Within hours of the April 27 tornado, more than 100 survivors living nearby came to the church for help. A few church members did the best they could to minister amid the destruction. That's when the Alabama congregation sprang into action.
Only two days after the storm, Forest Lake Baptist had set up an extensive ministry center in its basement fellowship hall. For weeks, the church has been providing canned food, water, hot meals, baby supplies, clothing, bedding, cleaning supplies, books and some furniture and appliances. It has even provided pet food for animal shelters.
What makes Forest Lake's quick response so amazing is that its facilities, located in the heart of one of the tornado's path, suffered more than $1.5 million in damages.
But "the Lord has graciously provided," church member Terri Hibbard said.
Fellow member and ministry center volunteer Jan Anders agreed. "There is nothing we have needed that hasn't walked through the doors when we needed it."
In fact, God has provided in such an overwhelming way that Forest Lake has given goods to other churches and organizations.
A team of volunteers from Mississippi showed up the first week and provided 1,500 hot dog meals out of a trailer. Volunteers from Florida distributed barbecue sandwiches in the church's parking lot.
World Vision, Samaritan's Purse and The Salvation Army all have donated items to the ministry center.
"We're getting supplies from people all over the country," pastor Donnie Payne said. "A tractor-trailer rig loaded with relief items just rolled onto the church's parking lot a few days ago. The driver came inside and said we could have everything on his truck."
The church has received so much, in fact, that many relief items have been stored in overflow rooms.
"We're trying to stock up for the long haul," Payne said. "We know there will be needs for months to come."
He said the church initially ministered to storm survivors, rescue workers, police and National Guard troops but now is reaching out to construction workers.
God also has provided volunteers. More than 200 church members have participated in Forest Lake's disaster relief ministry.
"Our church has really come together during this time," member Susan Kincaid said.
In addition to offering relief items, members have listened to and prayed with those needing help. A table in the center of the fellowship hall stacked with Bibles bears a sign that reads, "Take one."
Payne is quick to credit the response of University of Alabama students.
"University students have risen to the occasion," he said. "Hundreds have come by the church offering their help."
Church member Earline Thornton, who is in her 70s, has been an inspiration for all volunteers. Even though Thornton lost her home to the tornado, she shows up every day to help in the ministry center.
Billy Gray, interim director of missions for the Tuscaloosa Baptist Association, said, "When you walk into Forest Lake's ministry center, you think you are in a store. One half looks like a department store, and the other half looks like a grocery story. They are so organized."
The first Sundays after the storm, Forest Lake held worship in the Baptist Campus Ministries chapel on the University of Alabama campus. For the past several Sundays, worship has been held in the church's damaged sanctuary.
"We will rebuild," Payne said. "But for now, our main focus is on people who need us."
Gary Hardin is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. 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
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