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Mobile church bounces back from stormcomment (0)

May 25, 2006

By Grace Thornton

We know the Master of the wind so we are not afraid,” said Janie Johnson, secretary of Cypress Shores Baptist Church, Mobile, as she looked up at the church’s newly repaired roof and then looked ahead to another hurricane season. “We are still looking to the future, even though they say there will be greater storms. He has blessed us beyond measure.”

When Hurricane Katrina blew through Mobile in August 2005, those who were readying the Mobile Baptist Association church to become a disaster relief site watched in horror as the steel roof began to peel back from the church’s sanctuary, starting at the rear and buckling toward the steeple at the front.

“There was barely a roof left, and daylight was shining through the ceiling,” said Pastor Randy Johnson, Janie’s husband. He and others stopped readying the ice supply in the next building and scrambled to move the piano, organ and other equipment from the sanctuary. “It was definitely a feeling of, ‘This is not happening.’”

They watched as the wind and water kept coming. They shed tears. And they got back to the task at hand — becoming a place where their neighbors could come for help.

“Our roof was destroyed, as well as our spirits,” Janie Johnson said. “We tried to piece back together a vital ministry to a grief-stricken community affected by Katrina.”

Ninety percent of the homes in the Cypress Shores area were affected, submerged in 5-to-7-foot-high water from swollen bayous and creeks.

And as the water continued to hold just feet from the church’s door, rescuers began picking up neighbors from their homes in boats and humvees and dropping them off at Cypress Shores Baptist.

The wounded church became a makeshift shelter until rescuers could transport them to safer places.

Those who lived near the church came wading out of their homes crying and barefooted, everything they owned ruined. It’s a situation that nine months later, many haven’t been able to recover from, though the church is surely helping them try. “It’s emotional devastation — many of them are just really beaten down,” Randy Johnson said.

He’s lost count of how many Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers have come in and out of the area or even how many of his church members are still living in them.

The church has dispensed boxes upon boxes of furniture, food, dishes, pots and pans and other items donated from people all over the country. The ones  still in the Cypress Shores area are starting nearly from scratch.

Others simply gave up after Katrina, pushing down their homes, sticking “for sale” signs in the yard and walking away.

“People are leaving but as the face of our community changes, we are making new friends as we help them out,” Randy Johnson said.

After Katrina, everything it seemed got a major facelift in the Cypress Shores area — the community, the church’s evangelism strategy and the church itself.

Church members have helped with rebuilding efforts, as well as housing and feeding evacuees and volunteer teams.

And with the help of disaster relief teams from North Dakota, Indiana and North Carolina, they knocked on the door of every home in the neighborhood, offering to do tear-out work for them.

“We were able to have an impact on lives that we couldn’t have had any other way,” Randy Johnson said, adding that teams filled 110 work orders in the area in a matter of days.

They also helped reroof, clean and renovate the church’s facilities.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions pitched in significantly, too, aiding the church with repair costs. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be an Alabama Baptist,” Randy Johnson said. “We are so grateful.”

The church has a new roof,  ceiling, paint job and carpet. “But most of all, we have a renewed spirit within us to do the work that God has called us to do,” Janie Johnson said.

And they have renewed dreams for the future, too, according to Randy Johnson.

Cypress Shores Baptist is designing an evacuation packet to help keep track of its neighbors if they evacuate,  making it easier to ensure everyone is accounted for.

The church is also looking at redesigning during some of its renovations to add some showers and other features to help them more quickly mobilize to help the surrounding areas when another storm hits.

On March 26, Randy Johnson blew the shofar before the Sunday morning worship service and the congregation marched in triumphantly together for the first service in the building since the storm hit.

“It was a holy moment in our lives because it brought about so much hope in the hearts of our people,” Janie Johnson said, noting that many of the people weren’t even back in their home yet due to storm damage. “But hope is very prevalent here.”

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