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Alabama Baptists help District 8 recover, rebuildcomment (0)

March 8, 2012

By Leigh Prichett

Alabama Baptists help District 8 recover, rebuild

When more than 60 tornadoes traversed the state April 27, 2011, Alabama Baptists’ District 8 felt some of their wrath. 

In that area, which encompasses Bibb, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry and Sumter counties, “[the] damage was in isolated pockets,” reported Mike Jackson, director of the office of leadership and church health for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and a state missionary serving District 8 at the time.

Though the damage was not widespread, where it did occur, it impacted people in a significant way, Jackson noted.

He offered Sawyerville in Hale County as an example. “(The tornadoes) really turned their lives upside down,” Jackson observed.

At least seven people in Hale and Bibb counties were among the more than 240 Alabamians who lost their lives, according to news reports.

For the most part, the District 8 counties saw to their own cleanup, recovery and reconstruction, Jackson said. In the Eoline community in Bibb County, for instance, people ministered to those around them.

Selma Baptist Association volunteers worked in the district before relocating to serve in another area.

There were also groups from outside the region who ministered in District 8, such as Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Gordo, in Pickens Baptist Association, Jackson said.

And the district’s people ministered to others in harder hit areas, he added.

Bethel Baptist Association

Bethel Baptist Association, located in Marengo County, felt the storms’ impact and responded to needs outside its area.

Two tornadoes struck in mid-April, and another storm system hit April 27. Director of Missions (DOM) Bobby Hopper, who serves as District 8 disaster relief coordinator, said the association’s disaster relief volunteers were put on alert the morning of April 27. They were to respond with Selma Association to Tuscaloosa but had to wait to leave until after a second storm passed.

Then a storm struck Linden. “We worked that storm on the way to Tuscaloosa,” Hopper said.

The workers cleaned in Bethel Association as much as they could before dispatching elsewhere. “We were hurting and helping the hurting,” Hopper said.

Volunteers from Bethel, Selma, Clarke and Washington associations served in Tuscaloosa for several days until Selma Association was redirected to the Birmingham area, he said.

Some from Bethel Association remained in Tuscaloosa for weeks, Hopper said.

The association was involved not only in cleanup in Tuscaloosa but also with assessments and administration. “We were heavily involved early on,” Hopper said.

To assist in recovering and rebuilding, Bethel Association has partnered with Choctaw and Tuscaloosa Baptist associations, he said.

Hopper added that Bethel and Selma associations helped assess damage sustained in Choctaw Association from the mid-April tornadoes.

Volunteers cleaning up in Nanafalia in southwest Marengo County had to seek shelter from those storms, Hopper said. Their destructive forces came within 75 yards of where the volunteers were.

All of District 8 was affected by those storms, he continued.

When it comes to disasters, “you can’t totally get ready for them,” Hopper noted. Each disaster brings with it a different level of standards for preparing for the next crisis. “It is a learning experience.”

But one thing that remains constant is the need for more people to be trained to help in a disaster, Hopper said.

Bibb Baptist Association

In Bibb County, as many as 45 houses were damaged April 27, along with a fire station and Eoline Baptist Church. Bill Russell, DOM for Bibb Baptist Association, also reported a fatality in the county.

It was one of two April storm systems that left a mark on the county. About 10 days prior, a tornado followed almost the same path, felling a lot of trees and damaging a cemetery, Russell said.

After the April 27 storms, Selma Association volunteers assisted in Eoline on the way to Tuscaloosa, he said.

The Bibb Association building was used for feeding people affected by the storms and preparing meals for volunteers in Eoline, Russell said. Volunteers from the association received assistance from Shelby and Selma associations.

In addition, the building became a distribution point for items that individuals needed, Russell said.

“We kept it here for a while and sent a lot to Eoline,” which also 

had a distribution site, he said. Likewise items were given to the Red Cross.

“We had volunteers taking supplies to other places as well,” such as Fultondale, Russell continued.

He explained that some supplies went to a Bessemer location, which disseminated them to various points throughout the state, such as Hackleburg and Cullman.

“[They] ended up going all over Alabama really,” Russell said of the items donated to Bibb Association. “We tried to be a conduit to people who needed things we had.”

