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Shaken Faithful Seek Comfort Of Destroyed Ala. Church

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared today a statewide Day of Prayer for the victims of the tornadoes that swept through the South on Wednesday. In a state where religious faith is ever-present and a rallying point for communities, prayer is an essential part of healing.

From member station WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, Andrew Yeager reports on the role of churches in the state's recovery.

ANDREW YEAGER: Bryan Mitchell is trying to give away food and water.

(Soundbite of knocking)

YEAGER: He and other volunteers from Birminghams Church of the Highlands drive through the hard-hit Pratt City neighborhood.

Mr. BRYAN MITCHELL (Volunteer, Church of the Highlands): Yes, maam. weve got hamburgers. How many do you need?

Unidentified Woman #1: Two.

Mr. MITCHELL: Just two?

YEAGER: The pickup truck bed is stacked with not just burgers but chips, cookies, drinks - ketchup, if you need it.

Scottie Hill sits in front of her uncles damaged home. Her house is next door, cockeyed on the foundation. Hill says shes glad to see the church groups because theyre here to help, not gawk.

Ms. SCOTTIE HILL: Its a blessing just for somebody to come by and pass you a bottle of water, and not to mention food and toiletries - the things that you need. So I just consider that a real blessing.

YEAGER: Church of the Highlands is a 14,000-member, suburban mega church. So theyve deployed people across north central Alabama, working around the clock. Associate Pastor Robert Record is trying to coordinate the efforts.

Reverend ROBERT RECORD (Associate Pastor, Church of the Highlands): The real problem is logistics here - is matching up resources and needs.

YEAGER: One need might be a ride to a shelter, or chainsaws to cut through trees. Meanwhile, food, water and relief supplies are coming in from across the country.

Rev. RECORD: By the end of the day Tuesday, well have 11, 18-wheelers - have come from Virginia alone.

YEAGER: Record says that sounds like a lot, but itll go straight to victims and first responders. The need is that great.

Many churches around Birmingham are offering food and collecting supplies. Still others are preparing for the next step.

(Soundbite of conversations)

Ms. TRISA MOUTARDIER (Early-Response Trainee): Good morning.

Unidentified Woman #2: Good morning.

Ms. MOUTARDIER: This is my name badge Im taking?

Unidentified Woman #2: Uh-huh.

YEAGER: Trisa Moutardier registers at this early-response training hosted by a Methodist church in Alabaster, Alabama. Shes actually missing her sons soccer game. The training will create teams to go into disaster areas after first responders have finished their jobs. Theyll help clean up debris, stabilize homes and assess damage.

Moutardier has never done this before. So shes anxious, but hopeful.

Ms. MOUTARDIER: Just lend a helping hand - I think you feel better about yourself when you help somebody else. And theres a lot of things we cant do, but we can go out and help them. So...

YEAGER: Christy Smith runs this workshop for the United Methodist Committee on Relief. She says in a place like Alabama, where people are generally more religious, there is something different about relief work by a church.People expect Gods help.

Ms. CHRISTY SMITH (Field Consultant, United Methodist Committee on Relief): Well show up at a door and someone will say, Im not surprised to see you. I knew God would send someone.

YEAGER: But these are all efforts by people mostly left untouched by the storms. Thats not the case with everyone.

Ms. KAMISHA QUATES (Member, Bethel Baptist Church): Wow, thats our church and weve been there 30 years.

YEAGER: Kamisha Quates goes to Bethel Baptist Church. Its in that decimated Pratt City area of Birmingham. Sanctuary walls are gone. Two-by-fours and insulation cover the pews. Many of the 2,000 congregants live in the neighborhood, but Quates says miraculously, no one from the church died. Bethel will hold a service today at a nearby arena. Quates expects emotions will run from sadness to joy.

Ms. QUATES: I think were going to have a, you know, like a spirit-filled, move-of-God service. At least, thats what Im hoping for myself.

YEAGER: Quates says theyve found a location to meet for the rest of the year, and theres no question theyll rebuild. Theyve lost the church building, she emphasizes, not their church.

YEAGER: For NPR News, Im Andrew Yeager. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Yeager