HUEYTOWN, Ala. (BP)–The day after an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin on May 22, a student minister and associate pastor in Alabama made a phone call to First Baptist Church in the Missouri town. The person who answered the phone was a little surprised.
“Hueytown, Ala.? Aren’t you? Didn’t you?”
“Yes, we are,” said Jason Green of Crossroad Baptist Church in Hueytown. “And yes, we did.”
On April 27 a super cell storm destroyed homes and businesses in Concord and Pleasant Grove near Hueytown. The next day, with the support of pastor Jimmy Bradford, Crossroad Baptist stocked its gym with canned goods, hygiene products, clothes, cleaning supplies and other basic necessities to serve storm survivors in Alabama.
And now it’s time to reach out to other states, Green said.
On May 26, Crossroad Baptist sent a church van and a 16-foot trailer filled with the same basic necessities to First Baptist Joplin.
“If we’re going to be faithful with what God’s provided for us, we have to be faithful to them,” Green said.
It’s a sign of a step toward recovery in Alabama that churches can provide aid for states suffering from similar disasters.
In Concord and Pleasant Grove, progress is being made. Cleanup crews from Bessemer and Jefferson County, Ala., companies and volunteer groups have cleared the largest heaps of debris from properties and moved them to the edges of the streets to be hauled away.
The result is a flat, bare landscape dotted with twisted trees and the remnants of a few homes. It’s the next step toward rebuilding, said Ken Maddox, director of missions for the Mud Creek Baptist Association.
“You can actually see the ground,” Maddox noted. “Before, all you could see was rubble.”
On the outskirts of Concord, Maddox and Alabama disaster relief volunteers Tom Barry and Billy Swindle have manned a tent with snacks and cold drinks for residents for several weeks.
“Our volunteers have dropped off,” Maddox said. “We could always use a few volunteers.”
Barry has been coordinating disaster relief in Concord and Birmingham since the tornadoes hit, but he said he may be called to Missouri or another relief site.
“I’m going to go where He sends me,” Barry said.
Near the tent, Hueytown’s Concord Highland Baptist Church stands empty as a result of tornado damage, but with the creak of shifting wooden beams and ceiling tiles in the wind, the building seems full of activity.
The sanctuary is still standing, but the church will have to rebuild in a plot across the street, said Buddy Howell, chairman of the deacons.
Howell added the church might consider erecting a monument with some of the bricks from the old church.
The recreation center was reduced to its steel supports, and the parsonage and garage were destroyed.
Richard Larson, pastor of Concord Highland, said the congregation is meeting for Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services at Red River Baptist Church in Concord. Church leaders hope to begin the groundwork on the new Concord Highland in about four months — “hopefully less,” Larson added.
Like most families and business owners, leaders at Concord Highland have to wait for the go-ahead from insurance providers before they can rebuild. At First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, pastor Daven Watkins said many church members are waiting for insurance allotments to come in. Then people have to decide whether to rebuild or move to a new property, he said.
About one third of the families at First Baptist Pleasant Grove lost their homes, a fraction that mirrors the overall loss in Pleasant Grove, Watkins said, noting, “Big decisions are on the horizon for a lot of people.”
First Baptist Pleasant Grove has a food pantry and a FEMA representative on its campus to assist survivors. For many, life is still a struggle, but the worship services at the church echo with celebration and revival, Watkins said.
“I don’t hear people getting angry with God or asking why,” Watkins said. “People see God’s mercy in the fact that the closet they were staying in was the only thing left standing in their house.”
In fact, one church member said the storms were the best thing that ever happened to him, Watkins said. The man had a newfound faith and purpose, and he didn’t doubt that God saved him for a reason.
Watkins’ prayer is that people in Pleasant Grove and across the state hold on to that sense of purpose and passion for Christ even after all the storms — both literal and spiritual — have passed.
“From day one I’ve asked people to pray that we aren’t missing what God is teaching us,” Watkins said. “And pray that we maintain a hunger for God.”
Lindsey Robinson is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. Grace For information about donations to Alabama Baptists’ disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3