With all the local schools destroyed when an EF-5 tornado barreled through town, First Baptist also opened its doors so that the local elementary and high school could finish the school year.
"Our facilities were about the only thing of any size left standing in Hackleburg," said pastor Steve Lawrence, who also serves as the high school's volunteer band director. "A lot of the teachers and staff of the school are members of this church, so it made it simple."
Teachers and students in grades K-9 utilized "every square inch" of the church facility for classes, lunch, meetings and storage space from May 10 until the last day of classes, May 27. Although students in grades 10-12 met down the block for classes at Hackleburg United Methodist Church, all students were using First Baptist's facilities at some point throughout the day.
Lawrence said the Salvation Army even brought in a mobile kitchen so that cafeteria workers could prepare meals, which were served in First Baptist's family life center on tables salvaged from the Hackleburg schools.
"There are no words to describe how wonderful it's been," said Joan Baker, principal of the elementary school. "The church has been here to help us in our time of need. It's been a gift from God. I can't say enough good things about the church."
Baker added, "All of my children survived the EF-5 tornado, and I'm thankful that they are alive."
Lawrence said it has been a tremendous blessing for all involved.
"It's been a lot of healing," the pastor said. "The teachers wanted to see their kids as bad as the kids wanted to come back."
In addition to "trying to do the normal things" as much as possible, as Lawrence put it, the church and school sought to meet the students' physical needs by sending them home with air mattresses, clothing, food and other items.
"We just all joined together as a community, and we are working as one unit trying to do God's work the best we can," Baker added.
Betty Quinn, a reading teacher at Hackleburg Elementary, recounted that the district superintendent called school off the day of the tornado, April 27. "Had it not been for that, I don't know if they would ever get finished burying people in Hackleburg because we would have all been dead, I guess," she said.
Quinn, a member of First Baptist, said she's happy her church was helping bring people together.
"Our minister is always around," she said in an interview while school was still in session, "and all of the students have become acquainted with him and his wife. He's out there every morning to talk to them when they get off the bus.... We have a lot of kids in school that so it makes it special for them."
Quinn asked that people continue to pray for her community.
"We are still in a healing process," she said. "We have been so devastated. We see these things on TV and see the pictures in the paper and stuff, but if you have not seen it and haven't lived through it ... it's nothing compared to the real thing."
Sondra Washington is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. For information about donations to Alabama Baptists' disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3.
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