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Pastor, family endure tornado at church
Neisha Fuson, Baptist Press
May 06, 2011

Pastor, family endure tornado at church

Pastor, family endure tornado at church
Neisha Fuson, Baptist Press
May 06, 2011

CULLMAN, Ala. —

“They’re coming here to grieve,” said Ken Allen, pastor of East

Side Baptist Church

in Cullman, Ala.

Current and former members of East Side Baptist — some who even remember it

being built in 1955 — came back to see the rubble that was left after the EF4

tornado bulldozed through the city April 27.

At the church, where Allen has served as pastor for eight years, the tornado

leveled the sanctuary, damaged the Sunday School area and severely damaged the

church’s gymnasium. It also damaged the building where Cullman

Christian Elementary School

meets.

Communication was difficult since phone and power lines were down.

Photo by Neisha Fuson

At East Side Baptist Church in Cullman, Ala., a tornado took down the entire sanctuary, damaged the Sunday School area and severely damaged the church’s gymnasium. It also damaged the building where Cullman Christian Elementary School meets.

Allen stayed at the church all day April 28 to be pastor to the people

gathering there. But the comforting was going both ways.

Many were reaching out to the Allen family, who had survived the storms in the

church building.

Allen and his wife Sandra, their four children, East Side’s

secretary and son and three church neighbors were huddled in the lower level of

the church, beneath the stairwells, as the tornado was closing in on the

Cullman area.

Allen recalled the events of the afternoon: He asked Sandra to pray aloud for

the group.

She prayed fervently.

Allen was checking his computer for updates and eventually went to check the

front of the church when he saw debris swirling from the tornado in the

distance. At that point he told everyone to get down and get as far back in the

corner as they could.

“God have mercy on us” flowed from Allen’s mouth as he made his way down the

stairwell to his family.

The tornado came over the church, shattering glass and ripping away walls and

the roof. But the group was unharmed.

They slowly made their way out the front doorway (the doors were gone) and saw

something “very different than what it was before.”

Shocked by the condition of the area but humbled by God’s grace and protection,

Sandra was thankful.

“What good is your faith if you can’t weather the storm?” Sandra said.

Her daughters — Haley, 17, and Abby, 12 — who

had been sitting next to her in the stairwell agreed.

“I was shocked and scared,” Abby said. “But God protected us.”

Sandra reminded the girls and herself that God doesn’t always protect in the

same way.

“When you see His hand of protection (like this),” Sandra said, “you can trust

Him even when He lifts (His hand).”

Allen was pastor at Concord Highlands

Baptist Church

near Hueytown, Ala.,

when it was hit by an EF5 tornado in 1998. The small town of Concord

again was hit in this round of storms as a large tornado sliced through the

community and heavily damaged Concord Highlands once again.

As Allen thought back over the previous 24 hours that were “hazy” and the

events that had occurred 12 years ago, the only thing he could clearly think to

do was praise the Lord.

“Praise Him with us,” Allen said. “It’s easy to praise Him when the budget is

fine and members are regularly attending, but what about when you’re not sure

you have enough insurance to cover the damage or enough water to get you

through the week?”

All of East Side’s members were accounted for by the

morning of April 28, and none were injured or had severe home damage.

Randy Makemson, director of missions for East Cullman Baptist Association,

confirmed that East Side Baptist was the only church in the association with

damage.

Photo by Neisha Fuson

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley shook hands with Annette Parker of Hanceville, who was on the scene to help at First Baptist Church in Cullman, Ala., following the deadly tornadoes.

Noting that East Side Baptist will have services at Christ

Covenant Church

in Cullman, Allen said, “The Cullman community is really stepping up.”

Ed Hayes, pastor of First Baptist

Church in Cullman for nearly 28

years, would agree.

Several people helped clean up debris around First

Baptist Cullman after the same tornado ripped through

downtown where the church sits.

The force of the tornado tore a large hole in the gymnasium roof, lifted one

third of the sanctuary’s roof off, and destroyed a large section of the Sunday

School and children’s area.

Built in 1951, the sanctuary had beautifully intricate stained glass windows,

several of which were torn to the ground and mangled into a mess on the

sanctuary floor.

The sanctuary was left unusable, but the gymnasium is reparable and was the

planned location for upcoming worship services.

Jim O’Dillon, associate pastor for education and outreach at First

Baptist Cullman, was still at the church when the tornado hit

even though his wife had insisted on him returning home.

He was “Mr. Stubborn,” he said, and was finishing up the last two verses of a

Sunday School study he was planning.

“I felt the wind get pulled out of me,” O’Dillon said, “… and then I heard

the windows shatter.”

First Baptist Cullman had no member reports of

fatalities or injuries in the immediate aftermath. Numerous families were

without gas and power. Cullman was without a local supplier for gas, so the

outage was expected to last several days. Cell phones also were “going in and

out,” making communication difficult.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Fuson writes for The Alabama Baptist. View an e-edition

of The Alabama Baptist with extensive tornado coverage at

online.thealabamabaptist.org. For information about donations to Alabama

Baptists’ disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3.

Donations to disaster relief can be made to state conventions, or directly to

the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief fund, at NAMB.net, or by calling 1-866-407-NAMB (6262).

A $10 donation can be made by texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.”)

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