WARTBURG, Tenn. (BP)–When Paulette Acres completed her disaster relief training through the Tennessee Baptist Convention in September, she had no idea her first deployment would be in her hometown.
Acres and nearly a dozen other Southern Baptists in the Big Emory Baptist Association answered the call to duty when a killer tornado ravaged Morgan County, Tenn., and nearly wiped the small community of Mossy Grove off the map.
At least 16 people were killed and 60 hurt after a series of tornadoes tore through the length of Tennessee. Seven of those died lived in Mossy Grove and more than a third of the injured were from Morgan County.
Acres, whose husband is the director of missions for the association, was one of a handful of Southern Baptists who were activated for disaster relief duty in the hours after the tornadoes hit.
The local group of Baptists set up shop at Wartburg’s Calvary Baptist Church on Nov. 11, just across from the county’s emergency management headquarters. Their first assignment: preparing more than 350 meals for hungry rescue personnel.
“When we went through our disaster relief training you always think you will help someone else,” Acres told Baptist Press. “I never imagined we would be helping people in our hometown.
“It was such a shock when this happened,” said Acres, a member of Liberty Baptist Church. “But the community is really pulling together.”
Morgan County, located east of Knoxville, has a population of about 20,000 people. The area is well-regarded for its spiritual heritage. Wartburg, the county seat, was named after the Wartburg Castle in Germany. It was the castle where Protestant reformer Martin Luther translated the New Testament.
The local Baptist association includes 65 churches over Morgan, Roane and Scott counties.
Mary Simpson, the Woman’s Missionary Union director at First Baptist Church, Wartburg, ignored her physician’s advice to rest and instead showed up to do her duty at the Calvary Baptist Church.
Having completed disaster relief training with Acres, Simpson said she wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else.
“I run a beauty shop in town but it’s closed this week,” Simpson said. “My paycheck is important to me, but this is more important. This is where my heart is. I’ve done hair for 36 years but this is what I love to do.”
Like Acres, Simpson said she was surprised to learn her first deployment was in Morgan County.
“After the storm, we lost our cable and we didn’t know how bad things were,” she said. “When I got the call, they said, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and I said, ‘Yes, where are we going?'”
In a matter of minutes, the greenhorn disaster relief team — all 13 of them — gathered at Calvary Baptist to begin cooking food. “We’re so new we don’t even have our badges,” said fellow FBC Wartburg member Linda Buck.
“We are cooking with a purpose,” Buck told Baptist Press. “I really feel the need to help folks, and whenever I’m needed I go.”
“I’ve raised my family, now it’s time to help someone else,” she said.
Mary Jo Ellis, another member of First Baptist, said the training they received in September prepared them well.
“We had some really good leaders,” Ellis said. “They told us that things happen real fast and it’s true.”
Ellis, who recently retired, said she regards her ministry through the church as a calling from God.
“I find what I do very satisfying,” she said. “This is what God wanted me to do with my life and he’s given me the opportunity to serve.”
Simpson said she’s already noticed that God has received glory through the efforts of the Christian volunteers working in Morgan County.
“I have seen people who don’t go to church but they come to us because the church is a safe haven,” Simpson said. “They know we will take care of them and God is taking care of all of us.”
Tom Mooty, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Wartburg, said he was “overwhelmingly proud” of his church members.
“We have about 140 folks who attend our church and nearly half of them have been helping out and volunteering over the past few days,” Mooty said. “I’m really proud of the way they are working together. And they are doing it all in the name of the Lord.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BREAKFAST VOLUNTEERS, BREAKFAST IN THE AFTERMATH, ON THE AIR and PASTOR & DJ.