Gillionville Baptist Church in Albany, GA

"Friendliest church in town"

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers clean up the wreckage. (Credit: Ruth Morgan)

Our city and church responded and joined together when, not one, but two devastating storms hit our city in January, 2017.

Albany, known as the “Good Life City,” is located in the southwest part of Georgia. It has its share of problems and issues to deal with. We are a city with a high rate of single parents and welfare households, and we also have those residents who truly do live the good life. In January 2, 2017, a powerful storm packing straight-line winds up to 80 mph hit our city. It was not discretionary in areas it hit. We woke up on the morning of January 3 and tried to go about our business as usual. It didn’t take long to realize we had been hit by a powerful storm. Thousands of homes were without electricity. Streets were impassable with over 2,000 trees blown over, many of them massive towering live oaks hundreds of years old. The churches of our city responded quickly by coming together and spearheading some of the first responders.

A tree twisted by the tornado. (Credit: Ruth Morgan)

I work at Gillionville Baptist Church located in the northwest part of our city. We did not have any damage and we still had electricity. Our church family immediately went into recovery and cleanup mode. Our first concern was for the safety of people. That Tuesday morning, our staff loaded up with hot coffee and Chick-Fil-A biscuits and hit the streets trying to get to people who could not get out of their homes. Others formed chainsaw teams and went to the neighborhoods to start clearing and removing trees from people’s homes. Tractors, front end loaders, bucket trucks, and back hoes were all donated and operated by our members involved in the cleanup. Our volunteers were children, senior adults, and entire families serving together.

It quickly became apparent that we needed a means to feed the victims, many of whom were children that were on the free lunch program at their schools. Feeding teams were formed, and they went out to feed victims and volunteers alike. People made hundreds of sandwiches and cookies, and some donated water, drinks, tarps, or whatever was needed. We partnered with another church, which was closer to many of the victims to make sure the children were being fed.

Sammy James and Timmy Ellis, some of the town’s youngest volunteers, help out with yard cleanup. (Credit: Ruth Morgan)

Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Rapid Response teams were some of the first volunteers to come to our city. They needed a place to house and feed their volunteers. Our senior pastor, Chad Ellis, offered our facilities and before the week was over, volunteers from all over the United States began to show up. Our church family joined together to help make their stay as comfortable as possible. We had laundry teams that washed their dirty clothes daily. We had volunteers open their homes for a young mother to stay with her children in comfort while her husband volunteered. Our people bought food to feed the volunteers and made homemade desserts and snacks for the volunteers. Samaritan’s Purse had their own cooks, but our people volunteered to help with food preparation, cooking, and cleanup. When the Samaritan’s Purse cooks needed a time of rest and recuperation from feeding the hundreds of volunteers, a couple in our church opened their home for a weekend getaway. Our people stepped in and fed the volunteers for the weekend. Our youth hosted a national college football championship tailgate party and a Super Bowl Party for the volunteers. Hugs and listening ears were provided too. Whatever the need, our people (all our people from youth to senior adults) met it.

About the time we felt like we could step back and take a deep breath and get back to some form of normalcy, a F3 tornado hit our city on Sunday, January 22. Without any hesitation, our church family went back into recovery and cleanup mode again. Chainsaw teams, heavy equipment teams, feeding teams, cooking teams, and laundry teams went back into the damaged area, and once again became the hands and feet of Jesus as we served our fellow Albanians. The tornado hit areas not hit by the first storm so we had the opportunity to serve and minister to many more families.

Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Rapid Response teams stayed with us until February 18. Our church hosted college relief teams serving during their spring breaks, and we have teams scheduled to stay with us through the summer.
Although the landscape of our city has changed and may never be the same, the people have changed also. The storms brought out the good in our community and our church family. We were united in our love and concern for our city. Love in our city became the sound of chainsaws. I’m honored to nominate my city and church, Gillionville Baptist Church, as the “Nicest Place in America.”

A cross is cut out of a fallen tree. (Credit: Ruth Morgan)