Post-Storm Healing Begins In Alabama

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Tornadoes and storms ripped through the South this week, killing hundreds of residents. In this "Faith Matters" segment, host Michel Martin speaks with Rev. Schmitt Moore, the pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., about the devastation his parish is facing and how faith is involved in the recovery effort.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

In a few minutes, your chance to talk back about what you've heard on the air or read on our blog this week. And we also have a little news about a member of the TELL ME MORE family. That's coming up.

But first, it's time for Faith Matters. That's the part of the program where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. Today, we wanted to turn to Reverend Schmitt Moore. He is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Tuscaloosa has been devastated by the violent tornados that ripped through large parts of the South earlier this week and killed hundreds of people. Reverend Moore, thanks so much for joining us.

Reverend SCHMITT MOORE (Bethel Baptist Church): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I understand that you were called to that church in 1983. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Rev. MOORE: Never, never seen it before in my life. I just had a ride-through about an hour before I came here. And what I heard is no comparison to what I saw. Great, super devastation and just words cannot describe it.

MARTIN: One of our reporters for NPR went to the Alberta City neighborhood and spoke with resident Verana Comocal(ph). And I just want to play a short clip of what she had to say.

Ms. VERANA COMOCAL: It took away Alberta City. The Alberta City that I know. I will never be the same. They can rebuild and build, but it'll never Alberta City.

MARTIN: Now, Reverend Moore, I know it's just early days. I'm sure many people are still in shock. But is that what you're hearing? Is that a common feeling that people thinking I just can't recover from this?

Rev. MOORE: I don't know whether we're saying we can't recover. We're saying it will never be the same again. We will not have the same community again. We still have resolve. We still have our people. We still have our faith. We've lost some people. And we believe that with our faith we will make it. What we'll look like in the future, the future will tell. We will not look like we've looked in the past.

MARTIN: Now, you're going to preach on Sunday, presumably.

Rev. MOORE: I plan to, yes.

MARTIN: Do you have any idea what you're going to say?

Rev. MOORE: Well, I'm wrestling with an idea that says, quoting God, can you hear me now? I really - and I'm wrestling with that idea simply because I believe that God speaks through situations and circumstances. And many times, I think he chooses to speak to situations, circumstances because many times we do not hear nor heed the word, the written word, the preached word, the talked word. Now, and I'm not saying that God sent the storm. I do think he has registered attention to the storm, attention that we need to give him.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that your hands are quite full these days, that you have more than 200 people sleeping at the church right now. Do I have that right? And that you're also offering what you can in the way of, you know, clothing, food and other assistance to people. Do I have that right?

Rev. MOORE: We do not have people sleeping in the church. We - many people are sleeping in rec centers. Our church is available. We are helping to feed and buying clothing, things of that nature. And we will organize efforts. I've had calls from pastors from out of state who want to organize an on-the-ground help for people. So we're in the process of doing that.

MARTIN: So can I ask how you're doing?

Rev. MOORE: You know, I am blessed. I hate to say that I can't be happy. I look around, I have three sons live in the city. They and all their children are safe. Their homes are safe. My home is safe. But I can't rejoice and that's because my community has been so crippled. And I'm almost embarrassed that I can't say hooray. And I'm grateful that I'm spared - my family has been spared.

By my extended family hurts. And so here I am, I'm swinging from emotion to emotion. I'm so grateful that I'm spared, but I'm so hurt that many of my community members are not. Neighborhoods are leveled to the ground.

MARTIN: Well, our thoughts are very much with you at this time.

Rev. MOORE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Reverend Schmitt Moore is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And as you heard, Tuscaloosa is one of the hardest hit. Alabama is among the hardest hit areas. Tuscaloosa, the hardest hit in Alabama of that devastating line of storms that passed through the South earlier this week. And he was kind enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to talk with us.

Reverend Moore, we - our thoughts and our prayers are with you and your community at this time.

Rev. MOORE: Thank you so much.

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