Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church / Facebook screen shotMount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville shows the damage it took when tornadoes struck central Tennessee on Tuesday. (Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church / Facebook screen shot)
Bobbie Harris, 79, lost her rental home, her job and her church when a deadly tornado struck her community in North Nashville. But all she could think about was her blessings.
“Through it all, God is good,” Harris said.
Harris joined other members of Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday to worship just outside the ruins of the church, which has been in the community for 135 years. The roofs of their two church buildings are gone, ripped away by strong winds early Tuesday.
The church pitched a tent in the parking lot and the congregants gathered to sing, pray and hold hands in what the church called “worship in the rubble.” Even contractors who were busily trying to replace downed power lines paused and took off their hard hats as Pastor Jacques Boyd led the congregation in prayer on the sunny, windy morning.
The National Weather Service has said at least six tornadoes hit middle Tennessee during last week’s storms that killed 24 and caused massive damage.
Harris lived only blocks away from the church, where she also worked as a cook. When the tornado hit her home, the powerful winds grabbed her air conditioning unit and threw it into a fence across the street. Her granddaughter’s car was destroyed.
“God is good. He was the conductor on that train and he went around me,” Harris said. “He saved me.”
Boyd told his congregation that the storm was a challenge from God and had brought everyone closer together in the recovery efforts. Behind him, bits of insulation blew around in the breeze and the wooden beams that once held up the roof of the chapel were exposed. Many of the neighboring homes were still without power Sunday and blue tarps covered roofs nearby. But under the white tent, there were smiles on worshippers’ faces as they greeted each other, danced to the music and sang hymns.
“Nashville is now primed to show the world what we’re made of,” said Boyd, as the congregation responded “Amen.”
The church, with about 300 members, held before- and after-school care for children, had a gymnasium where kids from the neighborhood could go, put on summer camps for children and provided computer literacy classes for its older congregants.
“We must trust in the savior who does not deliver us from storms, but through storms,” Boyd told the clapping worshippers.
But Boyd said the church is more than the red brick building behind him.
“Now that the brick and mortar is gone, do you still love this community?” he asked as his choir raised their hands and voices in response.
Boyd said the church will continue to hold its services inside the tent. In the meantime, he is hoping other institutions will help the church continue to provide its community services.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, sat in the front row of the folding chairs, shook hands with the church members and bowed their heads in prayer.
“There was a lot of hope here,” Lee said. “God uses people like this in this environment to bring hope to this community, and it was great to see.”
Boyd said that as soon as he saw the demolished buildings, he prayed for guidance.
“I asked God, ‘What do I say in moments like this?’” Boyd said. “And God spoke clearly, as I am speaking to you now. You have to help while hurting.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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