SBC president challenges Southern Baptists to help rebuild Union after tornado

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page called for Southern Baptist churches to give generously to Union University as the campus seeks to recover from more than $40 million in damages sustained in a Feb. 5 tornado.

Page issued his challenge Feb. 27 during his first visit to Union since the tornado destroyed about 70 percent of its student housing and caused extensive damage to other buildings. Union University President David S. Dockery took Page on a tour of the Jackson, Tenn., campus during his visit.

"I'm a little bit shell-shocked as I look around," Page said. "It's unbelievable that this kind of devastation could occur, and yet not one single student lost their life. So for that, we give thanks to the Lord."

Page encouraged Southern Baptist churches to take up special offerings in an effort "to step up to the plate and to assist this wonderful university in rebuilding this campus better and bigger than ever before."

Many Southern Baptist churches and entities already have come to Union's assistance. LifeWay Christian Resources gave $350,000. Tennessee Baptist Convention entities have provided $144,000. Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary each gave $100,000.

In addition, Criswell College and KCBI radio in Dallas donated $53,000, while GuideStone Financial Resources and Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tenn., each provided $50,000. Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., and the Mid-South Baptist Association in Bartlett gave $25,000 each. Southern Baptist seminaries also have made contributions as well.

And Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Bradford, Tenn., contributed $5,000 to Union -– surpassing 3 percent of the church's budget.

"In God's economy, that's the biggest gift to date," Dockery said of the Mt. Pleasant gift.

But despite the generosity displayed thus far, Page said the needs continue to be great, although insurance will cover much of the damages. Deductibles, lost revenue from student housing and other programs, plus the increased cost of rebuilding campus housing to greater standards, will leave Union in need of about $20 million for the rebuilding process.

Page emphasized that the importance of Union lies not in its physical campus, but in its calling and mission.

"The greatest thing that's going to happen is not rebuilding buildings," Page said. "Union University is not bricks and mortar. They need bricks and mortar to do what they've been called to do. But this institution is about training young men and women and equipping them for service in many, many different callings and venues. So this institution is going to thrive because they're true to the calling. The bricks and mortar, that's not the primary part of who this institution is."

Page pointed out that Union, established in 1823, is the oldest college affiliated with a Southern Baptist state convention. He also noted that Union sends out more people to the international mission field than any other college in Southern Baptist life.

"Because of that, we need to be of great assistance to them," Page said. "They have been a great partner with us all these years."

Page also emphasized that Union's financial needs are immediate. "This is not a long-term need, but a short-term need," he said.

Despite the extent of the damage, the SBC president expressed hope and optimism for the future of the university.

"We believe that God is going to do a great thing because of this," Page said. "We believe that God always brings good out of bad. We've seen it happen before and we're going to see it happen here.

"It's like any major disaster -– it brings out the very best in people. That's what's happening. It's bringing the best out of Union University."

Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.

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