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Tornado sweeps away church building but leaves church body with stronger faithcomment (0)

July 12, 2012

By Julie Payne

Tornado sweeps away church building but leaves church body with stronger faith


We’re gonna make a statement and it’s gonna be, ‘We’re not giving up; we’re going on.’” It was a determined declaration made by a pastor who, in the midst of devastation, realized there was a bigger picture for his church.

That testimony — delivered by Pastor Bob Williamson shortly after an EF4 tornado swept away Mount Hebron East Baptist Church near Eclectic the evening of April 27, 2011 — has since taken shape as the church has begun the rebuilding process.

At the time the tornado hit, Williamson had been pastor for only seven weeks. He and his wife, Vicky, retired from the International Mission Board after more than two decades of service in South Africa. 

In the storm’s wake, it left only the foundation slab from the fellowship hall. The building was connected to the church and was only 2 and a half years old.

“We prayed to seek the will of the Lord and believed the Lord wanted us to have a little vision,” Williamson said, adding the church accepted the challenge to rebuild and enlarge rather than merely restore the former buildings. 

“I’m very proud of [the people] to seek His will,” he shared.

The former worship building seated about 70 people. Williamson said the new building will accommodate about 130 people and will have two extra rooms and a baptistry, something the former building did not have. 

Since the tornado hit the church, the congregation has been worshiping in a mobile chapel provided by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. The mobile chapel is located on church property. 

Williamson recalled how a man in a neighboring county was plowing his field one day after the tornado and discovered that the powerful storm had dropped Mount Hebron East Baptist’s sign onto his property. The man and his family transported the sign back and presented it to the church during the first service held in the mobile chapel. 

According to Williamson, church members and other donors have contributed a significant amount to the building fund. Several area churches have contributed financially, and Prospect Baptist Church, Eclectic, hosted a Gaither-style gospel singing that raised several thousand dollars. 

“We had … a full house [at the event],” Prospect Baptist Pastor David Jones said.

According to Jones, Eclectic is a tightknit community and his church desired to reach out and help meet Mount Hebron East’s needs. 

He added that Prospect is blessed with musical talent and wanted to utilize those gifts to be a blessing to others after the storm.

Williamson said the Lord is showing that He wants the Mount Hebron East building in the community as a witness, and he added the church has even experienced a bit of growth since last year.

The church worked with an architect to determine the best use of land and is currently constructing the new building. 

Williamson reported that in the next two weeks several phases —including finishing the roof — will be completed.

Many groups have volunteered to help in the rebuilding efforts, including Carpenters for Christ construction groups and various churches both near Mount Hebron East Baptist and throughout the state. Churches from outside the state are sending teams to help as well. 

“I’ve seen a demonstration of the Lord building our faith,” Williamson said. 

“The circumstances we go through either weaken our faith or strengthen our faith. … I’ve seen a strengthening of faith of our people.”

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