The pastor of a church that became a center for shelter, help and grieving when a tornado killed 23 people in eastern Alabama said in his first Sunday service after the storm that the Lord has reached out his hand to the community.

Imperfect things like tornadoes and other tragedies happen because we live in an imperfect world, Providence Baptist Church Pastor Rusty Sowell said Sunday.

His sermon focused on the Bible verse Isaiah 41:13: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Katie Nobles photographs crosses representing the 23 lives lost in the tornado that hit the Beauregard community on March 3, to share with her friend who was injured in the storm and lost loved ones, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Katie Nobles photographs crosses representing the 23 lives lost in the tornado that hit the Beauregard community on March 3, to share with her friend who was injured in the storm and lost loved ones, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Nearly 100 people safely rode out the March 3 storm in the church, which then because a center for donations and the place where Sowell and the county coroner told families they had lost loved ones.

This Sunday, 23 crosses sat outside the country church, one for each victim of the huge EF4 tornado that roared through Beauregard a few hours after last Sunday’s services with 170 mph (270 kph) and a path nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide.

As she sat in a pew, Sunday, Cindy Samford said all her emotions hit her suddenly. She lost her home in the storm hours after last week’s service.

Carolyn Thrower, a church member, talks with the media Sunday about the power of the church in a disaster following a morning service, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Carolyn Thrower, a church member, talks with the media Sunday about the power of the church in a disaster following a morning service, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

“I’m heartbroken by the loss of lives and the devastation of it all. Today in church was a confirmation of faith that God was watching over us. God has his hands on us,” Samford said.

President Donald Trump visited the church Friday as he looked at the damage, signing Bibles for some victims there seeking help.

Sowell said it was easy to speak badly about the president and wondered if some of the critics owned Bibles.

Kathi Pierce, from left, Joyce Ross and Tammy Johnson gather food packages for volunteers and victims of the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Kathi Pierce, from left, Joyce Ross and Tammy Johnson gather food packages for volunteers and victims of the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

“My first thought is if that is what you are worried about, bring your raggedy self down here to our corner of the world and get to work,” Sowell said to applause from the packed congregation. “The ones that are running their mouths are not down here getting their hand dirty, walking alongside the walking wounded.”

But most of Sowell’s sermon was how God reaches out his hand in times of need. He talked about how the church built a second building across the street with showers, a full kitchen and a large gathering space after the area was devastated by Hurricane Opal in 1995 and could not get help.

That building became the center of the relief efforts after the tornado.

Volunteer Lelia Gilmer seeks comfortable clothes for a member of the Robertson family as they prepare to return from the hospital after being injured in the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Volunteer Lelia Gilmer seeks comfortable clothes for a member of the Robertson family as they prepare to return from the hospital after being injured in the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

“This is why this building is here,” Sowell said. “And God knew.”

Carolyn Thrower said being at Providence Baptist this Sunday was awe inspiring, knowing they were helping to show God’s love and healing.

“Church always helps, but today it was a special blessing,” she said.

Lucas Kintz-Roberts offers his respects by signing a cross that represents one of 23 lives lost in the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Lucas Kintz-Roberts offers his respects by signing a cross that represents one of 23 lives lost in the March 3 Beauregard tornados, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Supplies continue to pour into the church, and Sowell said he was amazed at the generosity of people, even if Providence Baptist was dealing with a problem many places face after a disaster — too much donated water and clothing.

“Please we don’t need any more,” Sowell said of the thousands of cases of water and bags of clothes. “In fact, everyone here gets to carry home a case of water.”

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Senior pastor Rusty Sowell talks with the median front of his church following a morning service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior pastor Rusty Sowell talks with the median front of his church following a morning service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior pastor Rusty Sowell comforts Cindy Sanford, who lost her house in the Beauregard tornado, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior pastor Rusty Sowell comforts Cindy Sanford, who lost her house in the Beauregard tornado, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads the congregation in a crossing of the pews for a moment of unity, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads the congregation in a crossing of the pews for a moment of unity, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads the congregation in a crossing of the pews for a moment of unity, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads the congregation in a crossing of the pews for a moment of unity, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell shakes hands as he departs, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in morning service at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell shakes hands as he departs, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in morning service at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell gives a sermon, one he says started last Sunday and continues today, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell gives a sermon, one he says started last Sunday and continues today, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell pauses in front of his congregation before departing near the end of the service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell pauses in front of his congregation before departing near the end of the service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads his choir in a vocal performance Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Music Minister Dr. Thomas Smith, leads his choir in a vocal performance Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
The congregation welcomes one another during service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
The congregation welcomes one another during service, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell gives a sermon, one he says started last Sunday and continues today, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
Senior Pastor Rusty Sowell gives a sermon, one he says started last Sunday and continues today, Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
In this Wednesday, March 6, 2019 photo, Rusty Sowell, pastor at Providence Baptist Church, speaks to volunteers organizing donations at the church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In this Wednesday, March 6, 2019 photo, Rusty Sowell, pastor at Providence Baptist Church, speaks to volunteers organizing donations at the church in Beauregard, Ala. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pause at a line of crosses outside Providence Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Ala. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pause at a line of crosses outside Providence Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Ala. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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