Church plant grows out of disaster relief
RENICK—The tornado on last March 12 was devastating to this small town located about eight miles south of Moberly in Randolph County. The storm killed four people, destroyed homes and caused considerable damage.
“You could follow the path of the thing through the broken trees, the broken houses,” Mark DeShon remembered.
The storm also opened a door for the Gospel. With chain saws running, Disaster Relief volunteers with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) walked through that door. Local churches followed with outreach efforts. As a result, the first worship service of a new church plant in Renick will be held on March 11, one year after the deadly tornado.
“We’re hoping to commemorate that anniversary with some new life,” said DeShon, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Moberly. He will also lead services at the new church in the town of about 300 residents.
Last year’s storm was so devastating partly because it struck so early in the year, before most people were on alert to watch for tornados. The tornado moved through Renick on a Sunday night as one of 17 tornados that day—an outbreak that the National Weather Service called one of the worst on record.
Within two days, volunteers with a regional Baptist disaster team were on the scene. The chain saw crews cleared fallen trees, cleaned up debris and helped with some rebuilding. The team also prepared meals at a school.
Ministry in action defines the work of Disaster Relief, said Danny Decker, coordinator of the convention’s Disaster Relief effort.
“In the process, we show the love of Christ. We make that very evident,” Decker said. “We’re unapologetic about it.”
The people of Renick were touched not only by the cleanup work of the team, DeShon said, but also by their servant-like attitude and willingness to do whatever was needed.
Drawn to Renick because of the disaster work, local church members became burdened by the spiritual needs of the residents. The town has no church of any denomination. DeShon said they talked to community leaders about beginning a mission and received a warm reception.
“The town is very aware that there’s no church there,” he said.
The church planting team for the combined associations of Mt. Pleasant, Monroe and Mt. Zion felt led to the community.
“The people seemed to be really excited we came down to provide relief. It put us in a good position to start a church plant,” said Rick Hall, pastor of First Baptist Church, Keytesville and leader of the team.
This fall, they began doing survey work and visiting homes in Renick.
“We received the most positive response I’ve ever seen in door-to-door visiting,” DeShon said.
“We found a very positive response from visits when they found out we were associated with the same folks who did the disaster relief,” he said. “They really left an overwhelmingly good impression on the people in town.”
The local government has offered use of its meeting room for the church, which will meet on Sunday evenings. The association is not sure what to expect from the mission, but Hall said they plan to follow some of the same methods used in other efforts. This will be the fifth plant in five years for the association.
“We realized one of the best evangelism tools we have is to do church plants. We’ve had overwhelming positive response,” Hall said.
Hall is also the pastor of Musselfork Community Church, which launched last year. The association is hopeful of developing a model for rural church planting.
“A lot of materials we read are based on urban areas. Out here, you have to be in it for the long haul,” Hall said. “You just have to have the mindset it’s going to take several years.”
The willingness of the volunteers to show God’s love through hard work demonstrated that Baptists want to make a long-term investment, local church leaders believe.
“When people really know you care, it touches them at a level you can’t achieve any other way,” Decker said. “It really stirred up interest in the community that God knows them. He does care about them.”
Renick is the first church plant to sprout directly from disaster work in the state, he said. DeShon said he wants the Disaster Relief laborers to know that the impression they made on the people they worked with is having a lasting impact.
In an exceptionally busy year for Disaster Relief workers who have responded to tornados, ice storms and other events throughout the state, Decker said the news from Renick is encouraging.
“We’re excited and thrilled that God worked through that disaster,” he said. “God blessed the labor and now there’s going to be a church plant.”