Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — At least one Tennessee Baptist church was destroyed following tornadoes and straight line winds that tore across Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee during the early morning hours of Dec. 11, leaving behind dozens of deaths and numerous injuries.
Bethpage Baptist Church in Kenton was leveled by the tornado. (Full story HERE). The storm tore apart the church’s gym and fellowship hall. The sanctuary remained intact, but the building has now been classified as a total loss due to structural damage caused by the winds.
“We know have to take everything down and start from scratch,” Bethpage pastor Garry Burkacki said. The church’s steeple was found in a farmer’s field about 600 or 700 yards away from the church.
Roger Stacy, director of missions for Gibson Baptist Association, said the town of Kenton, near the Obion County line, was hit hard with about 60 homes damaged, some of which were a total loss. “We are fortunate. There was no loss of life (there).”
As of Dec. 13, Stacy was still awaiting word from the county’s Emergency Management Office. “We are waiting to see how we can be a part of the cleanup efforts,” he said.
The total death toll from the tornadoes continues to fluctuate. Baptist Press reported that Kentucky governor Andy Beshear said up to 70 people may have lost their lives in Kentucky. The New York Times reported as many as 90 deaths. WSMV-TV (Channel 4 in Nashville) reported there were four confirmed deaths in Tennessee. The station reported damage in the following counties: Decatur, Dyer, Gibson, Hardeman, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Madison, Obion, Shelby, Tipton, Weakley, Hickman, Montgomery and Stewart. There was also damage and power outages in Davidson, Dickson, Sumner, Wilson, Houston, Rutherford and Williamson counties as well throughout the remainder of Middle Tennessee into East Tennessee, including confirmed damage in Knox and Jefferson counties, according to other reports.
Baptist Press reported that dozens of people lost their lives in a candle factory as they worked in Mayfield as the small west Kentucky town was ripped to shreds by a powerful tornado. Warren County (Ky.) Coroner Kevin Kirby said they were working 11 storm-related deaths in the Bowling Green area, according to the BP report.
“This will probably be recorded as the most devastating night in the history of the Commonwealth,” Beshear said in the BP article.
Bryant Wright, SEND Relief president, called on Southern Baptists to pray for those affected by the tragedy. “Let’s give generously to help these people recover, clean up and rebuild,” he added in the Baptist Press report. He also asked for prayer for “the many SBC state disaster teams who are mobilizing volunteers to go in and serve those who are hurting.”
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said Dec. 13 that he had been in touch with Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the TBMB, and that “our people are very busy in the most devastated regions of Tennessee. We are on the phone with pastors and directors of missions in the areas affected by these storms,” he added.
“We have very competent DR personnel who have responded with energy and passion,” Davis continued. “Our prayers go out to everyone affected in Tennessee as well as the surrounding states, especially Kentucky.”
Jones appealed to Tennessee Baptists to pray for those families affected by the tornadoes, especially those who lost loved ones.
“Any disaster in which there is loss of life is tragic, but it is especially devastating during the Christmas season as many families will now experience the holiday without someone they loved,” he said.
Jones sent out an urgent alert to Tennessee Baptist DR teams on Dec. 13, asking them to check on the needs in their counties and communities and to ask for help from others across the state if needed. As of Monday afternoon (Dec. 13) teams were working in Dresden and in Samburg, near Reelfoot Lake, he said.
He especially encouraged Tennessee teams that specialize in chainsaw work and have bucket trucks or skid steers to be on standby. Shower trailers and small feeding units may also be needed, he said.
“We have people in our state who are hurting,” Jones said. “My prayer is that Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers will be the hands and feet of Jesus as we show His love to others.”
Those interested in offering financial support to the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief effort across the state can visit tndisasterrelief.org. Click the Give Now button, and 100 percent of the gifts will be used to help storm victims. None of the donations are used for administrative overhead. B&R — This article contains reporting from Lonnie Wilkey and David Dawson of the Baptist and Reflector and Baptist Press.