Baptist congregation is Pleasant View Baptist Church with Ray Bowyer as pastor, and in Pekin it's First Baptist Church with Jerry Goodwin as pastor.

"All three of these pastors are hugely involved and hugely engaged," Seagle said.

Seagle asked Southern Baptists to pray for his state.

"I really am appealing for Southern Baptists to not let this move off their radar screen quickly," he said. "Following shock and devastation comes the sense of reality. There is that sobering reality that says, 'This will not be quick in terms of recovery,' and that can be enormously depressing.

"So we want to establish a prayer canopy across Southern Baptist life that prays for these folks in Marysville and Henryville and Pekin that God would provide flesh and blood people who will help them walk through the recovery time.

"And then just pray that we can bring the comfort of Christ and the hope of the Father to them as we join shoulder to shoulder and say, 'We're in this with you.' They need the sense of the presence of God," Seagle said.

Seagle expressed gratitude for the way Southern Baptists respond to disasters.

"Southern Baptists are known for their deep generosity and their open hearts and their willingness to help, and for that I'd like to say I am delighted to be a Southern Baptist and I am grateful to God for the kind of support, through prayer and through tangible resources, that helps us to do this in the name of Christ," he said.


Compiled from reports by the staff of The Alabama Baptist; Todd Deaton of the Western Recorder and Dannah Prather of the Kentucky Baptist Convention; and Erin Roach of Baptist Press.

For regular updates about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit to subscribe. Donations to SBDR are fully tax deductible and 100 percent of all gifts are used to meet the needs of hurting people in the wake of disasters. Donations can be made through state Baptist conventions; online at; by phone, 1-866-407-6262; or by mail. Checks should be made payable to "North American Mission Board" and sent to Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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