JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (ABP) – Amid overwhelming destruction following the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, Baptist Christians stepped forward to do their part to help.
“We can’t do everything, but we can do something and do it well,” Ronnie Brewer, coordinator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said April 30 in Birmingham.
After April 27 storms killed more than 340 people in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky, Brewer and his staff set out to coordinate relief efforts in the hardest-hit areas of the 30-40 churches that relate either directly or indirectly to Alabama CBF. While not a large number of churches, Brewer said, they add up to quite a few individuals available to pitch in and do what that can.
Brewer said he plans to focus relief efforts in four strategic locations around the state for a commitment of one year. Supplies are being collected at two staging areas, and Brewer said he intends to ask churches to take turns handling distribution week-by-week.
Brewer said Alabama CBF already is involved in disaster relief with Volunteers of America. Like VOA, which focuses on efforts to make sure that no one in need slips through the cracks, Brewer said Alabama CBF is willing to work with anybody.
“I want to make sure there’s a place for churches that want to work through Alabama CBF,” Brewer said.
Seven families at CBF-related First Baptist Church of Williams nearby Jacksonville, Ala., lost homes. Two long-time parishioners lost their lives. Senior adults Bill and Linda Lipscomb were thrown several hundred feet from their home. Funeral services were scheduled Sunday.
Mike Oliver, pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams, said Bill Lipscomb was custodian at an elementary school, who would leave letter grades on classroom blackboards rating the condition of the room left by children at the end of the day. “I talked to a teacher who said they were not going to erase that,” Oliver said.
Oliver said storms packing straight-line winds estimated at 80 miles per hour had already downed trees and left many area residents without electricity on Wednesday morning. When the tornado hit that night, several families sought shelter at the church. Searches to assess safety of members of the church family lasted until 1 a.m.
Since then, Oliver said the church has helped community residents with things like clearing trees blocking driveways and sorting through ruins to recover sentimental items like photographs. Oliver said his deacon chair lost virtually everything, but items that were found included olive wood communion cups the pastor had brought back as a souvenir from a visit to Israel.
First Baptist Church began preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner -- at first for power company workers and emergency personnel and later the whole community -- and has been feeding 150-200 people each day.
The church, which already has a day-care program, is also offering babysitting services while parents in the community attend to storm-related needs with help of an emergency child-care disaster-relief unit from First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., that includes a generator to restore power to at least part of the building.
Saturday, April 30, marked the first day the church was able to accommodate volunteers from out of town.
“CBF -- Alabama CBF in particular -– has been very responsive,” Oliver said. “I’m real proud of that.”
Johnny Crews and his wife were visiting their daughter in Florida when they received word their home in Jacksonville’s heavily hit Webster Chapel community had been leveled. “We probably would not have survived this,” he said Saturday as church members helped him sort through rubble to save items like personal papers, lawnmowers and an antique motor scooter.
“The churches around here have been incredible about helping,” Crews remarked. “It has just been amazing to me.”
Chris Boltin, short-term assignments manager for the Atlanta-based CBF, said in a blog April 29 the most effective way that churches and individuals nationwide can respond in the short term is to pray for those who suffered loss and relief workers ministering on the front lines. Another way, Boltin said, is financial contributions, which can be designated online or by mail to tornado relief.