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Pastor surveys rubble where church stood

SAVANNAH, Tenn. (BP)–The facilities of Sharon Baptist Church and its Savannah Christian Academy and KIDS Preschool in Savannah, Tenn., were destroyed by one of several tornados that struck West Tennessee Feb. 5.

All five buildings of the church and schools, worth about $7 million, were destroyed, the church’s pastor, Jerry Spencer, said. No one was injured on site, although church members Brett and Jennifer Williams were trapped by debris in the sanctuary.

Brett, who was editing video for a church event, heard a loud noise and went to a door of the church. Outside, he saw no hail and felt no wind, he told the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector newspaper Feb. 6. Then a pressure seemed to be developing in the building, he said. He saw the projection screens waving and felt air coming in from the back of the building. The roof lifted.

He and his wife rushed to the middle of the room and knelt down underneath some chairs. Ceiling tile began to fall down on them, and they were pushed by wind about 20 feet along the carpeted floor. Then everything became quiet again, but they couldn’t move.

Brett learned that Jennifer was nearby, though the wind had separated them. He said from military training he knew to remain calm and call for help. Jennifer had her cell phone and called 911, and they were rescued unhurt about 10 minutes later by emergency personnel. When they learned how much debris was covering them, they were especially thankful that Jennifer was not hurt because she is expecting a child.

“We did a lot of praying the whole time,” Brett said.

Spencer also said the homes of four families from the church sustained severe tornado damage.

Church members are sad to lose the new preschool building, which included a state-of-the-art kitchen, said Spencer, a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention who has served the church for about two years. About 120 students are enrolled in preschool through ninth grades.

The Sharon Baptist facilities, which were located on 40 acres, also included a 550-seat sanctuary which was five years old. Sharon Baptist draws about 500 each week to Sunday morning worship. The church also lost a van, and a car belonging to the Williamses was destroyed.

Spencer said the church’s insurance had been studied and updated about a year ago. He said the many offers of help have been encouraging, including a call from a pastor in Clarksville, Tenn., he didn’t know. That pastor’s church had lost its facilities in a previous disaster and had rebounded.

Churches of different denominations have offered their facilities for Sharon Baptist’s use, and churches from other states have offered to provide curriculum and computers for the school, Spencer said.

Sharon Baptist decided to meet at Hardin County High School in Savannah in the aftermath of the tornado, and the academy will begin meeting at First Methodist Church in Savannah on Feb. 19. A new meeting site for the preschool was pending, and the church offices will be located in the office space of a physician who is a member of the church.

Spencer told of a significant number of people who arrived at the church site on Wednesday and shed tears. He mentioned a mother from India whose two sons are students at the academy and said the boys were upset that their school buildings were gone.

But God has good in store for Sharon Baptist, Spencer said, and at the moment, “all we are talking about are buildings and property.”

Though members of the church will suffer hardship and become tired of the situation, Spencer said he is looking forward to seeing them flourish as they become closer through this experience as well as seeing them grow spiritually through this “wakeup call.”

The pastor said he is proud of the church’s leaders, who had already met, and of church members he had talked with. Spencer said he had not heard anyone ask why the tragedy happened.

“I’m not going to give the devil any credit. I see [the storm] as one of those mysterious moves of God that you can’t understand,” Spencer said. “The buildings are gone, but the [church] body is in good shape.”
Connie Davis Bushey is news editor for the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector.

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