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Tornado-torn Smithville Celebrates Outdoor Church Service

By Sandra Knispel | Published 02 May 2011 03:36pm | comments
Nearly 500 worshipped on Sunday in a tent pitched in front of the destroyed Smithville Baptist Church.

Roughly 500 turned out for the Smithville Baptist Church’s Sunday service, just four days after the small town in northeast Mississippi was largely destroyed by a tornado, which killed 14 residents. MPB’s Sandra Knispel filed this report from Smithville.

It was an emotional service here with worshipers wiping away tears and hugging each other repeatedly. What was unusual about the service was not just the record-setting number of attendees but also its location: a big, white tent anchored firmly in the parking lot of the demolished church. Student minister Todd Summerford greeted the crowd:

Good morning and welcome to Smithville Baptist Church! [huge applause from congregation]

An emotional pastor Wes White recalled what happened here Wednesday afternoon.

“Todd Summerford and I, our student minister, were being idiots. There’s no other way to say it than that. We were standing outside watching this thing," White recalled. "Fortunately for us, some wonderful folks from the mobile home park down here came and were looking for a place of safety and so in order for us to take care of them we quit gawking.”

The service, while remembering the victims of the tornado, was based around the theme of resurrection and hope, telling stories of the survivors. One of those stories was that of sisters Cassidy and Audrey Herren, aged 11 and 16, who were home alone when the twister struck their house. Audrey says they managed to dive at the last second into the hallway, covering their heads with pillows.

“We stood up and I knew there was nothing left of the house because both sides of our house were caved in but around us was still standing. [reporter: “So you’re saying just the hallway was standing?”] Just the hallway and the outside wall of our house was still standing. Everything else was either caved in or gone," Audrey Herren said.

Again pastor White: “Resurrect Smithville. Resurrect our homes, resurrect our families, resurrect our churches. Let a fresh outpouring of your love and compassion fill us today. In your name we pray, amen.”

Already residents and volunteers have begun the Herculean task of cleaning up Smithville. Faith may help many to see this community of just over 1,000 through this trying time. Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Smithville.

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Nearly 500 worshipped on Sunday in a tent pitched in front of the destroyed Smithville Baptist Church.


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