Rural churches 250 miles apart find God-orchestrated connection

SLIGO, Ky. (BP) – A God-sized connection has brought a link between rural churches  250 miles apart.

The congregations at Sligo Baptist and New Bethel Baptist, rural churches with similar footprints, had never heard of each other before the December tornadoes swept through western Kentucky.

“I call God the Great Connector,” said Mark Brockman, the pastor of Sligo Baptist, which is on the Cincinnati side of Louisville. “Even on an initial phone call between believers, even through a phone line, there was a connection between me and Kevin (Keeling, the pastor of New Bethel). That part of it is a real blessing.”

New Bethel is in Wingo, which is located near Mayfield, the epi-center of the tornadoes that swept through western Kentucky. Winds damaged the roof of the church among other areas, though the structure itself stood.

The Sunday after the tornadoes, a deacon at Sligo was praying with a group from Sligo like they regularly do before the morning services. His heart was heavy about the tornado survivors, and he was compelled that the church do something, Brockman said.

“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.”

They asked Alan Witham, their regional consultant with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, who put them in contact with Larry Purcell, the West Region consultant. He paired them with New Bethel, which he knew had suffered some roof and other physical damage.

“Larry felt like New Bethel was a lot like Sligo,” Brockman said.

He made a pastor-to-pastor phone call to Keeling to discuss ways Sligo could help New Bethel, and the connection was strong.

Brockman said Sligo had been blessed with good financial health during the pandemic and immediately set aside $4,000 to give to New Bethel. He also shared with the congregation about the need and gave them the opportunity to give more, which they did.

Keeling had sent some photos for Brockman to share with his congregation that showed the damage from the roof that extended to the ceilings and even into the nursery where fallen insulation could be seen on baby cribs.

Sligo’s treasurer had a connection with Project Guild, a charitable group in LaGrange, that also wanted to help and provided $1,400 to the effort. The congregation gave another $3,500, bringing the total to nearly $9,000.

New Bethel had decided to put a metal roof on the church at a cost of about $13,500. The church had already begun working on replacing the roof and repairing other areas of the church, Keeling said. A church from Georgia is coming up this weekend to look at replacing some vinyl siding that was destroyed.

“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 said the connection has also energized Sligo and its congregation of about 60. Each of the four deacons in the church were involved in the process of working with the church in Wingo, the pastor said. Others in the church rallied around the effort and the blessings keep coming.

“I really have been blessed to see the hearts of our people, and I love the way our folks were always open,” he said. “We were waiting and watching and listening to the Lord. We didn’t do a knee-jerk reaction. It’s such a blessing when God allows you to share.”

What Brockman and Keeling have also found is a spiritual bond between brothers who pray with each other over the phone. Sligo has already mailed the check for $8,882.30 but the pastor and others are planning to make the trek to Wingo for an in-person visit.

“We connected on a very personal level,” Keeling said. “He really has a heart for the Lord and is in tune with what God has done. We’re blessed that God put them in our path.”

This article was written by Mark Maynard, writer for Kentucky Today where this story first appeared. It was republished on baptistpress.com.

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