By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
It was more than a rebuilding project and re-dedication ceremony, it has been the resurrection of a church that was destroyed in the April 2011 tornado that raked Chickasaw County.
Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church has been a part of the Buena Vista Community since the 1800s and has seen membership rise and fall. So when the tornado of 2011 totally demolished the building, many wondered if it would survive.
“We’ve always been a small congregation that served people in this community,” said Thomas Guido, a member of Pleasant Grove. “We didn’t have a lot of money and our people – many who were also devastated by that storm – don’t have a lot of resources.”
But Pleasant Grove M.B. Church has been rebuilt and they are regularly adding new members at the new church in Northeast Chickasaw County.
“I won’t ever say the tornado was good, but God worked powerfully through a lot of good people to make good things happen,” said Guido. “We’ve got a new building, a larger building and we actually grew in membership during the time we were without a building.”
And to give perspective, the tornado had literally reduced to rubble the church at the intersection of County Roads 402 and 159.
“They found our church sign in Fulton,” said Guido. “I was baptized in that church when I was nine-years-old. We were devastated.”
But that is when First Baptist Church of Okolona and later 8-Days-Of-Hope came alongside the church and helped it rebuild.
“Just a few days after the tornado our church blocked off a sizable chunk of money and began praying for those hurt in that storm,” said Rev. Eric Boykin of First Baptist Church Okolona. “We saw where that church was destroyed and we later met with Thomas and Pastor Alan Atkinson.”
And Guido said members of FBC Okolona did more than just give money.
“They had people show up to hammer nails, paint and help us roof,” said Guido. “They brought food and fed our crews. They also brought food and clothes to our members. They showed they really cared.”
FBC Okolona named Bobby Hester, a local contractor, as the point person from their church. Guido was named the site foreman for Pleasant Grove.
Both Guido and Boykin said Hester was on the job every day except Sunday for six months, checking on materials, organizing work crews and even hanging doors and painting when necessary.
“I can’t tell you how blessed we were,” Guido said.
“I can’t tell you how blessed we were,” said Boykin.
Both men said something special happened as the walls went up and the community saw the church being rebuilt.
And that spirit also touched Eight-Days-Of-Hope.
Eight-Days-Of-Hope is a Christian-based volunteer organization that sends in work crews, certified plumbers and electricians and even materials to do construction projects and repairs to storm damaged homes in an eight-day span.
“We were led to Mississippi after the tornado and normally work with families getting them back in their homes,” said Steve Tybor, of Eight-Days-Of Hope. “We saw the passion both these churches had and quickly realized this was a unique project that we wanted to be part of.”
Ed Gifford, from Kansas City, Mo., did the electrical work through Eight-Days-Of-Hope. He actually stayed much longer than eight days, tending to details and hooking up fixtures and air conditioning units as they were installed.
“Ed fell in love with the people in that area,” said Tybor. “Pleasant Grove fell in love with Ed.”
And through it all Pleasant Grove continued to hold services and meet the needs of members in the community.
“The church became the rallying point for the community,” said Guido. “People would drive by and see the church going up and realize things were getting better.
“They would also drive by and stop to see what we were doing,” Guido added. “That’s when we asked them where they went to church, what their needs were and told them where we were meeting every Sunday.”
And while all this culminated with a first service in the new building in May and a formal dedication service in June, FBC Okolona, Pleasant Grove and Eight-Days-of-Hope point out it is not the end.
“We baptized two people last week,” said Guido.
“Ed Gifford and his wife drove all the way from Kansas City to attend the dedication ceremony,” said Tybor.
“We have people in our church who have made dear friends with members at Pleasant Grove,” said Boykin.
And the blessing and ministry of all involved continues.