Baptist & Reflector
COOKEVILLE — In the early morning hours of March 3, tornadoes swept through Middle Tennessee, leaving behind at least 24 fatalities and a path of destruction.
Cookeville and Putnam County especially were hit hard with about 18 fatalities and a number of homes that were flattened.
Within a matter of hours, Tennessee Baptists were on the scene ready to assist residents with clearing trees and debris while showing the love of Jesus Christ.
Residents and ministers from the Cookeville area recalled the event and shared memories during one of the Good News Videos aired during Virtual Summit on Nov. 10. See this video and others at TBCSummit.org.
Ted McWilliams recalled that the day following the tornado there were at least 200 people at his demolished house and even more the following day. He noted that to see that many people, many of whom he didn’t even know, offering to help was overwhelming. “There are no words for it.”
Darrin Crockett, associate pastor of Vine Branch Community Church, agreed. “It’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced something like this. I can remember standing on what used to be part of my front steps and porch and looking out across the people who were helping and at the devastation in our neighborhood. There’s a sense of peace that came from realizing we were not in this alone,” Crockett recalled.
Mark Davis, director of missions for Stone Baptist Association, noted that from the association’s perspective, “it was awesome to see the people of God come together because churches become so individualistic. So to have a tragic event like a tornado come through and cause people to say, ‘We’re going to work together’ was just to take a step back and watch God work,” he recalled.
He added that watching Tennessee Baptists rally around those who lost their homes and belongings — helping in the clean up effort — left him speechless.
Pastor Keith Tosh of Vine Branch Community Church observed that the entire year, from the tornado to COVID, has been challenging. “But it’s been a great challenge because, truly, we have looked at it as a church and as a staff as God’s wanting us to do something.
“And, I don’t think it’s to go back to the old way that we did things. We’ve had opportunity to do some things out of our comfort zone.”
He noted that throughout life the most difficult struggles that people face offer some of the greatest growing experiences they will ever have. “That’s what we’ve been able to do as a church body and as leadership of our church. We’ve seen that.”
Pastor Steve Tiebout of The River Church in Cookeville emphasized that now is an important season for “the church to be engaged because we are seeing a new generation that is watching the church and wanting to know, ‘Are we going to explode or pass away and be a thing of the past.’ ”
It’s important for the church to be willing to embrace a new thing, Tiebout continued. “It may look different than what we’re used to, but for the sake of the next generation, we’ve got to open our hearts to what God wants us to do now and run after it with all we’ve got.” B&R — Lonnie Wilkey