Baptists in hurricane-prone District 7 repay kindness comment (0)
February 9, 2012
By Leigh Pritchett
On April 27, more than 60 tornadoes traversed Alabama, leaving a trail of death, destruction and devastated hearts.
More than 240 people lost their lives. Thousands upon thousands were left homeless.
Most of Alabama Baptists’ District 7 region — Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Mobile and Washington counties — was spared, however.
So ministering to the hurting in other parts of the state quickly became the focus of the district’s churches and associations.
“They responded very well, doing different kinds of ministry projects … in remembrance of all that had been done in assistance to (hurricanes) Ivan and Katrina,” said Reggie Quimby, director of the office of global missions for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) and one of the state missionaries assigned to District 7.
Baldwin Baptist Association’s two shower trailers were dispatched to Phil Campbell and Tuscaloosa.
Volunteers from churches including First Baptist, Robertsdale; First Baptist, Fairhope; and Pleasant View Baptist, Foley, went to DeKalb County, the Birmingham area and Phil Campbell. They fed volunteers and people affected by the storms, helped construct homes and churches and conducted Vacation Bible School and block parties. Over the course of four or five months, numerous groups transported supplies and canned goods to people in impacted areas.
And efforts are continuing, Director of Missions (DOM) Rick Barnhart said. “We will be going to Phil Campbell to help at Mountain View Baptist” probably in July, Barnhart noted.
Interestingly Baldwin Association assisted at Mountain View Baptist Church, Sylvania, last summer. It also learned that one church on which it worked — Grace Chapel Baptist Church at Town Creek in Rainsville (see story, next week) — has decided to join the Southern Baptist family, Barnhart said.
“Easily over 300” people from 20 of the association’s 61 churches have been involved in relief efforts since April 27, he reported.
“We are so very blessed with disaster relief teams” and equipment, Barnhart said. The association has about 120 volunteers from more than 20 churches, he said.
As Barnhart recounted stories of people coming to know Christ through the work of Baldwin Association volunteers after April 27 and being on the receiving end of kindness following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, he felt emotion welling.
“It’s amazing how talking about it brings it all up,” Barnhart said.
Choctaw County took a direct hit from the April 27 storms and saw significant damage.
“We were kind of on the south end of all of it,” said Franklin McLelland, DOM of Choctaw Baptist Association. In fact, he said, some outside sources did not realize for a while that the county had been hit.
McLelland said the tornado mostly followed County Road 32 in the northern part of Choctaw County. Reports indicate that 20 to 25 homes were destroyed, 120 were damaged and another 60 to 65 received severe damage.
Scores of volunteers from the association helped clean up debris, serve food to workers and people affected by the storm and repair and rebuild homes, McLelland said.
According to McLelland and Quimby, Bethel and Selma Baptist associations, as well as volunteers from Mississippi, assisted in the county. Quimby said some SBOM disaster relief funds also were sent to the area.
Plus Choctaw Association’s men’s ministry has devoted funds to a relief project, McLelland said.
Even though their county was in the path of the storms, volunteers from the association — such as the pastors of Cullomburg Baptist Church; First Baptist Church, Silas; and Gilbertown Baptist Church — assisted in the hard-hit areas of Phil Campbell and Hackleburg, he said.
Since the storms, Bethel, Choctaw and Pine Barren associations have partnered to care for one another’s needs in future crises, McLelland said.
During the three months after April 27, Clarke Baptist Association sent missions teams to the Sand Mountain area. DOM Chris Baker estimated that the association sent 15 to 18 teams in all — about 200 people representing perhaps a dozen churches.
Soon after the tornadoes, the teams began providing food, water, supplies and clothing, as well as assistance with cleanup, recovery, distribution and repairs, Baker said.
Clarke Association’s churches were able to build on a “natural connection” that Jamie Lay, pastor of Stave Creek Baptist Church, Jackson, possessed.
Because of that connection, “(Lay) already knew people,” Baker said. And the people knew and trusted Lay. “That was a unique situation.”
The association also assisted Mount Hebron East Baptist Church, Eclectic — which was heavily damaged in the storms — financially and has a building team slated to work in the summer.
Clarke Association has a reputation for assembling a construction team of 80 to 100 people who can get a church from slab to the dried-in stage in four days. It has been doing this every summer for at least 27 years.
As the association’s churches helped others after the tornadoes, they developed a greater sense of unity among themselves, Baker observed. This time of assistance also brought to light the need to be prepared to respond in a disaster. The people who wanted to assist saw that it is necessary to have proper credentials in order to gain entrance into an impacted area.
Since the storms, many people in Clarke Association have trained in disaster relief. Though the association does not have a disaster relief team, Baker said the volunteers could attach to other units being deployed.
In Mobile Baptist Association, Executive DOM C. Thomas Wright said, “Many churches in the affected region responded to damage we received during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So many of our folks were eager to return the favor.”
As a result, “we had over two dozen churches send cleanup and repair teams to the damaged region,” Wright explained. “Many other churches collected and sent requested supplies. [Mobile Association] became a partner for one of the damaged regions in the Birmingham Association.”
Through that partnership, Mobile Association assisted with cleanup, repair and construction projects.
Wright estimated that more than 75 of the association’s 110 churches “either sent a team or provided requested supplies” to areas hit by the storms.
Mobile Association also became one of many locations that hosted disaster relief training in the days following April 27. “Disaster relief training becomes a priority to folks when they see the immediate need,” Wright observed.
The association “has training scheduled and will provide additional training on demand,” he noted.
“Churches and church members who wish to respond to disaster situations need to receive training in SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) disaster relief,” he continued. “There are a wide range of skills needed, including communications, mud-out, chain saw, feeding, child care and assessment. Training is available periodically in each Alabama association. And training can be offered on demand with as few as 10 people.”
On April 27, the area encompassed by Washington Baptist Association experienced no damage. But earlier that month, a tornado claimed three lives, DOM Michael Olewski reported.
The community took care of the cleanup related to the earlier storm system, Olewski said.
Like some other associations in the state, Washington Association does not have a disaster relief team. However, six individuals have the necessary credentials and can dispatch with teams from other associations, Olewski said. Two volunteers did just that following the late April disaster.
Since then, about 30 individuals have expressed interest in being trained, Olewski said.
The association of 34 churches hopes to have a disaster relief team in the future, he said.
Through direct experience with the deadly April storms, Olewski said the people of Washington Association have seen that “no one is immune from those kinds of things.”
(June Mathews contributed)