Doug Vance has gotten a call many times to get his Disaster Relief team ready to head out to a tornado, hurricane or flood-affected area.
There’s a rhythm to that kind of work, he said.
“When you go out of town, you know how long you’re going to be there, and you know when you’re coming home. But when the storm is at the house, you’re never far from it.”
That’s what Vance — district 8 coordinator for Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief and leader of the Cahaba team — said he and other Disaster Relief volunteers in his area have faced since Jan. 12 when a tornado plowed through Dallas County and through the middle of Selma.
“When it’s at home, when it’s in your area, sometimes it seems like it never stops. It can go on for quite a while,” he said.
When it’s at home, it also starts the moment the storm hits.
Vance’s counterpart Sissy Cooper, leader of the Selma team, said she heard about the storm through her husband’s radio — he’s a volunteer firefighter — and headed out quickly.
“I called the guy who pulls our trailer, and I said, ‘Charlie, where are you? We need to head to Selma.’ He said, ‘I’ll be home in 10 minutes,’ and I said, ‘I’ll be there waiting for you.’”
Cooper and Charlie Kee beat most everybody else to one of the most hard-hit spots, Tremont Street — which happened to be the street of Guy Anderson, retired minister of music at the local Elkdale Baptist Church, and his wife, Debbie, both of whom are DR chaplains. The top of the Andersons’ home was ripped off, and trees were down everywhere.
So Cooper and Kee started working there immediately. They were soon joined by other teammates. Vance’s team had also started working nearby.
From there, the two teams — both a part of West Central Baptist Association’s ministry — continued to work toward each other. They were joined two days later by an army of Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams from other parts of the state. Those teams worked for 16 days, staying at Elkdale Baptist and helping area residents tarp roofs, cut up trees and remove debris from homes and yards.
Vance said the disaster relief network that Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists have is a “well-oiled system.”
Lee Tate, director of missions for West Central Association, said it’s been “overwhelming” for their area to be the recipient of all the help they’ve received.
“I’m just so thankful that we got to be in these seats to see all this, to learn from it, to be built up by it, to encourage as well as be encouraged,” he said. “It’s been a difficult trial, but it’s been a wonderful trial. We’re all learning lots of stuff.”
Tate said one of the main “wonderful” things that has come out of this is the way bridges have been built between churches in Selma. He said he’s had Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20–21 on his mind a lot — the prayer in which Jesus prayed for His followers to be one and live in unity.
Since the storm, churches have been rallying to help each other and help the community, he said.
Imago Dei Church at the 45, a multicultural church plant in nearby Lowndes County, came over to cook food alongside First Baptist Church Selma and then Plant Street Baptist Church, an African-American church in Selma whose building was destroyed by the tornado.
Melanie Sharpless, a chaplain on the Selma Disaster Relief team and member of Imago Dei Church, said it was a great time of bonding for believers in the area.
As Davey Lyon, Imago Dei’s pastor, and other volunteers cooked food under tents at Plant Street Baptist, Sharpless and her husband, Terry, and others talked and prayed with members of the community who came by for a meal.
“We left the tent up so they could have church under it Sunday morning, and they invited Davey to preach,” Sharpless said. “He preached on John 17. The church knows we love them, and we want to help however we can.”
Tate said his prayer is that this kind of bond will carry on after the storm cleanup and recovery is done.
He said he wanted followers of Christ to continue working and worshipping with each other there, regardless of the color of their skin.
A watching world
He said he can’t think of a better way to show Christ’s love to a watching world in Selma, a place known for its history of racial tension.
“It becomes our rally cry,” he said. “God never wastes tragedy. He’s given us a gift.”
To learn more about Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief training and ways to give, visit sbdr.org.
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