Pastor Mike Johnson said it’s a good thing he’s not looking for a church right now — at the last three he served, he found himself in the path of a tornado.
But when the twister rolled over his current church — Bethsaida Baptist, Boaz — on Easter Sunday and blew the steeple and front atrium off, it was the first time Johnson had ever been inside the church when it happened.
“We were actually in the basement,” Johnson said. “Anytime there is a serious threat, we open it up to the community for a shelter.”
In light of the coronavirus, Bethsaida Baptist had asked anyone who came to bring his or her own mask, and at first they tried to “social distance” as much as possible.
“It’s hard to give comfort and aid when you’re social distancing, so we did the best we could,” Johnson said. “But when the storm got there, that pretty much went out the window.”
He and his wife, Cyndi, helped hold the small group together and assured everyone they would be OK.
“I experienced this incredible peace from the Lord that we were protected,” Johnson said.
No lives lost in state
They were — in fact, no lives were lost at all in Alabama as tornadoes dropped all over the state April 12. The reality was more sobering in other parts of the Southeast — at least 30 people died elsewhere, including at least 11 in Mississippi, nine in South Carolina and eight in Georgia.
But other churches in the state, like Bethsaida Baptist, were also battered by the storms. Lawler Baptist Church, near Dora; Mount Pleasant Church in Sprott; Keener Baptist Church in Etowah County; and Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Cherokee County all sustained damage. Shoal Creek Baptist Church, Priceville, also was struck by lightning and suffered steeple and roof damage.
The next morning saw Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers hard at work all over the state alongside church members and community members. A disaster relief team out of Birmingham Metro Baptist Association (BMBA) helped clean up around Lawler Baptist, a role BMBA Executive Director Chris Crain said they were “humbled” to fill.
“I have been familiar with the great work of Lawler Baptist Church for many years,” Crain said. “Our BMBA disaster relief team and area coordinator John Hayes are willing servants who want to share Christ during times of crisis. I am praying that the Lawler Baptist family will get through this storm and coronavirus stronger than ever.”
Cross still standing
Lawler Baptist’s damage has been widely shared on social media because of one striking image in particular — the center cross in the church’s outside display of three crosses remained standing when the crosses on each side were blown over in the storm.
Johnson said the correlation of the storms with Easter miracles isn’t lost on him and his congregation either. All three storms came during the Easter season.
A devastating storm hit Albertville in 2010 when he was pastor of First Baptist Church there, and though the church wasn’t damaged, much of the city around it was. Even so, God protected, he said.
“We were sitting there with debris everywhere, but the church itself was fine. It gave us a point from which we could coordinate ministry to the whole city,” he said. “The thing that strikes me the most — we had just been prayer walking the neighborhoods for Easter revival, and even though some of the houses were picked up and moved, not a single person was harmed. You could see the protective hand of God.”
The following April, after he had accepted a call to serve as pastor of Boone’s Chapel Baptist Church, Prattville, the church’s building was almost totally wiped out by a tornado.
“But from there, we were able to reinvent the church. It had been running 150, and now I think it runs around 800,” Johnson said.
From all that, he’s learned one thing over and over — God is in control, and He has a purpose.
What God’s doing
“God uses the tragedy and turns it around into triumph if we’ll allow it, just like I believe He’s doing with coronavirus and just like He’s doing with these storms,” Johnson said. (TAB)