— Mel Johnson said the word “overwhelming” doesn’t even begin to describe the
aftermath of the tornadoes that ripped apart Alabama
in late April. The death toll in the hundreds. The total devastation.
“It’s been a tough, tough situation — so many lives lost, and so many needs,”
said Johnson, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists. “It doesn’t
matter how well you are prepared, you are never equipped to properly mitigate a
disaster of that size.”
But as he and others have been picking up the pieces in the wake of “our
Katrina,” he said he has seen God at work, no question.
Disaster relief volunteers from 13 state conventions have descended on Alabama,
and people recognize the breadth of the ministry and are drawn to Christ and to
the church because of it, Johnson said. “We are experiencing a tremendous
openness to the gospel.”
Local churches in affected areas have had the opportunity to step into
leadership roles in their communities in ways they’ve never done before, he
said. “Communities and churches are coming together in a real way.”
And other churches in the state have seized the chance to reach out to their
fellow Alabamians in need, and not just for disaster relief, Johnson said.
“Some churches, for example, were going to cancel their Vacation Bible School
because so many members were affected by the tornadoes, but other churches have
stepped up to the plate to come in and run those for them,” he said.
It’s part of the second phase of recovery, a new part of the process for
disaster relief teams.
This phase will go beyond cleanup and move into long-term rebuild.
“We are working to put together opportunities for pastors and directors of
missions to be able to receive some ministry support,” Johnson said. “Not only
have they been affected by storms and tragedies, but their church members have
been affected too.”
State Baptists also will offer counseling opportunities for those suffering
grief and loss, he said.
Disaster relief leaders are working to partner ministry teams with potential
projects, “whether it be rebuilding the church or rebuilding the community,”
“I have seen a tremendous amount of resolve among volunteers who have done
things so far beyond what I would have expected.”
How long will Alabama Baptists be involved in the recovery process?
“As long as it takes,” he said.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has been providing a significant
portion of the broad-brush leadership in the recovery process and will continue
to do so, Johnson said. NAMB stepped in to help coordinate the greater Southern
Baptist volunteer response to Alabama,
and Johnson said that’s “a perfect picture of Cooperative Program support and
Cooperative Program spirit.”
“They expressed instant concern, and when our state was wounded, they came
along with other state conventions to the rescue,” he said. “Without that
ministry, we wouldn’t have been able to respond the way we did.”
Mickey Caison, NAMB disaster relief team leader, said Alabama
has done a great job in its response, and other states have come in and done
well also in the midst of a “very large and very deadly tornado season.”
“We have been working to connect the states with sites and will continue to
develop long-term recovery plans for that,” Caison said. “And as Alabama knows
what it needs, we will help put out the call for additional teams to come in
and help. It’s a large job, but we’re all committed to help.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Thornton is a
correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.)