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Church focused on people after tornado’s destruction

ODENVILLE, Ala. (BP)–Chris Burns had no plans of changing his Easter message — even though everything else for Easter services at Bethel Baptist had changed.
A tornado that swept through central Alabama with no abandon April 8 demolished the existing sanctuary plus a nearly completed $3.25-million sanctuary and family life center of the Odenville church.
About 100 choir members practicing for the Easter pageant were sent home when word of a tornado sweeping through several communities outside the heart of Birmingham was on its way.
Twenty minutes later, the building they had been in was nothing but wood and dust.
“I can’t believe there were 100 of us in there just 20 minutes before the thing collapsed,” said church member Greg Cobb. “It just shows God’s power in destroying the building but sparing our lives.”
And that’s exactly what Burns’ message was to be for Easter — God is all powerful, the preacher said the day after the F-5 twister totaled the building, noting he had planned to speak from Romans 8:11.
“I had one guy tell me, ‘You know God is telling us something through this.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, what’?” Burns said. “He said we probably weren’t faithful enough in our building program and God wanted us to make it bigger.”
Burns is somewhat overwhelmed at the task of rebuilding after nearly finishing a year-long building campaign. The night of the tornado was not as difficult as seeing the pile of wood and metal the next morning, he said, adding he started to cry when he saw it. But true to his message Easter morning, he knows God has a plan.
“We don’t invest in buildings, we invest in people,” he said. “The church is not here; the church is in all these homes around here.”
Bethel members won’t be meeting in their regular building for some time, using the high school and other church sanctuaries in the meantime. It is undecided what Bethel will do about its Wee Care program for children. But all of the answers will be provided in due time, Bethel members believe.
“We want the community to know that just because of this, it doesn’t mean the ministry stops,” Burns said. “We really have a tremendous opportunity to let God’s light shine through this.”
Bethel’s associate pastor of administration and education, Randy Gunter, is student body president for New Orleans Seminary’s Birmingham extension center. Gunter was in the final weeks of the master of divinity degree program.

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  • Laurie A. Lattimore