By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
SMITHVILLE – For hundreds of yards along either side of Hwy 25 in Smithville, the highest thing standing is corn. Green corn, tall and thirsty, acres of it, framing a wide swath strafed clear of houses, trees and just about anything created by the hand of God or man.
To the Christian imagination, the flat landscape calls to mind Psalm 65:10, which speaks of a leveling of the earth and a blessing of the crop.
Last Thursday, Mark Woomer and his boys worked in the midday heat, removing debris from the yard of a damaged home.
The boys came over from New Horizons Christian Fellowship in Starkville because they had a few hours to help. They didn’t know whose yard they were cleaning.
Rebuilding Smithville is going to take a large-scale effort, a well thought out plan, like the ones being devised by the five advisory councils. It’s going to take money, government and private enterprise and time.
While those engines build up steam, Christians in Smithville are doing an extraordinary job.
“It doesn’t take a big organization, or the government to do this,” said Bill Steverson. Around the perimeter of the fellowship hall at Smithville Church of Christ, diapers, cleaning supplies and cases of non-perishable food were stacked waist high. Since the United Way moved its distribution center to Amory in order to make room for building materials, Steverson’s church has become “about the only game in town,” as he he put it, dispensing to needy citizens everything from hygiene products to kitchen appliances.
“This comes from individuals,” said Steverson. “All different denominations.”
The church has more bottled water, peanut butter and shoes than it can give away.
“There’s a sense that we can’t just sit back, that it’s important for us to do what we can for ourselves,” said Michele Wardlaw, a member of Trace Road Baptist Church. She’s one of many Smithville women making sure teachers and students have what they need when they go back to school in mobile classrooms on Aug. 15.
“Kids have so much to worry about at home, they don’t need to worry about having classroom supplies,” said Wardlaw. “Teachers need to worry about lesson plans, not stocking their rooms,” she said.
Last Friday Wardlaw and members of Meadowood Baptist Church helped Smithville teachers in kindergarten through second grade salvage what they could from their damaged classrooms. Volunteers will make up the difference through drives and out their own pockets if they have to, they say.
Other Smithvillians have worked with symbols of hope and recovery.
“I wanted to do something, contribute in some way, so I started making these,” said Verna Coleman, holding up one of the beautiful crosses she made from fragments of the broken, stained glass windows from Smithville Baptist Church.
She gave several of the keepsakes as gifts to church members who sponsored a window in memory of deceased loved ones.
Recently volunteers have focused on getting ready for school. It’s hard to overstate what the first day of class will mean to the town.
Steverson used to work as a contractor. He’s a capable, Christian man in a town full of capable, Christian people. He has a grandson in the Smithville school and his daughter, like her mother before her, teaches there.
“This is the work of good, God-fearing people,” said Steverson, referring to the generosity of Christians at home and abroad.
The Church of Christ plans to provide a whirlpool for Smithville athletic teams, bass drums for the marching band and filing cabinets for the school nurses.
Other Smithville residents, like Jessica Davis, a member of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church, are working to provide computers, microwaves and other helpful items for college- bound, recently graduated seniors.
Wardlaw has more than 10 years experience as a licensed day-care provider, and she’s preparing to open an after-school enrichment program for children ages three through 12 at Trace Road Baptist Church.
She intends to keep costs to a minimum and she’s working on securing grants for scholarships.
Studies have shown that children, understandably, tend to lose focus on education after a disaster like the one in Smithville, Wardlaw said. Like many Christian mothers, she wants her town’s children to be an exception.
Patsy Frederick is the joyful recipient of one of Coleman’s stained glass crosses. Last Thursday she held her small treasure, standing with friends on the dirt lot where Smithville Baptist once stood.
The congregation has been holding services at Trace Road Baptist Church, and by the first Sunday in September members hope to be worshiping in a temporary building that’s nearing completion on Olive Street.
An upcoming vote will decide if Smithville Baptist will rebuild on its previous spot, or if it will move to a new location about a mile south on Hwy. 25.
Either way, according to the Rev. Wes White, his congregation and other Smithville churches will continue to play a vital role in civic life. Several ministers serve on Monroe County’s long term recovery committee and in other public, leadership roles. Officials say the ministers are an important voice in the conversation about Smithville’s future.
There’s a lot of work to be done, Frederick said, but she sees the promise of God’s blessing in her friend’s gift.
“Hope and resurrection, that’s what it means to me,” she said, looking at the cross.
Beyond the church, the strong, green corn stood high in the blinding sun.