Bob Waldridge had a bad feeling on the night of Dec. 10. There were reports of tornadoes bearing down on Mayfield, Kentucky. Some were false alarms, but this one looked like it was going to hit.
Waldridge is the pastor of Yahweh Baptist Church that is, or was, located next to the courthouse in the downtown area, which was in the path of the storm that leveled much of the area. See related story.
“I got there within an hour of the storm coming through to check on the church,” he said. “It was bad. The wind came through, and everything that was in the foyer ended up in the back of the church. And it blew the back wall of the church out, and it took the roof off the church.”
As a 10-year retired trooper with the Kentucky State Police, Waldridge has been through some bad situations, including working fatalities. He’s also seen a lot of good and bad during his 16 years of pastoring churches.
“I’ve been there when people died,” he said. “I’ve seen the best and worst out of humanity in both fields.”
He worked 10 years in law enforcement before being called into the ministry. The last 10 years he has been the pastor of Yahweh, a small but growing congregation of about 70 in Mayfield. Now he looks at what’s left of the church, scrambling for anything that can be saved, and it’s, well, hard.
‘I’ve cried a lot’
“I’m just really numb,” he said. “I have peace in the Spirit that the Lord has a plan. I’ve seen our people be very resilient. You put on a neutral face. I’m used to dealing with situations when everything is falling apart. On the outside, I look like I’ve got it together but, on the road, I’ve cried a lot.”
Yahweh Baptist is a church plant from Trace Creek Baptist Church, where Waldridge accepted Jesus and began work in the ministry. He has watched as God did the impossible at this church, so he has hope for the future.
“We’ve never had a month we didn’t pay our bills,” he said. “We did a 40-day fast in the beginning with 12 to 15 (members). We bought the building from an individual on a land contract. He wanted $50,000 and we did a land contract for $35,000. One month we had sent him a $600 payment and he sent it back, said he didn’t need it that month. That was a lot of money to us then.”
Waldridge has been salvaging everything he can from the building, including using chainsaws to take out the baptistry. A lot of remodeling had been done in the past year. He has gathered chairs, sound equipment and even pews, packing everything in a trailer on site. He went to work immediately on taking out whatever was useable after the destruction from the tornado. Eventually, he said, the building will have to come down.
‘A spirit of helpfulness’
“The first day of the storm, I got there quick,” he said. “I was able to drive around the debris field. I put a crew together and immediately started recovering anything that wasn’t destroyed. People came and just helped. Everything was sopping wet and dirty. A group of teenage girls showed up and wanted to help. I had a bunch of metal chairs that I needed to get in a trailer. They’re carrying four to five chairs at a time. I felt bad asking them to do it, but they dove into it.”
A spirit of helpfulness has permeated Mayfield, he said. There’s been the bad elements too, but Waldridge tries to focus on the positive.
The pastor doesn’t know what else to do but rebuild. The church has a GoFundMe page that has brought in nearly $100,000. He was interviewed on Newsmax and Fox News about the night the tornadoes hit. The GoFundMe was at $2,800 when it started, and it went to $15,000 after the Newsmax interview and $75,000 after the Fox News interview, he said. It currently has about $93,000, and he said another $25,000 has been given in cash. They also have some insurance money. But Waldridge understands it won’t be an overnight fix for a new building. However, he said the church hasn’t missed a Sunday meeting.
“If ever there was a point to press on, God gave me peace,” he said.
‘We have a start’
Saddleback church in California called him and wants to pay his salary for the next few months, he said. “We have a start. The way God opened the door for us to buy this building – eight of us with no money, four being my wife and I had two sons. The building inside is very beautiful. We wanted it to be what a first century church would look like. Every door was cedar, made by hand, and there was a lot of stonework. Even the people who came and went said it had a biblical feel to it. Our service was contemporary. It wasn’t rock (and roll) or granny’s church.”
Waldridge is encouraged by the community’s spirit, the help that has come from across the state and country and a God that he says isn’t done with him or Yahweh Baptist Church.
“Our people have really come together,” he said. “We’ve not missed a Sunday meeting (since the tornado). We rag-tagged between different buildings. My goal from the beginning (after the tornado) was to keep having Sunday service. We’re doing that.”