In the aftermath of powerful tornadoes that cut a swath of destruction and death across several states Dec. 10–11, Southern Baptists launched immediate disaster relief efforts, ministering amid the devastation to meet practical needs and share Christ’s hope.
Kentucky was the hardest hit state, with 74 reported dead as of Dec. 16 and at least 100 unaccounted for as rescue efforts continued.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called the storms, a rare December occurrence, the “most severe tornado event” in the state’s history.
Reports also indicate at least 14 people died in Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.
In Mayfield, Kentucky, population 10,000, heaps of debris from destroyed buildings and shredded trees covered the ground. Twisted metal sheeting, downed power lines and wrecked vehicles lined the streets. Windows and roofs were blown off the buildings that were still standing, the Associated Press reported.
‘Just a building’
Bob Waldridge, pastor of Yahweh Baptist Church, loaded chairs, pews and sound equipment from the damaged 100-year-old church building into a trailer. He arrived at the church to find water everywhere.
“The wind came through, and everything that was in the foyer ended up in the back of the church,” he said. “It blew the back wall of the church out, and it took the roof off the church.”
One family who attends church was in their home when it was leveled by the storm, and two members of that family were flown by helicopter to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, he said.
“It’s just a building, but I’m more worried about the people. There are a lot of folks who are hurt right now,” Waldridge said.
Amid the destruction to the building that had been home to Yahweh Baptist for nine years, the church gathered for worship at a sister Baptist church in Boaz, Kentucky.
A Yahweh Baptist Church Facebook post stated, “Join us in this difficult time and let’s praise the Lord for the blessing He has given us despite the current situation our community is in.”
‘Y’all pray for Mayfield’
Mayfield resident Johnny Shreve barely survived the tornado with his dog, Buddy. As the tornado blew through his home, he dove onto his kitchen floor as concrete chunks rained down on him.
“It felt like everything in the world came down on me,” he said.
It took Shreve more than an hour to dig himself out, with his dog scratching for him through the rubble. He posted on Facebook that they were alive, and added: “Y’all pray for Mayfield.”
Others are also calling for prayer.
Kevin Ezell, North American Mission Board president, tweeted, “Please join me in praying for those impacted and the many SBC DR volunteers who will be responding. Grateful for our SBC family.”
North Carolina’s Baptists on Mission posted on its website, “Please pray for the people who were affected by the tornadoes as well as the volunteers who will be helping.”
Florida Baptist DR ministries posted on Facebook: “Continue to pray for our partner DR teams and all of the volunteers. Pray for the families of the victims and the survivors as they work through this tragic event.”
Ron Crow, director of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, is leading relief efforts in western Kentucky. He traveled to Mayfield on Dec. 12 to set up an incident command center. Crow survived a vicious tornado 10 years ago that claimed 158 lives in Joplin, Missouri.
“I remember, as difficult as it was, it also brings opportunity. As a Christian, it brings opportunities that put us with people who are struggling where we can bring encouragement and share the love of Christ,” Crow told Kentucky Today.
Southern Baptists’ Send Relief is working in coordination with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, who were among the first on the ground to begin assessing damage and meeting needs.
Command centers were slated to be set up in three other Kentucky communities: Princeton, with relief efforts led by Missouri Baptists; Bowling Green, led by North Carolina Baptists; and Benton, led by Illinois Baptists.
Relief work will include food and water distribution, chainsaw work, temporary roofing, debris clean up and more.
Adjustments to these assignments will be made as further needs dictate.
Sharing the gospel
In addition to meeting immediate physical needs, DR volunteers also find opportunities to share the gospel.
“We are there to share the gospel and show them that true hope comes through Christ,” Crow said.
“The Lord never said there wouldn’t be storms. He just said He would be with you through them.”
Southern Baptists can contribute to relief efforts by giving online through their state convention’s DR fund.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Reporting also comes from Associated Press and Kentucky Today.