He noted that Pineview Baptist Church, Brent, was a drop-off point for supplies to go to various locales in the state.

In addition, the association’s people helped rebuild in the county. Russell said particular assistance went to Mount Carmel Baptist Church, West Blocton, which worked to relocate a family left homeless by the storm.

“It always gives you a blessing to be able to help people,” he said.

Since that time, two family members have been baptized into the fellowship of Mount Carmel Baptist, Russell said.

Drawing together to help in this disaster has built greater camaraderie among Bibb Association churches, reached at least one family with the gospel and spurred interest in disaster relief preparedness, he said.

Bigbee Baptist Association

On April 27, Greene and Sumter counties did not suffer harm. However, during the mid-April storms, there was damage in Sumter County’s Geiger community. Several homes were destroyed, as were two churches of other denominations.

Larry Potts, DOM of Bigbee Baptist Association, said several churches — such as Christian Valley Baptist and First Baptist, both in Livingston — were involved in relief efforts in Geiger.

After the April 27 storms, some volunteers from the association served in Tuscaloosa. 

Bigbee Association consists of 17 churches and has about five trained disaster relief volunteers, Potts said.

“We’re really just getting started in disaster relief,” he said.

The rash of disasters has “given us an awareness of our need to be prepared,” Potts continued. “(It has) gotten people interested in being involved.”

He noted that a lot of psychological and spiritual needs still must be addressed in the lives of individuals affected by the storms. Plus many structures are yet to be built.

Cahaba/Hale Baptist associations

Perry County, where Cahaba Baptist Association is situated, was spared April 27. But that was not the case earlier that month when Faith Chapel Baptist Church, Marion, was damaged.

Bill Wallace, DOM for Cahaba and Hale associations, said Cahaba Association gave funds to help rebuild a home along Highway 29 in Perry County and assist in other areas of the state after the April storms. Wallace said Cahaba Association’s people are very diligent in helping others and contributed thousands of dollars for disaster relief work.

On April 27, Hale County did not fare as well as Perry County. Wallace reported that about 50 residences were lost, many of them in Sawyerville. “It really hit them hard,” he said.

In an area near New Hope Baptist Church, Moundville, seven homes were destroyed, Wallace said.

People from Cahaba and Hale associations became involved in a project to rebuild one of the homes, he said.

For the most part, the disaster relief work needed in the area was done by people in the community. A team from a Bessemer church, though, did help with cleanup and held a block party in Sawyerville, Wallace said.

Hale Association does not have a disaster relief team, he continued. “In the country, we just do it ourselves.”

Mennonites arrived on the scene quickly, aiding those affected by the storms.

Also Wallace said his associations received about $4,000 in relief assistance.

He said a group is scheduled to rebuild a church in Greensboro this summer. Although that church is not in Hale Association, he is helping to coordinate the construction effort.

Selma Baptist Association

Dallas County, home to Selma Baptist Association, sustained minimal damage April 27, DOM Tom Stacey said. It experienced more damage during the mid-April tornadoes, after which the association’s chain saw crew worked in Nanafalia, Sweet Water, Beaver Creek and elsewhere in Marengo County. 

On April 28, the crew began its day assisting in Eoline and went on to the Birmingham area from there. Afterward it traveled to Tuscaloosa and Cottondale, where it remained for 10 days, Stacey said.

“I’m very proud of our team,” he said of the 30 trained volunteers who have been “very faithful to serve” and are ready to help with rebuilding projects. 

Already Selma Association has sent money to St. Clair and DeKalb Baptist associations, as well as Cottondale Baptist Church, all of which saw much damage from the April 27 tornadoes.

While working near Cottondale, volunteers came in contact with a couple who moved to the area from Louisiana because they lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. On April 27, they lost everything again. On three occasions, volunteers have traveled to the area to assist, pray with and check on them, Stacey said.

In the April tornadoes’ aftermath, “everybody (in Selma Association) was doing something,” even the smaller churches, he said.

Assisting seemed universally important to the association’s people because “everybody here had a contact in the affected area” — friends or family, Stacey said. So they gathered items, gave money or went.

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