Tornado stirs pastor to serve neighbors

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Pastor Darrell Haney had been praying for a way to reach his neighbors. Haney says he found his answer in a storm.

"God could not have answered our prayer more clearly," said Haney, pastor of Grace Falls Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Tenn., as he described the powerful tornado that leveled the church building and destroyed his home next door. Haney was sifting through the rubble that was his home the morning following the storm.

The tornado was part of a storm system that claimed at least eight lives in Mississippi April 28, and two lives in Lincoln, Haney's home county in Tennessee. In all, 10 states have been hit by damaging tornadoes since April 26. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have been serving in response in every affected state.

"We are collecting what belongings we can," Haney, himself an SBDR volunteer, said. "The church building was wiped out. Our property is adjacent to the church. It came across and took everything."

Haney was home with his wife Tammy, son Matt, daughter-in-law Christi and their children Carson, 4, and Elyse, 2, when the storm hit late in the evening. They had just enough warning to seek shelter in an interior bathroom.

"Elyse was asleep in the bedroom," Haney said. "Matt had just returned from their trailer that was also on our property. The first series of storms had come through, and we thought the worst was over. The news broke on TV that a tornado was on the ground near us. We had just enough time to get Elyse and everyone into the bathroom and then it hit out of nowhere."

After leveling the Grace Falls sanctuary, the storm toppled oak trees and threw vehicles like toys, Haney said. A tree fell on the house, the roof was ripped off, and then another tree fell across the house.

"There was not a scratch on either of our grandchildren," Haney, who has pastored Grace Falls for seven years, said. "We are still looking for Matt's trailer."

Haney made sure his family was okay, helped secure his property as best he could, then he and associate pastor Ryan Tate headed into the subdivision near the church to offer help. "We were able to pray with several of our neighbors," Haney said.

North American Mission Board (NAMB) disaster relief executive director Fritz Wilson said he sees God's hand in SBDR ministry.

"That is the beauty of the SBDR volunteer network," Wilson said. "In 10 states we have volunteers bringing help, healing and hope to people who are suffering. It is why we do this. We had four major areas hit in Mississippi last night. There are already SBDR assessment teams on the ground in all four locations this morning."

Wilson reported that three Arkansas SBDR chainsaw teams were serving in Arkansas, with another eight teams awaiting deployment. Other teams remain on standby.

The Home Depot Foundation also contacted SBDR and were able to deliver 175 Rubbermaid storage containers they donated to Arkansas for survivors to recover belongings, Wilson said.

Those wishing to donate to SBDR storm relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit https://donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.


Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Download Story