by David Dawson
Baptist & Reflector
Last year at this time, they were receiving assistance. This year, they are helping provide it.
Banner Baptist, located just outside the Gatlinburg city limits, is one of several churches that suffered substantial damage during the wildfires that swept through the area in November of 2016. Banner Baptist lost its fellowship hall and many members saw their homes destroyed.
Now, almost exactly one year later, Banner Baptist is giving $5,000 to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief — the organization that so greatly contributed to the church’s recovery process — to support hurricane relief.
Providing a check of that amount has required sacrificial giving from the Banner congregation, with Lamon noting that the $5,000 is about “8 to 10 percent of the church’s budget.” But the Banner Baptist members were excited about the opportunity to help support the DR units that are currently aiding the recovery efforts from the hurricanes that ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.
“It’s the biblical principle of ‘reciprocal grace,’ ” said Lamon. “You receive it and you need to share it.”
Supporting the hurricane-recovery DR teams — many of which likely include some of the same individuals who served in Gatlinburg — is almost like sending a “thank-you card” to those who were involved. “It’s only right that we should respond back and help them,” he said.
Lamon said Banner Baptist members have always had a heart for others in regard to sharing the gospel and showing the love of Christ in all types of ministries, including disaster relief.
“Our little church has always been a tremendously giving church,” he said. “We’ve never had a lot to give, but we’ve always given sacrificially where there was a need. And I think the severity of the need in this case (following the hurricanes) was the driving force behind giving the amount that we did. It’s easy when you are just giving a few dollars. But when you’ve got to reach down a little deeper, you start to feel something.”
Lamon said the gratefulness his church has for the Tennessee DR units remains very visible. As such, when Banner Baptist saw others who were going through similar destruction, the congregation was quick to respond.
“Any time you experience a disaster yourself, and then you start hearing about other people, you have empathy for them because you know what they are going through,” he said. “For us, after we received help in our time of need, it only stands to reason that we help others, too. Jesus said, ‘Freely you have received, so freely give.’ ”
Lamon said when he saw the destruction of the hurricanes, he felt called into action. He brought the matter before the church and presented a plan.
“It was something that I led the congregation to do. I discussed it with them and it was something we all agreed to do,” he said. “We decided to give it to Tennessee Disaster Relief because they helped us tremendously with the work they did for us during the clean-up. We felt this would be the best place for us to provide resources for them.”
Roughly two dozen families from Banner Baptist saw their homes destroyed during the Great Smoky Mountains wildfires last fall. The fires left a trail of mass destruction in the area, including 14 deaths and 134 injuries. The fires are considered one of the largest natural disasters in Tennessee history.
Banner Baptist is still in the recovery process, but considerable progress has been made.
“Most of our work has been about concentrating on the families that lost everything, and most of them are back where they need to be, or at least in the process of getting there,” Lamon said.
As the recovery process continues, Banner Baptist is looking to the future and making decisions in regard to what’s ahead for the church. Lamon said he hopes to have a plan ready to present to the congregation this spring.
“As a church, the whole event has created an opportunity for us to take a step back and take a more comprehensive look at our future facility needs,” he said. “The question for us is, do we need to build back? And if so, what do we build back? And, with the population migrations being what they are, is there a need for us to relocate? So, those are the type of issues we’re discussing and trying to plan for. We are developing a building program to ensure that the church is going to be here 30 or 40 years down the road.”
The Great Smoky Mountains wildfires were the deadliest wildfires in the eastern U.S. since the Great Fires of 1947, which killed 16 people in Maine. But even in the midst of the tragedy, Lamon said God’s presence was felt. He said it was a chance to draw even closer to Him.
“When something like this happens, you realize God is still sovereign,” he said. “It’s a chance to step back and say, Lord, we realize how much we need You, and right now, we need You even more. When you realize how much you need Him, you begin to experience more and more grace — and that is what’s happening with us.”