By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FAYETTEVILLE — It’s not likely that pastor Darrell Haney or his family will ever forget the night of April 28.
After being lulled into believing the storms were over, an F-3 tornado struck the Howell Hill community of Lincoln County, leaving behind two deaths and a number of destroyed or severely damaged homes.
A huge oak tree landed on Haney’s home in the room next to the bathroom where he and his family (which included his son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren) were taking refuge.
“It got to the point where you realize that the house is being torn apart around you,” recalled Haney, pastor of Grace Falls Baptist Church here.
“God’s hand was upon us,” Haney declared, noting that all six of them walked out of the demolished home without a scratch.
When Haney walked outside he discovered both of his trucks had been tossed about by the tornado and that the building that housed his congregation no longer existed.
The church was completely swept off its concrete slab, leaving behind only scattered debris.
Haney proceeded to the concrete slab with his son Matt and met Ryan Tate, the church’s associate pastor, who got to the scene quickly.
“The three of us fell on our faces on the slab and thanked God for taking care of us,” Haney shared.
Even with their own devastation, the Haneys and Tate began going through the community near the church to check on their friends and neighbors.
The pastor noted that his congregation had been praying for a way to reach out and minister to those near the church. The tornado provided that opportunity, he said.
“God could not have answered our prayer more clearly,” Haney told Baptist Press.
The day after the tornado, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief from William Carey Association were on the scene.
Tennessee Baptist DR volunteers were visible on several work sites, joining a host of other workers willing to help those who had been hardest hit by the tornado.
David Acres, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief director, brought roofing supplies to the scene while Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director, also was there to minister to Haney and his congregation who were among the clean up crew at his home.
Davis also gave Haney funds from Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief to assist the church.
“In the Howell Hill community near Fayetteville, several truths were very evident. First, our God is a powerful and awesome God,” Davis observed.
“I also saw the truth that the church being the church has very little to do with a structure being in place for the church to assemble. And in the midst of grief and shock it was a joy to witness the body of Christ responding immediately with helping hands and hearts filled with compassion to hurting people. All Tennessee Baptist churches have a hand in responding to these disasters. And that makes it an honor to serve in the Volunteer State,” Davis said.
Randy Maxwell, director of missions for William Carey Association, said DR volunteers were ready to assist in any way possible.
The association also offered its facility to Grace Falls Baptist which also had offers of building use from three other churches.
At the site, Haney said he did not yet know what direction the church would go in. He noted that on Wednesday night (April 30) the church gathered on the site for a prayer meeting.
As to what he would tell his congregation, Haney said it was important to remind them that “God is in control no matter what is going on around you.”
Haney is optimistic about the future. Both the church and his home were insured.
“God has a plan and purpose,” Haney said.
In the same area, Don and Trish Pierson were helping with clean up at the home of Carol Cash, a member of Stewart’s Chapel Baptist Church in Flintville where Pierson is pastor.
Pierson, former prayer coordinator for the TBC, said it was gratifying to watch the community and church members all become one as they rallied together to help those in need.
The hardest thing for him was knowing where to start, Pierson said of the devastation in the area.
Cash said that when the tornado struck, she simply prayed to the Lord, “Please protect me.”
And, He did. She noted that other than trees down on her property the only damage she had was a broken window.
“I know He answered my prayer,” she said.
Later in the week, other DR volunteers from across the state arrived in Lincoln County to provide assistance.
East Maryville Baptist Church, Maryville, provided a shower unit which was set up at First Baptist Church, Fayetteville, which hosted teams from Cumberland Baptist Association, based in Clarksville, and Nolachucky Baptist Association, based in Morristown.
A 2014 Tennessee Tornadoes Fund has been established at the TBC. Make gifts online at www.tnbaptist.org or send contributions for the fund (noted) to Tennessee Baptist Convention, P. O. Box 728, Brentwood, TN 37027.