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Alabama tornado most recent tragedy to hit Baptist church

COATES BEND, Ala. (BP)–In the midst of tragedy, there is triumph, Macedonia Baptist Church pastor Dave Roberts said Dec. 16 as he comforted friends and neighbors outside the church.

The church was where the injured were taken and the homeless sought shelter after a tornado ripped through the Coates Bend community Saturday afternoon.

The storm isn’t the church’s first encounter with tragedy this year.

Roberts was driving the church’s van when it wrecked on Interstate 59 in July, killing two church members who were chaperones for a youth mission trip. Several others were injured, including Roberts’ wife. Roberts’ mother died in November and now another tragedy has touched the community.

“When it rains, it pours,” he said.

The expression could have been taken literally.
Heavy blowing rain, thunderstorms and the threat of another dangerous storm drove firefighters and volunteers inside the church.

Roberts began passing the word that yesterday’s services would be canceled.

The building was still standing, but the steeple was gone. Some of the windows were broken and the back part of the building had some damage. Water leaks began to show around the light fixtures in the sanctuary’s ceiling and the decision was made to close the building.

The fellowship hall had a large tree through the roof, with aging oak trees uprooted surrounding the church.

While dozens of people whose homes were destroyed or damaged waited to go to a shelter established by the American Red Cross, dozens of rescue workers mapped out plans to search the area for others who were unaccounted for.

Roberts and his family live in the pastorium behind the church. He saw the funnel from the picture window.

“I heard on the television it was near Glencoe, on the other side of the river,” he said. “About that time, I saw it near the river, coming straight toward us.”

The family sought shelter in a closet and the storm was over in 15 seconds, he said.

“I could hear eerie noises and the house seemed to vibrate,” he said.

He ran outside and immediately told his wife to call 911. There was destruction almost everywhere he looked.

The mobile home park across the road from the church was almost leveled, he said.

He saw Mark Stephens, a church member and neighbor, standing in his driveway. His house was gone, but he and his family were not hurt, Roberts said.

They sought shelter in the bathroom — the only room left standing in the house, Roberts said.

“In the midst of the destruction and looking at the damage, God was merciful,” he said. “Homes can be replaced, churches can be replaced, but lives cannot.”

Roberts said the church felt the prayers from around the world following the tragedy of the van accident. He knows those prayers will be felt again.

“We’ll survive,” Roberts said. “We’ve been through a tragedy before. This church and this community stick together. There is power in prayer and we’re going to be OK.”
(Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in The Gadsden Times and is used here by permission.)

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  • Lisa Rogers