Tragedy Helps Bring Rural Churches Together

Source: Baptist Press

Prior to the winter tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest of the United States last December, Sligo Baptist and New Bethel Baptist had never heard of each other.

Separated by more than 250 miles, the two rural congregations connected to support each other after the storm destroyed major parts of the roof and main building at New Bethel.

The Sunday after the tornadoes, during the pre-service deacons prayer meeting, devastation caused by the storm was weighing heavily on the hearts of the group. Feeling compelled to do more, Mark Brockman, the pastor of Sligo Baptist, and the deacons said they wanted to get more directly involved in the relief efforts.

“Some of us who had participated in some disaster relief thought it’d be wise to pray and think,” he said. “We made some inquiries to see how best we could help and we talked through all that. We thought about our own church and what if something like that happened to us? We wanted to reach out to a church that looked like our church.”

After contacting Alan Witham, the regional consultant with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the congregation was placed in contact with Larry Purcell, the convention’s West Region consultant. Through Purcell, Brockman was able to connect with New Bethel.

Describing their initial phone call, Brockman said, “There was a connection between me and Kevin [Keeling, the pastor of New Bethel]. That part of it is a real blessing.”

After their initial phone call, Brockman and the church agreed to set aside $4,000 to give to New Bethel. When Keeling sent Brockman some photos of the devastation to share, Brockman knew money was not enough.

Through a partnership with Project Guild, a charitable group in LaGrange, Kentucky, Sligo was able to raise an additional $5,000.

With assistance from Sligo, the insurance company, and others, New Bethel began repairs by erecting a metal roof at a cost of about $13,500. Additional help came from a George Baptist Convention Relief Team that came up for the weekend to assist with the roof and replace vinyl siding.

Keeling acknowledged that pastoring during the pandemic had been extremely difficult and the devastation to the communities caused by the tornadoes did not help. Nevertheless, he says when he arrived at the church after the tornado, he was able to find hope despite the damage to the structure knowing that the church had “withstood the storm.”

“I was sharing with people last night how God’s hand had been upon our church,” Keeling said. “With COVID and everything, it’s been a battle these past two years. It’s been a long, hard battle. I shared with our church last night, when I drove up (after the tornado), the building was still standing. If the building would have been gone, I think in my spirit I would have said, ‘We’re done.’ But God left something, and God’s not done here.

“It’s so encouraging that God has connected us with Sligo and from other people like this church from Georgia that’s six hours away. There’s such a peace in my heart that God was at work doing something I couldn’t see. The providence of God has been an encouragement. It’s odd to say that a tornado that brought so much damage may be what saved New Bethel.”

Brockman noted the connection between New Bethel and Sligo has helped to energize his rural congregation of about 60 members. Everyone from deacons to youth were engaged in praying, supporting fundraisers, and offering kind words.

The relationship between Sligo and New Bethel serves as a reminder that blessing can emerge even from the most unlikely of circumstances.

Source: Baptist Press