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Flooding links N.C. church with Okla. tornado victims’ experiences

SEVEN SPRINGS, N.C. (BP)–Every time Ashley Summerlin has begun feeling sorry for himself, he calls to mind his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Summerlin, pastor of Seven Springs (N.C.) Baptist Church, was tapping the Scripture passage after flood waters from the Neuse River, which overflowed its banks during Hurricane Floyd, were taking a toll on the memories of his nine-year ministry at the 270-member church and his 31-year marriage.
“The water is 36-inches deep in the church and 18-inches deep in the parsonage,” Summerlin said in a resigned and quiet voice that cracked periodically with tearful emotion. “We moved everything we could move and elevated it as high as we could. … Now we’re just sitting and waiting.”
Although the water was falling at an estimated one foot per day, it was 14 feet above normal as Summerlin related his fears on Sept. 23.
The loss is full of irony for this 107-year-old rural church on N.C. 55 between Kinston and Goldsboro.
In early August, five youth and seven adults joined 200 other North Carolina Baptists on a mission trip to Moore, Okla., where they and members of First Baptist Church there helped residents of that Oklahoma City suburb who had lost their homes and businesses during a May 3 tornado.
“I was so eager to help those people, but I just couldn’t understand what they had been through,” Summerlin said. “My heart hurt for them, but I couldn’t understand.
“Now I know what it feels like to have everything you’ve got snatched away from you.”
Seven Springs’ youth were just as responsive to cries for help from their own pastor when they were called on two days after Hurricane Floyd passed through to help elevate furnishings in the sanctuary even higher.
“We went in a National Guard truck,” Summerlin said. “Twenty-four young people came to try and save what we have and we just couldn’t do it.”
What happens next cannot be determined until the flood waters recede and church members learn whether the building can be salvaged. Though they have been saving for a new fellowship hall, those funds may have to go for a church building.
“We don’t have flood insurance because we’re in the flood plain,” Summerlin said.
But he knows God will provide: “I believe God is going to bless us for what we have done and what we will do.”
Sunday, Sept. 26, the members were to return to their beginnings.
“Seven Springs church started in the school in 1891,” he said. “We will meet Sunday for the first time since the hurricane at the high school.”

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  • Suzy Barile