Giving thanks for survival
The parsonage of the Aldridge Grove, Ala., church was shredded to its foundation by Wednesday's EF-4 tornado. No one was home when the twister hit.
But inside the unscathed red brick church on Alabama 36 at Lawrence County 183, four dozen worshipers sang hymns with words about God’s protection: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name” and “In his arms he’ll take and shield thee ..." Minister James Bryant preached about heaven.
“Are you prepared for that heavenly home?” he asked. “Think about it. We’ve had ample evidence that life can be taken from us in a moment.”
Bryant and others thanked God in prayers that no one in the congregation was killed, although several had property damaged and one man was hurt.
The preacher prayed for family and friends of the four from the community who died and for those injured and suffering loss.
Bryant called by name two who came to Christ and were baptized at the church Wednesday night. One of those was Chris Dutton, 26.
Before the service, Dutton said he just missed being inside his mobile home, which was struck and tumbled by the EF-4 tornado before dawn Wednesday. He said he had just gotten home from work at International Paper when his mother phoned and asked him to come over because the storm was approaching.
Dutton said he normally did not heed such warnings because he thought nothing would ever happen, but “a feeling” sent him to his parents’ house. With his parents and siblings, he stood in a bathroom, hearing the wind pick up and then roar.
He said he did not want to think about what would have happened to him if he had stayed in his mobile home.
“I have a new life. I’m glad I’m here,” he said. “Christ is the only one that can save me.”
Song leader’s home hit
The tornado hit homes, farms and woods within a few miles of the church. One house damaged was that of Sunday’s song leader, Kenny Aldridge. Another was the home of his son, Christopher Aldridge, which “looked like it exploded,” Kenny said before the service.
He prayed at the end, thanking God for the health of those gathered, for sparing their church, for giving shelter and clothing and for spiritual blessings.
Afterward, Lela Johnson said the storm damaged her roof, but volunteers from the Moulton Fire Department had already repaired it. Other helpers have cut up five large trees that were blown down, she said.
Lela Johnson said her sister-in-law called to wake her up early Wednesday and told her to leave. She did, stopping at her son’s house on her way to a neighbor’s storm pit.
Her son, Dwight Johnson, stayed and was caught when the storm struck his house, originally part of a barn, she said. He survived behind his sofa, and told a Decatur Daily reporter on Thursday that he did not have time to pray before but did after.
Lela Johnson said she was devastated seeing her house and all of the toppled trees, but it felt wonderful getting to be at church Sunday.
“Every morning it’s good to see the sun shine,” she said.
Nightmare in 1974
She recalled a terrible tornado from the past. She said her sister and her sister’s husband and their four children were killed in the 1974 tornado that ravaged the Tennessee Valley.
The preacher told his congregation that someone reported finding one of his 500 sermons blown from the church’s demolished parsonage in the parking lot of 3M in Decatur.
Bryant and his wife, Shirley, said they did not live in the house during the week but used it on weekends.
The preacher said he lost the sermons plus several Bibles and 30 years of Bible-study material. Shirley Bryant said she lost most of her shoes. She said she was especially sad about losing her grandmother’s rings, necklaces and pins.
After he preached, Bryant reminded his congregation that stew would be served that day.
The food brought in by members, at least 10 churches and others was feeding victims and volunteers, said church secretary and meal coordinator Elizabeth Henderson. She was spending her 64th birthday sending out helpers to deliver meals, accepting donations and making sure that crocks of stew were hot.
“Doing this makes me happy on my birthday,” she said.
On his way out, Dutton said fear made him realize it was time to turn to God.
“He showed me his power.”
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