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Alabama WMU ministers to Hackleburg children 1 year after tornadoescomment (0)

May 31, 2012

By Sammie Jo Barstow

Alabama WMU ministers to Hackleburg children 1 year after tornadoes

Becky Luther suspected that April 21, 2012, would be a challenging day. That feeling was confirmed when the first child who registered for “Celebrate Kids” in Hackleburg stated: “My daddy is in heaven.”

“I took a deep breath and told her that I’m sure heaven is a beautiful place and that someday she will be able to see him again there,” said Luther, director of Temporary Child Care (TCC) for Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).

“Celebrate Kids” was a one-day event co-sponsored by Alabama WMU and The Salvation Army. Alabama WMU planned and organized the activities and volunteers, and The Salvation Army provided the funds from a designated donation. 

“Our goal for the day was to love on the children of Hackleburg in the name of Jesus,” said Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama WMU. “We wanted to give the children a fun day and also a chance for them to talk about what they experienced during the horrible devastation their city endured April 27, 2011, and in the days after that.”

Indeed, for 41 children, “fun” was the word to describe the day. 

Luther remembered the 10-year-old boy who hugged one of the volunteers and stated: “This has been the best day of my life!”

First Baptist Church, Hackleburg, in Marion Baptist Association, provided the facilities and several volunteers for the event. 

“I can’t begin to express how much support we received from the church,” McIntosh said. “Although they are presently without a pastor, the church pulled together and provided everything we needed.” 

The day began with registration and an opening session with high-energy music and a spirit of celebration. The children rotated through various activities during the day, including tile painting, quilt square designs, puppetry, Bible storytelling and games.

According to Luther, all the activities were designed to be fun but were also created to help children tell what happened to them during the disaster and express their feelings about the experiences of the past year. 

One of the most popular activities was painting quilt squares. “One of the quilt squares had a drawing of a tornado with an angel in the corner. When I asked about it, the young boy who created it said that an angel had protected his family during the tornado,” Luther said. Other squares depicted family members who were killed. At the end of the day the squares were sewn together. McIntosh and Luther hope to arrange for the quilt to be displayed in a public place in Hackleburg.

Karl Ragan, Alabama Disaster Recovery Coordinator for The Salvation Army, said he thought the day was a “great success.” Although immediate disaster relief is always important, according to Ragan, “it’s obvious that sometime down the road after a disaster, kids need spiritual and emotional care and the kids definitely got that with ‘Celebrate Kids.’”

“For us, this was an opportunity to expand the ministry of our TCC team,” McIntosh said. The day was such a success that McIntosh and Luther hope it can be a model for the future.

 “We always come in immediately after the disaster, but this event gave us an opportunity to return months later and provide a different kind of ministry for children,” McIntosh said. 

To close out the day, Mike Ingram, a disaster relief chaplain and pastor of Millbrook Baptist Church, Elmore Baptist Association, gave the plan of salvation in what McIntosh described as “a sweet, child-friendly way.” 

The children were then given balloons for the closing activity. 

“I told the children that the colors of the balloons reminded me of the colors of the rainbow, and a rainbow reminded me of the promises God has given us,” McIntosh said. “He promised that He will never leave you, and He will take care of you.” 

She told the children they could choose any color balloon and if they had a family member who died in the storm, they could choose a white balloon. 

The group went outside with the balloons, and Ingram prayed for the children and their families. They all counted to three, released their balloons and shouted, “Thank you, God!” 

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