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Baptist church ministers in the midst of disaster

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–The morning’s scripture reading at Valley View Baptist Church was more heartfelt than usual Sunday, Dec. 17.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …”

The words of the familiar verse from Psalms brought audible sniffles, and more than one member of the congregation wiped away tears during the special 10 a.m. service that replaced the church’s usual 9 a.m. worship. Mike Hall, pastor at Valley View, decided to forgo his regular sermon in lieu of an hour of music, testimonials and prayer.

“It’s one of the things Scripture tells us,” he said. “We are here to minister to the needs of the people. We’ll be known by our love.”

As the church that was closest to the destruction of Dec. 16’s deadly tornado, Valley View transformed itself Saturday from a place to seek spiritual comfort to one that provided the material sort.

The church, located on Highway 69 South amid some of the worst devastation, became a medical triage and temporary shelter by early Saturday afternoon.

“We had several hundred people here,” Hall said. “Yesterday afternoon, folks just started showing up and making soup.

“It’s a great testimony to the community spirit in this part of the city. It’s remarkable how many people just showed up.”

One of the few buildings in the area with backup electricity, the church opened its doors to disaster workers and those seeking shelter, including some members of its own congregation. Hall estimated that at least 25 families who were church members had lost their homes.

One of them was worship director Charles Foster, who arrived at church and led the singing of Christmas hymns as usual Sunday, even though his home in the Hillcrest Meadows subdivision is now four walls and nothing else.

“This church has been so loving and so caring about me, this was the only place to come,” he said, as at least 20 church members came up to him after the service to offer empty boxes, pickup trucks and their own hands to help him salvage clothing and furniture.

“I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”

Foster stood up during the service and told a rapt congregation of hiding in a bathroom of his house while glass and boards exploded around his family.

“I think the emotion hit me this morning,” he said afterward, growing slightly teary at the memory.

“I had to be strong yesterday, but you know, it’s okay. We weren’t hurt. We just lost material stuff.”

When asked whether he found it difficult to come to church so soon after losing nearly everything he owned, Foster shook his head emphatically.

“Why not me?” he asked. “I wouldn’t want this on anyone else, so why not me? We’re all fine, we’ll go on.”

By Sunday morning, the church had been transferred back to its original state, and all that remained of the night’s work were some dry erase boards where people could write down emergency contact information or sign up to house those who were suddenly homeless. A collection was taken up during the service, earmarked for disaster relief.

Hall sees the effort as a test of his church’s Christian mandate. God put Valley View in that spot for a reason, he said, and Saturday was its time to prove itself.

“Although it looks bleak, a light shines through the darkness,” Hall told his congregation.

“Nowhere in the Bible does it say a Christian sits on his hands. Let us look for an opportunity to share the light.”
(Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in The Tuscaloosa News and is used here by permission.) (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HELPING HANDS.

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  • Katherine Lee