REBUILD: Ala. recovery phase under way

Baptist Press
Posted: Jun 08, 2011 5:52 PM
REBUILD: Ala. recovery phase under way
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--Mel Johnson said the word "overwhelming" doesn't even begin to describe the aftermath of the tornadoes that ripped apart Alabama in late April. The death toll in the hundreds. The total devastation.

"It's been a tough, tough situation -- so many lives lost, and so many needs," said Johnson, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists. "It doesn't matter how well you are prepared, you are never equipped to properly mitigate a disaster of that size."

But as he and others have been picking up the pieces in the wake of "our Katrina," he said he has seen God at work, no question.

Disaster relief volunteers from 13 state conventions have descended on Alabama, and people recognize the breadth of the ministry and are drawn to Christ and to the church because of it, Johnson said. "We are experiencing a tremendous openness to the Gospel."

Local churches in affected areas have had the tremendous opportunity to step into leadership roles in their communities in ways they've never done before, he said. "Communities and churches are coming together in a real way."

And other churches in the state have seized the chance to reach out to their fellow Alabamians in need, and not just for disaster relief, Johnson said.

"Some churches, for example, were going to cancel their Vacation Bible School because so many members were affected by the tornadoes, but other churches have stepped up to the plate to come in and run those for them," he said.

It's part of the second phase of recovery, a new part of the process for disaster relief teams.

This phase will go beyond cleanup and move into long-term rebuild.

"We are working to put together opportunities for pastors and directors of missions to be able to receive some ministry support," Johnson said. "Not only have they been affected by storms and tragedies, but their church members have been affected too."

State Baptists also will offer counseling opportunities for those suffering grief and loss, he said.

Disaster relief leaders are working to partner ministry teams with potential projects, "whether it be rebuilding the church or rebuilding the community," Johnson said.

"I have seen a tremendous amount of resolve among volunteers who have done things so far beyond what I would have expected."

How long will Alabama Baptists be involved in the recovery process?

"As long as it takes," he said.

The North American Mission Board has been providing a significant portion of the broad-brush leadership in the recovery process and will continue to do so, Johnson said. NAMB stepped in to help coordinate the greater Southern Baptist volunteer response to Alabama, and Johnson said that's "a perfect picture of Cooperative Program support and Cooperative Program spirit."

"They expressed instant concern, and when our state was wounded, they came along with other state conventions to the rescue," he said. "Without that ministry, we wouldn't have been able to respond the way we did."

Mickey Caison, NAMB disaster relief team leader, said Alabama has done a great job in its response, and other states have come in and done well also in the midst of a "very large and very deadly tornado season."

"We have been working to connect the states with sites and will continue to develop long-term recovery plans for that," Caison said. "And as Alabama knows what it needs, we will help put out the call for additional teams to come in and help. It's a large job, but we're all committed to help."

Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit For information about donations to Alabama Baptists' disaster relief efforts, go to

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