HENRYVILLE, Ind. (BP) — A family picks through a heap of ruins that was once their house, selecting a piece of plywood spared by the tornado. They nail the plywood to a tree and spray paint it with a simple message: “God is still good.”
“What is that a picture of?” asked Toby Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Henryville, Ind. “That’s a picture of people who don’t find their hope in homes or cars. They find their hope in Christ. And it’s beautiful to see that being lived out in our community.”
Henryville, like other communities in Indiana, is struggling to piece itself back together after a March 2 tornado that obliterated entire neighborhoods. Amidst the monumental task ahead, local believers and Southern Baptist volunteers are shining a light through their faith and service.
“I have just been overwhelmed by folks who see the body of Christ in a whole different way,” said Cecil Seagle, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. “They would not likely have come to a service at one of our churches. … But I’m telling you, the pastor in Marysville and the pastor in Henryville have been out there, and townsfolk are gathering around them and have just said, ‘What can we do to help?'”
Seagle says the recovery continues at a fairly rapid pace, with debris-clearing by hand coming to an end. Heavy equipment-oriented cleanup comes next, along with the enormous challenges facing homeowners seeking to rebuild. He says Southern Baptist disaster relief leaders recently met to determine how they can assist families — especially the uninsured and under-insured — in reconstruction.
“[T]his bend in the road is pretty serious, because as the debris goes, a lot that was filled with debris is now vacant, which is a hugely startling reality where once stood their home,” Seagle said.
In Henryville, First Baptist Church serves as a ministry center, running a free store for needy residents and coordinating volunteers who do everything from nailing tarps on roofs to counseling people. The church also held a free medical clinic on Saturday.
“Anything people could possibly need there, we’re trying to take care of it,” Jenkins said.
On Sunday, Jenkins encouraged his congregation — which has shared in the struggles of the entire town — as he preached from the first chapter of 1 Peter, where the apostle writes to believers that trials prove the genuineness of their faith and bring honor to Christ.
“Basically what [Peter is] saying is that our faith is precious, because it’s in these times of trials, in these times when we get hit by tornadoes and things, that we really get to see the genuineness of our faith, and I really just hammered home the fact that that’s what I’ve seen,” Jenkins said.
As his community moves forward, Jenkins says he and other volunteers want to rebuild homes, a task that cannot be accomplished by donating goods.
“I hate even saying this,” he said, “but it’s the truth: What we need more than anything is money so we can rebuild homes.”
He asks for prayer that God will open the hearts of people in his community to the Gospel, that they will believe it and that it will impact their lives. To that end, he labors day in and out, grateful for the support Southern Baptist churches and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have poured into him, and insistent that he will not slack up. The seminary is located about 25 miles south of the church.
“I’m just not that guy that you’re going to walk into the room and find me curled up in the fetal position in the corner crying,” he said. “I’m loving this, and I know that sounds strange. I’m not loving the fact that we got hit by a tornado. But I’m loving the fact that God has opened up an incredibly huge door for the Gospel in our community, and it’s just been incredible to see what God’s doing.”
Though the challenges ahead remain daunting, Seagle believes God’s power seen through the efforts of servants like Jenkins and other Southern Baptists will transform even this bleak reality into a picture of God’s love.
“[The situation right now is] not good,” Seagle said. “It’s still ugly. But it’s hopeful now. And I think that’s the thing that I keep holding on to.”
John Evans is a writer based in Houston. To donate to tornado relief for Indiana, visit the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana’s website, www.scbi.org, or mail a check to the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, 900 N. High School Rd., Indianapolis, IN 46214, designated “Tornado Relief.” Donations also can be made at the North American Mission Board’s website, www.namb.net.