"Blessing in disguise": Churches join together after the tornado

"Blessing in disguise": Churches join together after the tornado

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Christian Tabernacle of the Apostolic Faith was one of many buildings destroyed in the EF-3 tornado that tore through the Pine Belt on January 21, 2017. 

"There's an old saying that says you don't miss the water until the well run dry, so we definitely miss being here," said Pastor Melvin Hudson, at the site of the church that was built off Edwards Street in the late 1920's.  Now, all that remains is a concrete slab and cleared dirt.

"A lot of memories, a lot of memories, it's just hard to remember all the thoughts that was going through my mind then," said Hudson.  "But, the most important one was that we were all safe."

Pastor Hudson preached at Christian Tabernacle for 25 years and wasn't going to stop after the storm.  He said he was able to have a service on Sunday, January 22, 2017, at the Holiday Inn on Highway 49.   That is where his congregation would meet for several Sundays to come.

"It took a minute not to just drive by, sit in the car and say, 'wow, where do we go from here?'" said Hudson.

The word spread through the community that the congregation needed a place to worship, other than a hotel, and that's when Pastor Hudson was connected to Pastor Ryan Ruckel at Ridgecrest Baptist Church. 

"The way we understand disaster is God spares, and then when disaster strikes, God also rebuilds," said Ruckel.  "God binds and brings us together, just like this community has done."

Ridgecrest Baptist Church had a large building connected to the church that was unfinished at the time that Pastor Ruckel was more than happy to share.

"We had a lot of unfinished space that wasn't suitable for Christian Tabernacle to meet in, so it's helped us as a space to get it together as god would like it," said Ruckel.

With the help of volunteers, they were able to carpet the floors and paint the cinder block in several rooms of the building.  About three months after the tornado tore apart his church, Pastor Hudson and his congregation had a new "home" to go to.  The space, now shared for services, Sunday school and bible study.  

"They've been such an encouragement to us," said Ruckel.  "They are so concerned that they wouldn't be a burden and we've been concerned that they would feel welcome. It's like both churches have gone overboard to try to be in fellowship with each other."

Both Pastor Hudson and Pastor Ruckel say the storm is "maybe a blessing in disguise," creating a fellowship from just two miles down the road.

'We really enjoy being there, it's almost as if Ridgecrest is our home now,' said Hudson.

As for this concrete slab and empty space off Edwards Street, it will stay that way.  Pastor Hudson says he was already in the process of building a bigger church off Old Airport Road in Hattiesburg.

"We don't understand why storms hit our lives or why storms come in our lives, but I think they all are necessary," said Hudson.  "Everything works together for the good of them that loves the lord."

"We have a lot of stories about Mississippi that are often uncomplimentary and don't really account for what the "ordinary" people are. None of these people are ordinary," said Ruckel.  "They're all extraordinary in generosity, simple love and desire to be in fellowship together."

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