United Methodists help Jackson, Tenn., recover from storms
5/13/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: Photographs are available.
By Cathy Farmer*
The sanctuary at Mother Liberty Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in
Jackson, Tenn., stands in ruins after tornadoes struck the area,
killing 11 people. Throughout west Tennessee, United Methodist
congregations are helping with the recovery - a process that, for some,
begins with their own storm-damaged church buildings. A UMNS photo by
Cathy Farmer. Photo number 03-173, Accompanies UMNS #275, 5/13/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
The church bell and sign stand undamaged amid the ruins of Mother
Liberty Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Jackson, Tenn. Tornadoes
struck the area May 4, killing 11 people. Throughout west Tennessee,
United Methodist congregations are helping with the recovery - a process
that, for some, begins with their own storm-damaged church buildings. A
UMNS photo by Cathy Farmer. Photo number 03-174, Accompanies UMNS #275,
No Long Caption Available for this Story
JACKSON, Tenn. (UMNS) - Some 386,354 people live in
and around Jackson, and every last one of them has a story to tell
about the killer tornadoes that ravaged the city and surrounding west
Tennessee counties in early May.
Some of the stories have happy endings. Some don't.
Dunkin' Donuts in Jackson, a sign directs the unwary to avoid the seats
beneath the hail-damaged plate glass window. "Danger. Don't sit here,"
warns the hand-printed note. Beneath it, on a curled yellow sheet of
paper, some wag has added, "Unless you're Steve. Steve, this is your
Behind the counter, a small woman quickly fills orders
for steaming cups of coffee and chocolate donuts. The sadness in her
eyes is explained as she talks about the cousin she lost during the
"Her funeral is today, and we can't even take a shower,"
she says as she hands over a cup of coffee. "My home is in east Jackson,
what's left of it. We don't have electricity, so we can't wash our
clothes or our towels. I'd feel blessed if I just had some clean
At Highland Park Grocery, the day manager and a young
man have an animated discussion as the clerk finished sacking the young
"I don't have much," the customer says, "but I've
got a whole roof over my head, which is more than most of the people in
east Jackson can say. I feel truly blessed. This is a time for all of us
to pull together and help each other."
The manager nods
fervently. "It's times like these when we need our faith the most," he
said. "I'm lucky. I only lost siding from my house. So many others lost
During the first week of May, waves of storms struck
west Tennessee, and 11 people in Madison County - where Jackson is
located - were killed May 4. Tennessee was one of several states in the
southeast and south central United States hit by severe weather.
west Tennessee, United Methodist congregations are helping with the
recovery - a process that, for some, begins with their own storm-damaged
church buildings. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has
representatives in Jackson, and the agency has already approved a
$10,000 grant for the area.
Out on Jackson's Denmark Road, where
eight people lost their lives, a family gathers to hunt for lost
memories. Among the bits and pieces scattered over the ground are
pictures of the 7-year-old boy who died there. His mother, propped
carefully in a wheelchair, is directing dozens of family members in the
"She left the hospital against doctor's orders to come
here," her brother says. "We're still picking pieces of glass and tin
out of her." He looks over the fields of debris that used to be a home.
"We just want to save some family pictures for her. That's all."
Sullivan, chief executive of the Lexington (Tenn.) Chamber of Commerce,
hair tucked up under a baseball cap, posts another sticky note
requesting help on the wall in front of her desk. "We have 1,500
volunteers coming in on Saturday to help with clean-up," she says. She
adds that she is learning how to handle disasters "on the job."
of the teams are United Methodist volunteers," she says. "I understand
one is from the Tennessee Conference, one from North Carolina and the
other out of Memphis."
Jimmy Whittington, head of disaster
relief for the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference, assigned the teams
to Lexington. "I expect the teams to rotate in and out of the town for
at least a month," he says. He doesn't like for any team to work much
longer than three days at a stretch because the labor is so draining, he
In Crucifer, a small community midway between Lexington
and Jackson, the green fields and widely spaced farms look deceptively
peaceful until a curve in the road brings you to a hand-lettered sign
warning looters to beware. "Speaking for this community," the sign
begins, "in case you think we haven't lost enough, we have gunsâ€¦"
Uprooted trees, flattened barns and imploded houses are visible just
past the sign.
And then there's east Jackson. Block after block
for mile after mile, in the area of the city least able to afford a
disaster, houses, churches, businesses and schools were ravaged. Power
lines droop, telephone poles resemble well-used toothpicks, trees block
streets and lay half in and half out of houses, bicycles are wound like
pretzels, and people sit stunned on bits of front porches.
looks like, feels like, it's overwhelming, it's impossible to recover
from," says Nancy Eubanks, Memphis Conference coordinator of Volunteers
in Mission. "But it isn't. I continue to have faith in the people called
Methodist and their ability to answer the call. My role in this is to
provide the opportunity for other Methodists who want to contribute and
be part of this. We'll take one step at a time, one day at a time, one
person at a time."
She estimates, based on the recovery effort
she oversaw after the tornadoes of 1999, that putting everything back
together could take as long as three years.
told me that anyone who wants to volunteer to help can call him at (731)
645-3241 or the Program Ministry Office at (731) 664-8480," she says.
Volunteers are meeting at 7 a.m. daily at East Trinity United Methodist
Church. Two of the conference's Early Response teams, one from Kentucky
and the other from the Jackson area, are already working in east
"We have two teams working in Dyersburg, one from
Memphis and the other from the Camden area," Whittington says. The Early
Response teams are concentrating on removing debris.
Moseley, program ministry associate related to disaster response, notes
that at least four churches and one parsonage are known to have been
damaged or destroyed. "Jackson First is estimated to have at least $1
million in damages; Northside (in Jackson) has hail, wind and water
damage in the thousands," he says. Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church
in Jackson also was hit, and Shady Grove and Nebo churches, both in
Henderson County, suffered minimal damage, he says.
Sharon Lewis Karamoko, who serves Keys Chapel in Lexington, was at home
when the storm struck. As she knelt praying in the bathroom, the
parsonage was destroyed around her.
Lambuth University in Jackson is providing lodging for volunteer workers
and also space for businesses - including the local Procter &
Gamble operation - that were hit hard by the storms.
away, United Methodists in Vilonia, Ark., have sent word that they want
to help out in Jackson. Just weeks ago, when the church's youth group
was traveling through Jackson to a music festival in Kentucky, an
accident claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy in the group. Members of
the group say the Jackson community surrounded them with God's love. Now
they want to return the favor. Through their district superintendent,
the church sent word that they want to cook for the volunteers.
One step at a time, United Methodists are answering the call in Jackson. # # # *Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.