Last Saturday evening, a large group of us gathered together for an enjoyable evening at Providence Baptist Church, in Beauregard. Beauregard is a bedroom community of Opelika/Auburn. The occasion was an annual fellowship of Alabama Baptist District-Four Disaster Relief teams. Some call us “The Yellow Shirt People.” The only time we wear those yellow shirts, and matching caps, is when we have a meeting, when we are in route to a disaster area, or when working after a disaster had struck somewhere. We had no idea we would need to wear those shirts again the next day.
Our district is comprised of five Baptist associations in eastern Alabama, including the one I am privileged to lead. We had enough bowls of chili Saturday night to give me heartburn for at least two weeks. Since I have sworn off sugar, I didn’t even tempt myself by looking at the long table filled with desserts. During the evening, pictures from the places our team has ministered this year showed on the screen. Over the past several years, our teams have ministered across much of the nation. Our teams have been to numerous places this past year, including North Carolina, after Hurricane Florence blew in, dumping over thirty-five inches of rain. We made multiple trips to Dothan and the Florida panhandle after Hurricane Michael. Michael was the third worst hurricane to land in the Florida panhandle. The people there are still greatly in need of our prayers as they try to rebuild and put their lives back together. We had no idea Saturday evening that our next place of ministry would be in our own back yard, in less than twenty-four hours, and only a couple of miles down the road from where we fellowshipped that evening.
Sunday morning started like most Sunday mornings for us, but by time I left after church it had begun to rain. The weather-men had forecasted the strong possibility of severe weather in our area for the afternoon. We feared that thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes might be in store for us, so Jean and I headed home immediately after church, just in case. Not for my family, but for many in Lee County, it turned out to be worse than anyone could have imagined. Two of the worst tornadoes in our county in the last fifty years touched down that afternoon, leaving a path of death and destruction a half-mile wide.
By the time you read my column, I’m afraid the numbers will be worse than at the time of my writing on Monday. At this point, there have been twenty-three confirmed deaths there. Numerous other victims remain in the hospital. Search and recovery teams are still working at the time of my writing. Other parts near us were hit too, but with no reported fatalities. One tornado touched down on the East side of our county, in Smith Station, and another one in Eufaula, in Barbour County.
On Monday morning we set up our Disaster Relief Command Center, in that same room at Providence Baptist Church we had fellowshipped in on Saturday. The church is also serving as a clearing house for donations, and a shelter for displaced families. Our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw teams from our association, and others too, are on the ground at this point. The amount of clothing, water, and other material donations has been almost overwhelming at this point, but we are most grateful for the generosity and concern. Thank you for your concerns, donations, and most of all prayers, especially for those families who have lost loved ones and homes.
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal Thursdays. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.