The pastors of three churches whose buildings sustained major damage in Gatlinburg, Tenn., wildfires Nov. 28 say God is at work in their congregations despite sadness and tragedy.
Meanwhile, Tennessee Baptist Convention executive director Randy Davis has called for prayer amid ongoing ministry efforts by Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief workers.
Some 15,000 acres in and around the resort area of Gatlinburg have burned thus far, with four deaths reported and “hundreds of structures and homes” destroyed, Knoxville’s WBIR TV reported.
Larry Burcham, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, said it is “amazing” the congregation’s worship center didn’t burn when fire claimed a renovated motel next door that the church used for storage, youth ministry and a custodian’s residence.
“The firemen did some extra special work down there and saved our church building,” Burcham told Baptist Press. “I’m still not sure how.”
Burcham has spoken with about a dozen church members who lost their homes in the fire, including Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner and city manager Cindy Ogle.
“The people here are very tenacious,” Burcham said, “and they’re obviously in touch with reality enough that this hurts and it’s discouraging. But yet they believe God’s still with us as well, walking with us through this situation.”
Pastor Kim McCroskey of Roaring Fork Baptist Church, which lost its entire facility to fire, said he expects a revival that has been occurring among the congregation to continue.
Roaring Fork, which averages some 230 in worship, baptized 29 people last year and approximately 10 over the first three months of its current church year, McCroskey said. The congregation has paid off $700,000 in debt over eight years.
People are “being saved and will be baptized in creeks and rivers and borrowed baptisteries until we get our building back,” McCroskey told BP.
He hopes the two buildings which were destroyed both will be rebuilt within a year. In the near future, the congregation plans to meet in a camp facility owed by the local Sevier County Association of Baptists.
“We’ve had overcrowding problems for a few years now, with people having to look for seats,” McCroskey said, noting the congregation had been saving to build a new worship center. “Now we’re going to get that taken care of. We’ve just got to stay strong and stay focused.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press