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Destroyed by tornado, church still gathers

SMITHVILLE, Miss. (BP)–Pastor Wes White’s voice carried a hint of concern as he prepared for the worship service on the second Sunday after an EF-5 killer tornado leveled virtually all of the small community of Smithville, Miss., April 27, including Smithville Baptist Church.

As he surveyed the large tent erected in the parking lot to temporarily house the church’s worship services, White pondered, “Last Sunday, the first Sunday after the tornado, we had a full house. I kind of expected that, but this Sunday….”

As the minutes ticked down to the 11 a.m. start of worship, though, White realized his concerns were unfounded. Hundreds of people filled the tent and poured out three sides as the pianist began the prelude.

People didn’t seem to mind sitting in direct sunlight outside the tent for the service. Yet more people stood after all the overflow seating was taken.

“The Gospel works because of the Resurrection,” White noted in a sermon from 1 Corinthians 15. “Because of the Resurrection, we are not pitiful. Smithville will go forward by the grace of God. Smithville Baptist Church has not seen its finest days yet. We will go forward because of the Resurrection.”

After the service, attendees placed flowers on one of the few items from the church to weather the storm, a wooden cross found intact on the property. Another item recovered virtually undamaged was the stained glass mural from the baptistery, an image of Jesus with His welcoming arms outstretched.

White said a search is underway for meeting space for the church’s activities as the church waits for the lot to be cleared of debris in anticipation of reconstruction.

Meanwhile, the head of the Mississippi Baptist disaster relief task force reported that plans to redeploy the task force’s mass feeding unit from tornado-stricken areas to Grenada and Brookhaven in anticipation of Mississippi River flooding have been cancelled because of a lack of demand from shelters set up for flood victims.

Jim Didlake, director of men’s ministry for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson and coordinator of the task force, said about 60 people were in the shelters, with task force volunteers utilizing the kitchen facilities at North Greenwood Baptist Church in Greenwood to provide hot meals.

Officials have speculated that the low turnout at the flood shelters may be attributed to the slow rise of the Mississippi River and weeks of warning, both of which allowed people plenty of time to arrange accommodations with family and friends.

Task force volunteers have had a busy spring with severe weather from Leakesville in south Mississippi to Clinton in the central section of the state and Smithville in northeast Mississippi.

“We’re beginning to look more to long-term recovery efforts now,” Didlake said, referring to the ministry of the task force in helping communities and individuals rebound from the devastation they have suffered. More information on the recovery phase will be released in coming weeks, he added.

For more information regarding the ongoing relief and recovery effort, contact Carol Wright in the men’s ministry department at 1-800-748-1651, ext. 334, or [email protected]
William H. Perkins Jr. is editor of the Baptist Record in Mississippi. The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board is accepting financial donations to assist disaster victims in Mississippi. Checks should be made payable to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board with “Mississippi disaster relief” noted on the memo line. Donations can be mailed to Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Online donations can be made by visiting www.mbcb.org and clicking on the crawl at the top of the Web page entitled, “Latest disaster relief information.”

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  • William H. Perkins Jr.