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Sand Mountain Baptists offer quick response, rebuild lives after tornadocomment (0)

March 19, 2009

By Megan Norris Jones

After a tornado swept across the Sand Mountain area in February 2008, destroying homes and disrupting lives, Sand Mountain Baptist Association was quick to respond with chain-saw crews to help remove debris.

That help shifted from emergency response to rebuilding, and now, more than a year after the tornado, 13 families have new or repaired homes thanks to the efforts of Alabama Baptists and others in the community, state and region. Sand Mountain Baptists were joined in the rebuilding efforts by the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, The Salvation Army, the Methodist Upper Sand Mountain Parish and the Rosalie Community Center.

“It was wonderful to see all the different groups, agencies and organizations working together to make sure the families were receiving the various kinds of help they [needed],” said David Patty, director of missions for Sand Mountain Association.

In fact, that cooperation formed the backbone of the rebuilding work. “I learned how important it is to have established relationships with other religious and civic organizations in the community,” Patty said.

He cited the development of such relationships as a top priority for Baptist leaders seeking to prepare for emergency situations.

The association had already done some preparation for natural disasters with a trained chain-saw team that had been on missions trips serving other communities.

“They (Sand Mountain Baptists) certainly are setting a very good example, starting with many of them were already trained in emergency response,” said Gary Swafford, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “They got ready to serve the Lord, and the Lord has given them opportunities.”

The association’s rebuilding fund received $95,739.97 in donations. All of that money went to purchase supplies to rebuild the homes of families who came to Sand Mountain Association for help. None was spent on labor or administrative costs.

Though the main physical reconstruction was finished in September 2008, the association continued to distribute money remaining in the rebuilding fund to needy families through October and November.

Although the storm came with a heavy cost, the people of Sand Mountain have found blessings in it, too, as they’ve become closer and learned the importance of sticking together in tough times.

“What the storm did, as far as the community coming together, I think that will last forever,” Patty said.

Throughout the months of rebuilding, he was asked time and time again why the Sand Mountain Baptists were putting so much time, effort and money into other people’s homes. His answer was always the same: “We’re Christians. One way of serving our Lord is by serving other people.”

The homes of Russell and Donna Carlin and their daughter and son-in-law, Erica and Gary Shavers, were two of those that were rebuilt. In addition to losing their home, the Carlins lost their appliance repair business, where Erica Shavers also works. They still have not been able to rebuild their shop, but they have set up an office in one room of their rebuilt house.

After the terrifying experience of going through the tornado, the Carlins were encouraged by the community’s response and support and say there is no other place they’d rather live.

“God protected us. He had His hand on us and this is home,” Donna Carlin said.

Andy Wilks, a member of Henagar Baptist Church and retired carpenter, saw a lot of support from unexpected places as he served on the association’s committee for organizing the rebuilding project and worked with volunteer crews from across the region to rebuild six homes.

“We had a lot of help, and a lot of people we’d call for materials and tell them what it’s for, they’d just donate it,” Wilks said.

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