Greater Grace: God’s Work Amid Tornado Tragedy in Tennessee

After recent storms, churches in the southern U.S. are trusting in the Lord for future restoration.

A lot can happen in 60 seconds.

That’s the amount of time it took for a tornado to demolish a 35-year-old infrastructure that was home to Grace Baptist Church and Grace Baptist Academy.

Close to midnight on Easter Sunday, deadly storms ravaged Chattanooga, Tenn., including a category-three tornado that ripped through the east side of the city and created a four-mile stretch of devastating damage.

Grace Baptist Church—a longtime partner who supports more than 20 ABWE missionaries—sat near the center of the twister’s path.

Partial damage to rear of sanctuary.

Mike Swanson, former ABWE missionary and current executive pastor of Grace Baptist, lives just three miles from the church, but fallen trees and live wires prevented him from driving to the property until early Monday. What he saw when he arrived astonished him.

“I’ve never been in a warzone, but it looked like a bomb went off,” said Swanson.

With roofing torn to shreds and yellow insulation oozing between tattered steel beams, the scene immediately prompted Swanson to respond with a single word.

“[It was] awesome,” explained Swanson. “I know we typically think about this word in the positive sense,” said Swanson. “But I mean it in its truest form: something that inspires awe and takes your breath away.”

Debris inside a hallway with missing roof.

All of the complex’s 13 buildings were affected. Swanson estimates that repair costs will total near $20 million.

However, after the initial shock had worn off, a new word occupied Swanson’s attitude and that of the church leadership: opportunity.

The catastrophe offers a fresh start for the church to make adjustments to buildings and implement long-awaited changes—albeit at a hefty price. According to Swanson, every member who has visited the campus has done so with tear-filled eyes, grieving over memories now reduced to rubble.

Downed power line with battered missionary guest house in background.

Nevertheless, he believes the Lord will use this calamity to strengthen the congregation and to further God’s glory. Just as after the crucifixion came resurrection, the pastor anticipates rejuvenation and new life when the time of mourning for the church has passed.

“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” said Swanson. “Job complained and went through inner turmoil, but he eventually came around to see that God had something better in store.”

Swanson also shared that COVID-19 had already began to teach them to embrace the adage that “the church isn’t a building; it’s a people.” Little did they know that this wisdom would be put to the test in a tangible way. Now Grace Baptist must embrace a greater grace, resting in the knowledge that God has better plans in store.

Support Compassion in the USA

ABWE is in the process of assessing the damage that our partner churches have sustained from the recent storms in the US South and Southeast. Please consider giving to this relief fund in this time of crisis.