September 17, 2014
2 Joplin churches intent on rebuilding
Three of the 161 fatalities in Joplin, Mo., were recorded at Harmony Heights Baptist Church during evening worship services when the EF-5 tornado struck May 22, 2011. Photo by Brian Koonce/The Pathway.  Brian Koonce/The Pathway.
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The building of Empire Baptist Church in Joplin, Mo., was destroyed by the May 22, 2011, tornado. Photo by Brian Koonce.  Brian Koonce/The Pathway.
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Posted on May 22, 2012 | by Kayla Rinker/The Pathway

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The building of Empire Baptist Church in Joplin, Mo., was destroyed by the May 22, 2011, tornado. Photo by Brian Koonce. Brian Koonce/The Pathway
JOPLIN, Mo. (BP) -- When an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., one year ago, Harmony Heights Baptist Church and Empire Baptist Church were completely destroyed. That is, their buildings were demolished.

"One of the things we have to recognize is that the church is not a building, it's the people in the building," said Charlie Burnett, pastor at Harmony Heights.

"So, regardless of where we meet, we are still the church."

Plans are underway, though, for both churches to rebuild. After months of planning and designing, Harmony Heights' construction began in March. The contractors told Burnett the church could expect to hold services in the new building by December. The facility will be built right where its other building had stood on Indiana Avenue in Joplin.

"It's going to have a whole different look than our other building, which was built in the '60s," Burnett said. "The inside sanctuary will be slightly larger and it will be laid out in a much more modern way."

Empire Baptist, though just as determined to rebuild, is still tied up in the meeting and negotiating phases with its insurance company. Jerry Douglas, a deacon at Empire, is hoping and praying for the final approval of the rebuild soon. He asked Missouri Baptists to do the same.

"We all feel like this is where God wants us to be and so that's what we are going to do," Douglas said.

In the meantime, Empire will continue to meet in the office building of Spring River Baptist Association on Sunday mornings and in a church member's home on Sunday nights. Harmony Heights will continue to meet at Bethel Assembly of God on Sunday afternoons as well as Wednesday evenings.

"The spirit of our people continues to be excellent," Burnett of Harmony Heights said. "Everyone has been very positive about the new building, and I believe the day we walk in and have our service there will be a great day."

And, thanks to generous donations from across the state and the country, when the building is finished Burnett said Harmony Heights will be able to have services right away.

"We are so grateful because through their love gifts we will be able to put back all the contents in our church that we need for ministry," Burnett said. "Of course, you never want tragedy to come to your church, but the love that comes out of the other side of it is inspiring and helpful in looking at the best way for your church to continue its ministry."
Kayla Rinker is a contributing writer with The Pathway (, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
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