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Miss. Baptists Answering Disaster Relief Call

Lead story from the May 20, 2010, edition of the Baptist Record

“Churches starting long storm recovery”

“The Lord is Still Sovereign” photo

“THE LORD IS STILL SOVEREIGN” — Ebenezer Church, near Lexington, was destroyed in the April 24 tornado. Deacon chairman Wilburn White (left) and pastor Billy Barron survey the damage. (Photo by Tony Martin)

By Tony Martin Associate Editor

Mississippi faces a long recovery in the aftermath of two storm systems that assaulted the state in April and May. The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task force responded to both incidents.

In the Yazoo City tornado disaster, the Task Force responded during April 25–May 2. Approximately 12,000 meals were prepared, with 64 chainsaw jobs completed including the placing of blue tarps on damaged roofs. Shower units provided 98 showers, and 13 loads of laundry were completed. There were 102 volunteers involved in the effort.

In Walnut on May 2-9, 10,800 meals were prepared, 41 chainsaw jobs completed (including blue roofs), with 66 showers and 19 loads of laundry completed. Volunteers in this effort numbered 73.

In other less-heralded parts of the state, damage was no less significant. The April 24 tornado, which cut a broad swath through the state, passed through Weir and came close to Mt. Moriah Church.

John Garner has pastored Mt. Moriah Church three years. “Saturday [April 24], at 1:34 p.m., I was in the parsonage adjacent to the church,” he said. “I’d been watching the Columbus TV station, and it looked like the worst of the storm was passing north of us, but then the tornado hit.

“Immediately afterwards I ran down the road to check on my deacons. Two of my deacons’ homes were completely gone. There was a young couple — one deacon’s daughter — and their home was gone. Another deacon had severe damage. At our own house, we only lost four shingles. About 150 yards away the tornado totally destroyed five homes, and it left us untouched.”

Garner was overwhelmed at the response to the disaster. “The telephone rang Sunday morning at 7:30,” he said. “A constable from Houston said there was a group coming from First Baptist Houston to prepare hot meals. They were here on site by 11 a.m. and by 12:30 had a complete hot meal ready. From Sunday morning until Tuesday, we fed 1500–1800 hot meals. We were thankful they were so organized and were able to respond. They knew what to do. From that, churches from all over have just taken this community over. Through food, monetary gifts, diapers, water, baby food, prayer — we’ve just been covered in prayer! — all denominations have helped.

“Through all the gifts we’ve been given, we’ve been able to help 50 families,” Garner said. “I’m glad to be a Baptist. I used to think it was prideful to say that, but there’s more to it than that. It’s more than pride; it’s being all you can be. For instance, there is a church close by with 25 members, and they brought us a $2,500 check. We are so moved by the love of Christians from all over.”

About 60 miles from Weir is the community of Ebenezer, near Lexington. Ebenezer Church was destroyed in the same storm.

Billy Barron, Ebenezer Church pastor, said, “I was in Meridian doing a funeral when my daughter called and said she had seen on TV that Ebenezer had been destroyed, the whole town. We tried to call people, and there was no land line service, no cell service. It took us two hours to get in touch with anyone. We found out the church was gone. We only lost two shingles on our house. We survived, but several folks had a lot of damage.

“We built a fellowship hall on the building back in 1994, but the sanctuary is gone.”

Taking Care of Business photo

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS — John Garner (left), pastor of Mt. Moriah Church, Weir, and Choctaw County Sheriff Cloyd Halford are shown in the church’s family life center days after the tornado ripped through the community on April 24. The church was inundated with aid from all over the country. (Photo by Tony Martin)

The church itself was established in 1879. The sanctuary was built in 1890. “All the lumber for the church came out of Mobile,” Barron said, “and came to Pickens by train. It took 21 wagons to bring the lumber from Pickens here. Some of the trusses of the building had some beautiful artistic work on them. History says that a man and his 12-year-old son cut all of them out.”

Some of the ornate work could still be found in the ruins of the building.

“I came to supply preach in 1985,” said Barron, “and I said I’d be here until they called a pastor. So I’ve been true to my word — I’m still here!” When Barron came to the church, it had gone through a split and there were only seven or eight members. “We could barely keep the bills paid,” he said.

“I’m hoping we can get through this,” he continued. “We have to make some short term and long term plans. The Methodist church just up the road has offered us their facility. They have a large fellowship hall, and we’ll be meeting in there — but the Lord is still sovereign, isn’t he?”

Wilburn White, the church’s chairman of deacons, agreed. “Our will and desire is to build back, and we’ll try to make that happen.”

The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force has been activated and is on the scene of the fatal storms that struck northeast Mississippi over the weekend of April 30-May 2. The Task Force’s fully self-contained eighteen wheeler mass feeding unit is stationed at Harmony Church, Walnut, where Mississippi Baptist volunteers are preparing more than 3,000 meals per day. The volunteers are supplying Red Cross vehicles which are delivering the food to storm victims and emergency personnel in an area stretching from Abbeville in the south to the Tennessee state line in the north. There are also three trained volunteer chainsaw units in the area.

On the morning of April 24, a massive tornado nearly a mile wide swept across Mississippi and caused 10 fatalities, hundreds of injuries, and millions of dollars of property damage. The tornado, which received a preliminary classification of EF-4 (winds of 166-200 miles per hour) on the five-point Operational Enhanced Fujita Scale, caused destruction in at least four Mississippi counties – Warren, Yazoo, Holmes, and Choctaw.

Chester Baptist Church in Choctaw County and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Holmes County were the only two Mississippi Baptist churches reported to the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force as having been damaged by the tornado. Preliminary reports indicate most of the building complex including the Sanctuary at Ebenezer Church was destroyed, while there was significant roof damage to the Sanctuary building of Chester Church.

Mass Feeding Kitchen photo

Members of the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force set up the mass feeding kitchen at Harmony Church, Walnut, after tornadoes moved through the area over the weekend and killed a number of people in northeast Mississippi, western Tennessee, and Kentucky. The mass feeding kitchen is a fully self-contained 18-wheeler capable of preparing up to 15,000 meals per day. The kitchen has its own supplies of potable water, propane, and electricity. Mississippi Baptist volunteers will staff the kitchen as long as there is a need for meals for storm victims and emergency workers. (Special photo courtesy of Brian Tatum)

The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force was activated and stationed at First Baptist Church in Yazoo City. The mass feeding unit from Briar Hill Baptist Church in Florence provided thousands of meals for victims of the tornado and emergency workers in the disaster area before returning home earlier this week. First Church, Yazoo City, continues to prepare meals in its kitchen facilities. The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force is assisting First Church with food supplies. Trained volunteer chainsaw teams from Mississippi Baptist churches were also in the disaster area.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board is accepting financial donations to assist the victims of the tornado. Checks should be made payable to MBCB, with “MS Tornado Relief” noted on the memo line. The address to mail donations is Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Other types of donations, such as food, clothing, or equipment, are not being accepted at this time.

For more information regarding the ongoing relief effort, contact Carol Wright in the MBCB Men’s Ministry Department at the above address. Telephone: (601) 292-3334 or toll-free outside Jackson (800) 748-1651, ext. 334. E-mail: