Region 8 church destroyed, unsure if it'll rebuild

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

SHOFFNER, AR (KAIT) – Members of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church said they would meet to determine whether they should rebuild a third time. According to the National Weather Service, an EF-3 tornado blew in from the southwest, through Shoffner and continued northeast in Jackson County. The twister wrapped a mobile home around a tree, heavily damaged an Entergy substation and destroyed the church.

"My daughter woke me up Saturday morning. Someone had called her or she saw it on Facebook," said Shirley Williams, whose late-father helped rebuild the church after a fire in 1990.

"I told my dad, I said dad, you can rebuild the church. I said it can be rebuilt. And so he took on the responsibility of, with the other members of course, of rebuilding the church," said Williams. "He was just determined to rebuild the church and he worked hard to rebuild the church."

Dan Henry Brown, Williams' father, was a member of the church, which housed an average of 30 people every Sunday.

"That church had a special meaning to me," said Williams. "I was very very sad because I grew up in that church. I was raised in that church from a little girl."

Sherman Dean, a deacon at the church, said the building wasn't extravagant or over the top. He said it was small, but meant a lot to several people.

"It means a lot to me to hear the word church," said Dean. "It'll be important for our lives and our church."

According to Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas, utility crews and volunteers from other communities came to the small Region 8 community to offer assistance over the weekend.

"The best I can remember when I was growing up. The original church had a steeple on it. Like I said, I used to fish down the road and it's been here as long as I can remember," said Lucas.

Church members Sunday picked up some of the debris the tornado left behind. Dean said he believes the pews can be salvaged with a little work. The church was also able to pull a piano and cornerstone from the rubble. The church is possibly thinking about restoring the piano.

"You've got people who have attended this church most of their lives, there's people that have come to this church and turned their lives around and turned their lives over to God and now it's just totally destroyed," said Lucas. "When you grow up as a kid and you remember these small communities like Shoffner and Weldon. It's heartbreaking to them when they see something like this."

The church was first established in 1894 on a cemetery across from what is now a rice field.

"I just love that church. It had a special meaning. It gave me my background," said Williams. "Mt. Zion I still consider it to be my church home because that's where I got my foundation."

The church also was able to salvage hymnals and bibles dedicated to individuals in 2001.

"I met a woman out here yesterday. She came out to look. She said she grew up out here and used to attend this church. But since then she has moved but she wanted to come out and look because she had grown up out here with this church," said Lucas. "She grew up in this church and when she heard that it was destroyed she just felt like she needed to come out and look."

"My dad will always live in that church. I love that church because that church reminds me of my dad. That church is part of my history," said Williams, whose voice was shaken.

"He would be so sad and if he could speak now, he would say yes, rebuild the church," said Williams. "Do all you can to rebuild that church. Mt. Zion is part of the history of Newport and it's been there for years and I would like to see it remain there."

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