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Charles Burnett

Pastor Charles Burnett makes his way through the new church, waving his walking stick from side to side to steer clear of walls and steps.

Burnett knew every inch of the old Harmony Heights Baptist Church, the one the tornado wiped away. He had worked there for many years before he lost his sight in his mid-60s. When his eyes went dark, he still could get around with some ease, knowing each corner he had to turn or step he had to make.

“Still learning my way around this one,” said Burnett, 73, smiling.

Just being in a new church, able to guide the members of his congregation through the trials of the past five years, is a blessing, he said. Halfway through that Sunday evening service on May 22, 2011, he wasn’t sure they’d be back together.

But today they are, in a new building bought and paid for and built in the same location along Indiana Avenue. The church lost some members after the storm, but new members have joined.

“I go back and relive that night quite often,” Burnett said.

He thinks about how he knelt on the concrete floor of the church’s video room, hearing the destruction of everything the congregation had worked for. The roof blew off. Walls crumbled. People cried for help.

Fifty-three people were in the church that night. Three died.

The Star wrote about Burnett and how his church and others came together after the storm. He talked then about the tornado and how he couldn’t go to church members who needed help. Unable to move through the debris, he could only pray.

“Looking back at that, almost five years later, and I realized that’s not a bad place to be in,” he said. “He wants us to be able to get to the point where all we can do is trust him. And I was able to do that that night, finally.”

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