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FBC Tuscaloosa serves as ‘command post’ for local, global tornado relief volunteerscomment (0)

July 21, 2011

By Sammie Jo Barstow

Jeans and T-shirts are not the usual Sunday attire at First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, but after an EF-4 tornado cut a path one mile wide and six miles long through the city April 27, many things changed. During May and June, people attended church on Sunday morning in work clothes and then dispersed throughout Tuscaloosa to remove debris and help tornado survivors in any way possible with Samaritan’s Purse.

A representative from the Boone, N.C.-based international relief and evangelism organization contacted the church business administrator, Kris Sullivan, the day after the tornado about partnering with the Tuscaloosa Baptist Association church to provide disaster relief in Tuscaloosa. Sullivan immediately agreed to the partnership.

Two days after the storm, Samaritan’s Purse staff members and volunteers began to arrive in the city. The church provided the facilities for training and organizing volunteers, as well as housing, showers, kitchen space and an office.

“Samaritan’s Purse brought a method of organization and a wealth of experience because they do this all over the world. They also had the tools essential to hit the ground running,” Senior Pastor Gil McKee said. “Our fellowship hall became a command post, and on Saturday after the tornado hit on Wednesday, we sent out more than 600 volunteers.”

In addition, hundreds of other volunteers gathered in the fellowship hall to make sandwiches and package other food items for distribution to survivors and workers.    

Since the tornado, work teams have been organized at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. each weekday in addition to the Sunday crews. In two months, 8,897 volunteers have worked 55,757 hours and completed 925 work orders. At least 36 decisions for Christ and nine rededications have been reported.

First, Tuscaloosa, member Margaret Keith enjoyed registering volunteers. “People came from almost every state, plus six foreign countries. A group of firefighters from California drove straight through to spend a week here. Families, classes, churches and clubs joined with us to help Tuscaloosa recover.”

But the church didn’t just wait on help from Samaritan’s Purse — it responded immediately to the needs of its members.

“The first two days were spent identifying church members who either lost homes or had damage. Vial Fontenot, our [minister of missions and ministry], gathered a group of men who quickly began removing trees from roofs and patching leaks,” McKee said.

Wednesday and Sunday evening services were temporarily canceled or adjusted to encourage members to volunteer. Several international missions trips were canceled so finances and other resources could be redirected toward recovery. Many members also have worked through the association with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions disaster relief teams.

Vacation Bible School (VBS) was scheduled for June 6–9, but Minister of Childhood Education Beth Yates said, “We didn’t feel right about doing business as usual when it came to VBS, so we decided to take VBS out to the community areas that were hardest hit by the tornado.”

Four locations were identified and VBS workers quickly adjusted their plans to partner with three churches in devastated communities to provide Bible school. Robin Ford, a member of First, Tuscaloosa, served at the Wood Village location, a mobile home park, where many of the workers were youth from the church. “Just to see these students helping the children and serving them made me really feel God’s pleasure with what was going on.” 
Sunday School classes have adopted families needing help finding housing and replacing furniture and automobiles. In several instances, First, Tuscaloosa, has paid rent and utility deposits for families being relocated.

The church and Samaritan’s Purse will continue to partner for the rebuilding phase during the next 18–24 months. “Our people have rolled up their sleeves and worked hard. I don’t believe we will forget the lessons we’ve learned in this experience,” McKee said.

And the church’s generosity isn’t confined to its own city. On May 22, Joplin, Mo., was devastated by a tornado. First, Tuscaloosa, sent a team of three staff members to Forest Park Baptist Church, Joplin, to encourage its staff and present a check for $10,000.  

For more information about volunteering, call First, Tuscaloosa, at 205-345-7554.

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