LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. - April 27, 2011 will forever be part of Alabama's history. Sixty-two tornadoes touched down in our state on that Wednesday. One of them, an EF-5, was on the ground for almost two hours leaving a path of destruction close to 107 miles.
Jimmy Clark is the pastor at the Bethel Church of Christ. He says he’ll never be able to forget what he saw that day. Eight years after the storm, he remembers “The roof, according to an eyewitness, was lifted up into the air and then dropped as it were, straight down and it crushed the building.”
He recalls getting a message from a storm survivor. “I got a text from one that basically said that the church building was gone, that everybody was fine and there had been a major strike, the tornado there on the site,” he recalls. Thirty people rode out the storm in the basement of the church's annex building.
Clark made the trip to the church. It was a long road. “A lot of the landmarks were gone. So I had to park a quarter of a mile away and then walk up the hill,” he said. Downed power lines and rubble were everywhere. “You hear the words blown away, but you don't know what that means until you walk up on it,” he said.
Days after the storm were spent assessing the damage, salvaging what they could and taking care of people in its path. Clark remembers, “Fourteen families of our congregation were directly affected so we checked in on all of them and it's a day by day process of trying to recover and where do you go from here.”
Where they went was down the road to a new building that includes a storm shelter that's open to the entire community.
“It'll hold about 500 people. And several people that live in the neighborhood now,” he said, “This becomes their go-to place.”
Bethel Church of Christ has served the area for more than 100 years. It's been destroyed three times, once by fire, twice by tornadoes. But the pastor has never asked why, saying “It just happens, and you deal with life. You know, you can have different kinds of storms besides natural disasters. You can have personal storms and you just deal with them as they come.”
But faith is stronger than any storm.
“That becomes the foundation by which you live every day during the good times and the difficult times,” he said. The congregation is looking ahead, not back. “You can’t live in the past cause if you live in the past, it`ll just drag you down so faith keeps you moving forward and looking forward,” he said.
That includes helping those in need. “I don’t have to preach that anymore,” he said with a smile, “These people get it because once you’ve lived through it you’re sort of in the shoes of these people and that’s what you hope people will get from adversity. And when they get it, it really makes you smile. It really encourages you.”
The pastor says when life throws you to the floor, you can either get up or just lay there and give up. He adds that the church is actually a lot stronger as a people because of the April 27 tornado.