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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

When Disaster Strikes: How Other Churches Helped Ours

Seeing a tornado zero in on your town is terrifying. Living in the devastation it brings is horrifying. Responding with the gospel is liberating. 
 
The devastating tornado that recently hit Moore, Oklahoma calls to mind our own church’s experience with similar devastation just last year. On March 2, 2012, the town that I love was reduced to rubble, as were the homes of the people I love. It was beyond imagining. As I drove through our community, I was brought to tears by the destruction around me. I remember asking my wife Sonia, “What are we going to do?”
 
And as our church discovered then, the outpouring of support in Moore, particularly through church fueled relief, is overwhelmingly wonderful. Even NBC correspondent Harry Smith remarked about the response of churches when he said that, "You can wait and wait for the government to show up, but the Baptists will get it done tomorrow." 
 
That is a beautiful testimony of my church’s experience and of where our own hearts are now. My hope is that more churches will partner together for relief efforts and to proclaim the gospel. Hopefully my church’s story will encourage you as we all seek do this in Moore, Oklahoma and elsewhere.
 
PASTORALLY UNPREPARED
 
When the devastation hit our town, I felt overwhelmed and insufficient for the work God had dropped in my lap. My fellow pastors and I knew we needed to reach out both to the needs of our church and to the community around us, and to speak the gospel through it all. But how? 
 

I was not prepared. For far too long my ministry vision was nearsighted. Whether your church is thriving or struggling, it is easy to become self-focused. Before the tornado hit, I had not valued church association, because I was more concerned about us and ours.

But the easy way of selfishness is anti-gospel. The Bible calls us to a caring, cooperating, serving, and giving ministry that puts action to our affirmations.

PAUL’S CALL

In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul calls the church in Corinth to a ministry of cooperation and giving. He was working to send an offering of relief to the church in Jerusalem. They were suffering from a devastating famine. The book of Acts tells us the Jerusalem church had made great sacrifices to meet the needs in their midst, but then found themselves needing more help than they alone could provide. So Paul called the Corinthians to model Christ to the world by using their abundance to meet the needs of other congregations (8:13-15).

In so doing, he teaches us that using the gifts that God has given to meet the needs of other churches is a reflection of Christ’s own love for us (8:9). We do this work knowing that God is the one who provides the resources for our ministry (9:8-10). And we do this, ultimately, so that God would be glorified as his gracious character is made known: “The ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (9:12; cf. vv. 11-15).

The home of one of First Baptist Church of Henryville's deacons after the March 2, 2012 tornado. 

HELP CAME

Our church surely needed help after the tornado. The day after, I woke up not knowing whether help would come. The phone towers had been destroyed in the storm, and only a few calls had come through. But then the calls came, churches responded, and believers joined together to bring us gospel-fueled assistance:

  • First Baptist Church Fairdale showed up Saturday morning and started boarding up the church’s windows and putting tarps on the roof.
  • Bethel Baptist, which is three miles away, housed hundreds of volunteers that helped me love my people for months.
  • Local churches all across our country deployed volunteers and overwhelmed us with financial gifts.
  • Victory Memorial Baptist Church sent a stack of Wal-Mart gift cards for us to give to our neighbors in the community with personalized stickers that read, “From FBC Henryville with love.” 
  • Our state association of churches rushed to our aid with disaster relief. Our SBC State Executive Director Cecil Seagle called to assure me: “Don’t worry. Love your people. Meet needs. Preach the gospel. Money and materials are on the way.” So we did. The next day he shows up with a stack of $500 gift cards.

The stories are too many to tell. This last year, because of the generosity and love of sister churches, we have been able to love our community. We have been able to meet needs, bind up wounds, and most importantly preach the gospel to the people of Henryville. And God has worked mightily! Many individuals have believed. The wind of God’s Spirit has blown and is still blowing, a mighty gust stronger than any tornado.

CARE FOR SISTER CHURCHES

I want to encourage you to turn from a selfish inner-focus to an outward-looking mission focus. This demands a vision for leading churches to care for the needs of their sister churches. It took a tornado to teach me this ministry-altering lesson.

We are co-laborers in the gospel. Many are hurting. Many are in need, and God has given us the resources to assist, to equip, and to evangelize. Let us center our cooperation on the cross and work together for the good of our churches and the glory of our Savior. As we join together in this way, we will be led to declare all the more: “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Toby Jenkins is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Henryville, Indiana. Cade Campbell is the associate pastor for teaching and discipleship of FBC Henryville. 

May/June 2013
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