News Articles

Quick response earns Baptists lead role in tornado relief

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Almost as quickly as the terrorizing tornadoes smashed through the heart of Alabama April 8, Baptist volunteers were ready for action.
Being first on the scene with an ability to mobilize almost immediately brought an invitation to Baptists by the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all volunteer efforts.
Johnny Fox, volunteer service coordinator for the Alabama Baptist State Convention, and Ricky Creech, director of missions for the Birmingham Baptist Association, have tag-teamed the entire effort since April 9.
Fox, working in the Bessemer and Mud Creek associations, and Creech, cleaning up areas in the Birmingham association, had registered nearly 4,000 volunteers as of April 19.
Along with the much-needed tree and debris cleanup, meal preparation and distribution also has demanded many volunteer hands.
The state convention’s disaster relief van, parked at Concord Baptist Church, has had rotating crews of Alabama Baptists preparing meals provided by Red Cross. As of April 19, nearly 18,000 meals had been served out of the van. Creech noted that several churches and the Salvation Army also had feeding units set up throughout the communities.
“We try to keep churches responsible for one thing,” Fox said, noting some churches serve as volunteer check points, some house relief kitchens, some serve as clothing distribution centers and some are housing volunteers from out of state.
Union Hill Baptist Church in Bessemer also brought in Children’s Homes counselors to provide counseling for area children.
While the biggest push for volunteers was scheduled for the weekend of April 18-19, severe weather forced volunteer efforts to shut down at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Cleanup resumed at 8 a.m. Sunday morning and continued throughout the day, allowing around 2,000 volunteers to participate in the weekend effort.
As if the weather had not caused enough confusion, Creech and Fox also learned on Saturday the state troopers and National Guard were pulling out, taking away security for the cleanup effort. Creech and Fox had decided to pull out as well if security was not going to be available. But AEMA officials and city and county officials agreed to stay so that the volunteer cleanup effort would continue, Creech reported.
“The National Guard is at our discretion and will stay as long as we need them,” Fox said, noting the National Guard comes at the request of EMA. Creech and Fox plan to complete cleanup by April 25.
Of course, the completion date goal depends on the weather and on the volunteers, Fox noted. “We still need people and heavy equipment,” he said, noting the need for bulldozers and front-end loaders.
While attention has been focused on west Jefferson County due to the extent of the damage, cleanup efforts also are under way in the Tuscaloosa and St. Clair associations through individual churches.
Members of Bethel Baptist in Odenville, which was destroyed by the tornadoes, are cleaning up around the church and organizing the two mobile chapels that came from the state convention, said pastor Chris Burns.
Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Pell City also has been instrumental in community cleanup efforts, Burns noted. Although the church building was not harmed, many of the church members’ and community members’ homes were destroyed or damaged.
“Mt. Moriah is out helping everyone, not just the church,” Burns said.
Churches uniting together to serve the community and each other has been the story since the tornado tragedy struck, said Fox. Various faith groups, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Federal Emergency Management Agency, AEMA and the National Guard have joined in the partnership effort.
Fox, admitting strong emotions of his own, pointed out the love and compassion dripping — along with the sweat — from the faces of volunteers.
“The people volunteering are brokenhearted,” he said. “They have a depth of concern that is unbelievable. There’s so many needs — some the people don’t even know about.”
As thousands of volunteers have given their physical strength, many also are giving financially.
Troy Morrison, executive secretary-treasurer of the ABSC, delivered $21,500 from the convention’s disaster relief fund to damaged or destroyed churches in five associations. The convention also gave Jamie Weathers, minister of students at Faith Baptist Church in Hueytown, money to help rebuild his home, which was blown away by the tornadoes.
Creech noted a radio station from Chattanooga, Tenn., sent four tractor-trailer trucks filled with food and clothing to the tornado-ravaged areas within days of the brutal storm. The radio station also gave each of four churches, including two Alabama Baptist churches, destroyed in Alabama $2,500.
Anyone wishing to donate funds for churches and victims of the recent tornadoes, send gifts marked “Disaster Relief” to the State Board of Missions at P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, AL 36111-0870.

    About the Author

  • Jennifer Davis Rash