JACKSONVILLE, Ark. – A destroyed Jacksonville church is hoping to turn a mess into a message, following the March 31 tornadoes. The mission is being made possible with the help of another church that was left still standing.
You first heard about New Commandment Church of God in Christ on KARK the day after the tornado came through Jacksonville.
Pastor Eddie Miller walked us through what was left of his church, showing the crosses on the wall, his Bible, and a few ‘No Greater Love’ signs as some of the only things left unharmed. The church – just recently paid off – was left destroyed.
Miller’s story became national news after this. One aspect of the story, though, has gone untold until now. It is a story of unity despite devastation.
Just across the street and a hundred or so feet away from New Commandment is another church, Victory Baptist.
That church is still standing today with only minor damage from the tornado, in comparison to what is across the street.
The pastors and congregations share the most important thing in their life in common: their faith. However, for years up until this point, the pastors had never even met, and their congregations worshipped in their own buildings across from each other.
This story changed when Jacksonville, along with many parts of central Arkansas, faced disaster on March 31.
“The day after the storm, I was up on the roof patching holes,” Victory Baptist Pastor Mike Branscum said. “As I just stood up there, I realized that we are only 150 feet away from this story being completely flip-flopped.”
So, he made his way across the street. He introduced himself to Pastor Miller and offered support in this time of need.
The gesture turned into something greater than he had expected, a predominantly white church and a predominantly black church, two different denominations, agreeing to come together to worship the same God.
“We have been brought up different ways and we saw so much history, and there have been so many things that kept us – the races – separated,” Miller said. “We could have went other places to worship, other black churches, but I think it was very important when this opportunity came… to be an example.”
The churches started worshipping together last Sunday. They plan to merge their services even more over the next several months.
“Without the tornado destroying things, we would not be here together,” Miller said. “He [Branscum] would still be here. I would be there.”
Both pastors said this is the God they know: creating something beautiful out of devastation.
“Paul says in Romans that all things can be good for those who love Him and for Him purpose,” Branscum said. “I think God is going to cause good to come from it, and it has already happened.”
In the meantime, as the congregations worship together, New Commandment’s church building will be rebuilt in the same location it was destroyed.
Miller said he hopes to have a new building by the end of the year, and the process of rebuilding could begin as early as next week.
Anyone looking to help as the church recovers can learn more on New Commandment’s Facebook page, or donate via Givelify.