By Jeff Brumley
The television news stories present a stark before-and-after image of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Morgan, Ark.
First there is the pain Pastor James Hayes and his congregation felt when their century-old church building was flattened by a twister the day after Easter 2011.
“I just thought about … how can I keep the congregation together?” Hayes told KTHV Channel 11 in Little Rock the day after the tornado struck this Central Arkansas community.
But almost two years later Hayes offered a different message for television viewers: one of gratitude and optimism just ahead of the holiday season.
“We are just overwhelmed with what God has created for us,” he told the station on Oct. 21, the day the congregation first worshiped in its new sanctuary.
Hayes also thanked those who helped rebuilding and re-open, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas.
CBFAR’s role in resurrecting the hard-hit church – which is not a member of the Fellowship — began months after the tornado when Charles Ray got a call from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. “Could CBF Arkansas help Mt. Pilgrim rebuild?” the agency asked.
“Since we work closely with ADEM, it was not unusual for this sort of inquiry,” Ray, CBFAR’s special projects coordinator, told ABPnews.
Ray contacted Hayes and quickly learned that while insurance would cover the rebuilding of the structure, it would not provide for furnishings, equipment and appliances.
CBF Responds eventually provided the fixtures for five restrooms and the kitchen. Ray reached out to other faith-based groups to supply kitchen appliances.
The aid continued when Zion Hill Baptist Church, a CBF congregation in Camden, learned that Mt. Pilgrim still needed a sound system for its new building.
Its pastor, Bishop Chester Thompson, donated a complete public address system from a truck used for a children’s street ministry. Then another need arose.
“On the way to lunch he said ‘we don’t have any speakers’” for another part of the building, Thompson said. “The Lord just kept dealing with me about getting him some speakers.”
Helping Mt. Pilgrim boosted Zion Hill’s sense of holiday gratitude, Thompson said.
“This is the way we do things,” Thompson said. “We are a blessed congregation, and it’s awesome what the Lord allows us to do.”
Weeks later, as Ray was preparing to take photos of Mt. Pilgrim’s rededication service, Hayes asked him to join him in leading the procession into the new building instead.
“My feeling was one of honor,” Ray said. “As a CBF representative, it was another door being opened as we show our willingness to give instead of receive.”