“Zombie land” is how a survivor described the landscape after tornadoes killed at least 24 and devastated communities in middle Tennessee, disaster relief strategist Wes Jones told Baptist Press (BP) March 4.
It’s “just bewilderment,” Jones, who handles disaster relief for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB), told BP as he surveyed damage in Putnam County, where 18 were killed and 20 were still missing after tornadoes struck early Tuesday morning.
Disaster relief teams from North Carolina, Alabama and New Jersey are among those offering to help Tennessee disaster relief teams and churches rebuild communities and offer the hope of Christ to survivors, many of whom lost loved ones, homes and possessions.
“We hope we can help the folks where they need help, but most importantly we hope that as we help them, that we have the opportunity to share the hope of Christ with them, because that’s what it’s all about and that’s why we do what we do,” Jones told BP. “And hopefully see them either encouraged if they are a believer or hopefully come to know Christ as their Savior if they’re not, at least we give them that opportunity.”
In Nashville, Hope Church served 300 meals onsite, packaged other meals for workers and residents, has opened its kitchen for use by outreach groups, and is organizing a daycare center for families directly affected by the tragedy, pastor Jason Rumbough told BP Wednesday. Police have also used the church parking lot to access the community.
Volunteers removed trees from homes, cleared debris, listened to residents’ needs and cleared the way for disaster relief crews, utility workers and others to enter devastated areas with a clear line of sight, Rumbough said.
Disaster relief teams and other groups from Hope Church, First Baptist Church of Concord, other Tennessee churches and North Carolina churches have responded with volunteers and supplies, he said, and current needs include cash donations and workers.
“I’ve spoken to several residents, connected them to our church, and let them know we are definitely there with them and for them as they are working through these times,” Rumbough said.
Baptists on Mission, also known as North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) has been in touch with Jones and offered volunteers, equipment, supplies and funds, Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director, told the Biblical Recorder.
The Bledsoe Baptist Association is coordinating with First Baptist Church of Hendersonville (FBCH), Tenn., an association member, to dispatch disaster relief teams to Mount Juliet, Tenn., director of missions Mike Pennington told BP.
Volunteers participating in the Bledsoe outreach do not need Southern Baptist Disaster Relief certification to participate, Pennington said, and may volunteer through FBCH. Bledsoe is sending volunteers to Nashville communities and First Baptist Church of Mount Juliet, Pennington said. The Wilson County church was heavily damaged and lost two church members in the storm.
Putnam County has received as many volunteers as can be utilized currently, County Mayor Randy Porter said in a morning press briefing. Some areas are so devastated, he said, a limited number of volunteers can be allowed there.
“We have been unbelievably blessed with volunteers,” Porter said.
Mark Davis, director of missions with the Stone Association of 47 churches serving Putnam, said 800 Southern Baptists were among 3,000 to 4,000 volunteers responding Wednesday to the county’s call for volunteers. Responders came from the Cumberland Plateau region, the Stone Association, the Salem Association and the Union Baptist Association.
Associations in Alabama and New Jersey have called to offer help, Davis said.
“We’re grateful for our partners in ministry,” Davis said, as are survivors served.
“The spirit that I’ve seen is a hopeful spirit,” Davis said of survivors, “and just gratitude, gratefulness for the amount of outpouring.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this story.)