By Joe Conway
FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn.– Grace Falls Baptist Church Pastor Darrell Haney had been praying for a way to reach his neighbors surrounding the Fayetteville, Tenn., church. Haney says he found his answer in a storm.
“God could not have answered our prayer more clearly,” said Haney, describing the powerful tornado that leveled the church building and destroyed his home next door. Haney was sifting through the rubble that was his home the morning after.
The tornado was part of a storm system that claimed at least eight lives in Mississippi April 28, and two lives in Lincoln, Haney’s home county. In all, 10 states have been hit by damaging tornadoes since April 26. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers have been serving in response in every affected state.
“We are collecting what belongings we can,” said Haney, himself an SBDR volunteer. “The church building was wiped out. Our property is adjacent to the church. It came across and took everything.”
Haney was home with his wife, Tammy, son and daughter-in-law, Matt and Christi, and their children, Carson, 4, and, Elyse, 2, when the storm hit late in the evening. They had enough warning to seek shelter in an interior bathroom, but just barely.
“Elyse was asleep in the bedroom,” said Haney. “Matt had just returned from their trailer that was also on our property. The first series of storms had come through, and we thought the worst was over. The news broke on TV that a tornado was on the ground near us. We had just enough time to get Elyse and everyone into the bathroom and then it hit out of nowhere.”
After leveling the Grace Falls sanctuary, the storm toppled oak trees and threw vehicles like toys, Haney said. A tree fell on the house, the roof was ripped off, and then another tree fell across the house.
“There was not a scratch on either of our grandchildren,” said Haney, who has pastored Grace Falls for seven years. “We are still looking for Matt’s trailer.”
Haney made sure his family was OK, helped secure his property as best he could, then he and associate pastor Ryan Tate headed into the subdivision near the church to render aid. “We were able to pray with several of our neighbors,” said Haney.
A day earlier and several states away, SBDR ham radio operator Bill Hoops was monitoring his set in Pennsylvania when he picked up a faint signal. It was from Baxter, Kan., after a tornado struck that city. Hoops is a chaplaincy coordinator for his team.
“At first I thought I could just [talk] with him,” said Hoops. “Then I realized it was a distress call. He was in a trailer home that was tipped over sideways from a tornado. I was able to lead emergency workers to him. It is a God thing that I could pick up a readable [signal] transmitting halfway across the nation.”
North American Mission Board (NAMB) Disaster Relief Executive Director Fritz Wilson points to the miraculous and sees God’s hand in SBDR ministry. He says it is why SBDR volunteers serve the way they do.
“That is the beauty of the SBDR volunteer network,” said Wilson. “In 10 states we have volunteers bringing help, healing and hope to people who are suffering. It is why we do this. We had four major areas hit in Mississippi last night. There are already SBDR assessment teams on the ground in all four locations this morning.”
Wilson reported that three Arkansas SBDR chainsaw teams (trained, credentialed volunteers) were already serving Tuesday morning in Arkansas, with another eight teams awaiting deployment. Other teams remain on standby.
“Another sign of God’s favor on the SBDR network came yesterday,” said Wilson. “We were contacted by the Home Depot Foundation and on the same day were able to deliver 175 Rubbermaid storage containers they donated to Arkansas for survivors to recover belongings.”
Those wishing to donate to SBDR storm relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers-including chaplains-and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.