First Baptist Church in Jacksonville Pastor Seth Tucker was out of town when disaster struck Jacksonville on March 31 sharing the Gospel with a youth group in Springfield, Missouri.
A tornado, categorized as an EF-3 by the National Weather Service, with winds of more than 165 mph, tore through areas of Little Rock, North little Rock, and Jacksonville leaving devastation in its wake.
Two hours after the tornado, which left destruction less than an eighth of a mile away from the church, a deacon called Tucker saying he thought they needed to open the church as a shelter.
Tucker said, “Go for it.” Immediately, they got started.
By the afternoon that Saturday, April 1, Tucker said they had relief and recovery supplies lining their hallways.
“People just dropped off donations. We didn’t plan that, it just happened,” he said, noting the American Red Cross, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and the Central Arkansas Development Council set up at their building. “This became kind of the hub for those displaced by the tornado.”
First Baptist Church in Jacksonville also became the official homeless shelter for those displaced by the tornado. They worked with the city to provide three meals a day and had about 30 individuals staying there overnight.
“The Lord has renewed our strength whenever we’ve needed it. That’s something that I told our church from the start is that we cannot grow tired of doing good,” Tucker said, referencing Galatians 6:9.
And it was not just First Baptist Church in Jacksonville members providing aid to those in need. Other organizations and churches were lending a hand.
“We saw the people of God step up and be the church,” Tucker said. “We’ve seen unity in our city that previously has not been taking place between people. Every ethnicity was working together. … Everybody was working hand in hand.”
The food distribution at the church closed this past weekend and the shelter is almost emptied. Hundreds of man hours, clothing, food and supplies were distributed through the church. An update on the church’s Facebook page said they served more than 4,200 meals.
Despite those services ending, Tucker encouraged people not to forget those who lost everything.
“In four months, they may be sitting on a slab after all the debris is removed, with no idea about how their homes are going to get put back together. We don’t need them to be alone,” he said.
First Baptist Church Jacksonville is just one example of the extensive cooperation between Baptists and other entities to assist those impacted by the March 31 tornadoes in recovery efforts across the state.
According to a brief overview by Greg Varndell, associational missionary for the North Pulaski Baptist Association, they have had hundreds of volunteers from their churches actively involved in the clean-up efforts.
Additionally in North Little Rock, Oklahoma Baptists were set up at Levy Baptist Church and responded to the needs in the Amboy area. They had more than 200 volunteers from Oklahoma who completed more than 120 work orders.
Baring Cross Baptist Church in Sherwood began a box ministry in the middle of the clean-up efforts providing boxes, tape and other supplies for families in need. They also began distributing boxes of food to families and families with pets. Last week alone they handed out more than 70 boxes of food. The box ministry will continue to be a part of the overall Disaster Relief efforts of the Arkansas Baptist relief efforts going forward.
Texas Baptist Men were set up at Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville and responded to the needs in Jacksonville. They were focused on roof tarping and the removal of fallen and leaning trees. The amount of equipment and supplies they provided to the community truly made a difference, Varndell said. They had more than 200 volunteers who responded to over 80 work orders for tree removal.
Varndell said they are still taking requests from teams from other states to come in and continue helping their communities. They will be housing a group from Louisiana the first week of May that will be removing approximately 15-20 downed trees for a church in Jacksonville.
“God has provided greatly during this time of need. We have learned to be flexible and adaptable as the needs have changed almost on a daily basis. We will continue to respond to needs as they arise and share whatever resources we are given with our church and community partners,” Varndell said.
When asked how people could help, Tucker encouraged them to check in with First Baptist or other churches in the area and find out what needs there may be in the coming months.
“We need to be there for our neighbors in the midst of the hardest time of their life,” Tucker said, reminding folks this is not just a two-week missions trip. Recovery will be ongoing for several months.