Lightning is likely to blame for an early morning fire at a campus ministry near Cumberland University on Wednesday morning.
The fire started just before 5:30 a.m. at 135 S. Hatton Ave. at the Kenneth M. Tramel Baptist Student Center. Flames and heavy smoke could be seen coming out of the building shortly afterwards.
The building was home to two Cumberland University students, Tyler Smith, of Georgia, and Nick Sackman, of Watertown, who were able to escape the building shortly after it started.
Smith said smoke detectors woke the pair, and neither could initially find a source for the smoke.
The house featured a kitchen in the apartment-style living quarters upstairs, as well as one downstairs. They said they checked both stoves and decided to exit the building when the smoke became heavier.
“It was very scary,” Sackman said. “Me or Tyler have never been in this situation before, and so we didn’t really know what to do. We did what first came to us, which was grab something in case of an emergency and get out of the house.”
“We came out the door and went to the left side of the house which is when we saw the flames,” Smith said.
The two said they lost a majority of their belongings in the fire and although Sackman is from Watertown, he said he lost all of his belongings as a result of the fire.
The Wilson County Baptist Association bought the building in 1997, and the pair served as an on-campus representation of the group.
“We both have a passion for seeing students come to Christ,” Smith said. “We may be the only form of Jesus that some people see on campus.”
The building has housed dozens of Cumberland University students over the years, who shared the same passion for Christ as the pair does. It was also a hangout for the students and was home to several events throughout the school year, including a pancake kick-off last week for the fall semester.
“It was my home for two years and the place I met my best friends. I laughed, cried, grew, loved, and made precious memories there,” said Chelsea Hardin, who is one of many former student residents. “Our God is the true consuming fire and will not be shaken. He will use all things for His glory.”
Several community organizations and individuals, along with Cumberland University officials, have worked together to provide dorm housing, food plans, clothing and other assistance for the students.
“They’re helping us out big time, for sure,” Smith said.
“That’s what Lebanon is all about,” said Darrin Reynolds, student minister at Immanuel Baptist Church. “It’s neat to be a part of a community that cares about its citizens, no matter who it is.”
“We’re thankful the students are OK,” said Phillip Carter, Cumberland University’s executive director of communications. “Lebanon fire and campus security were quick in reaction and handled everything the right way. The students are a part of our family, and we’re going to do everything we can to get them back on their feet.”
Smith said despite the situation, there is an underlining lesson he has learned.
“God is good. Even through something like this, he will provide for you,” he said.
Donations to help replace laptops, books, clothes and shoes for the students may be dropped off at Immanuel Baptist Church, the Wilson County Baptist Association office at 200 E. Gay St. in Lebanon and the office of residence life in Labry Hall on Cumberland University’s campus.