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An Emotional Story

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. - Romans 8:28

As you read this story watch how fragile all the parts are and how awesome God is.  All of us that have been a small part of this story are in awe of how God weaved His good into all these peoples’ lives.


Mike and Kim Cloyd are the parents of Matthew, one of the boys from BSC that burned the 9 Churches down.

Meredith is his sister
Cindy Cloyd (Law’s friend) is Mike’s sister, the aunt of Matthew
Tom Byars works for Friends of Hale County

Part I

A friend of mine approached me about an idea for her son’s Eagle Scout project. She wanted him to do something connected with the Hale County ministry. I (and I say that loosely) came up with the idea to build a sign for a Church in Hale County. When I told the scout, Jackson Sinor, that “my” idea for him was to build a sign for a church in the Black Belt, he loved it. When he then asked which Church, I told him I needed to think about it. I thought of a Church or two and they didn’t work out. And then it dawned on me to pick the Morning Star Baptist Church, one of the ones that was burned down by the BSC boys. I had previously told Jackson that I had a picture of the finished product, the list of materials, and the instructions. Another member of my Church, Geno Preskitt, had built four such signs several years ago. So I knew everything was in place and the sign could be built. Then another dawning on my mind took place in that I remembered how and why I had those instructions of the sign. A woman from Vestavia had offered to help in Hale County three years ago and her contribution was the design, the list, and the instructions of the sign.

This woman was Cindy Cloyd.

The God moment of this story is that the sign Jackson Sinor will be building was designed 3 years ago (over a year before the burnings) by a woman named Cindy Cloyd, and it was her nephew that was one of the boys that burned down that particular Church.

This could be an awesome story all on its on, but there’s more….

Part II

CINDY writing to LAW

By the way: As we discussed, God works in mysterious ways. Mike Cloyd (Matthew’s Dad) was very upset that Mike, Kim and Meredith’s photo was on the front page of the Birmingham News. He kept saying that the story should have been about the church, and the people of the church, and all of the good people who helped them re-build. I told Mike that I understood how he felt but, being the advertising person that I am, I had to disagree. The newspaper’s job is to sell newspapers and the Cloyd’s were a good “story”. We also discussed the continuing presence of God’s grace… and that EVERYTHING we have been upset about in this process has turned into a blessing. Sometimes we had to wait for the blessing, but eventually we understood why things happened as they did.

We are learning so much about the culture of prisons (more than we ever wanted to know). Matthew has been in three different facilities and they all operate in three distinct groups: Caucasian, African American and Mexican. There is always a leader of each group. The Black population of Oakdale Prison had heard that the church burnings were a racial/hate crime and they were going to “take care” of Matthew. But when Matthew arrived, they began to question whether or not he was a racist… he had a “peace” about him that didn’t register with what they had heard.

Okay… flash forward… This past weekend Mike and Kim got to visit Matthew for the first time at Oakdale prison. Matthew told them about the rumors of the hate crime. (He did not tell them earlier because he didn’t want them to worry). Of course, as he was telling the story, Mike and Kim went pale. But then he got to “the rest of the story.”

The leader of the Black population is a former preacher from New Orleans (serving time for something to do with the levies). Anyway, a week or so ago, he went to visit Matthew. In his hand was the front page of the Birmingham News that featured Mike and Kim. The preacher told Matthew that he didn’t have anything to worry about from them. They were satisfied that the church burnings were not race related.

Soooooooo, once again, God has placed his hand on Matthew.


Again this could be an awesome story all on its on, but there’s more….

Part III

As I was reading the last paragraph from the email from Cindy (part II) I made a loud emotional sound. Then I handed the email to Jo Wills, who after reading it then cried. A few minutes later I handed the email to Tom Byars to see if he had as severe a reaction as we had had. A time period passed and I called out to Tom who was in the other room and said, “Surely, you have read the email by now, Tom. Haven’t you?” Tom answered in an unintelligent sound. So I asked again thinking he had read the email and had no emotion. He responded the same way, again. A little while later I left and went home thinking maybe only Jo and I are the only emotional people. What I didn’t know was that Tom also had an emotional experience and that he was writing this beautiful letter to Cindy, when I was leaving to go home.

Tom to Cindy-email

On Aug 28, 2007, at 3:39 PM, wrote:

Cindy, Do you remember me? I’m Tom Byars, the one that helped take items to the Black Belt for Law, before the fires. I live in Vestavia and I’m a Scout leader at Troop 4 at Vestavia UMC.

Before the fires, who could have ever told anyone where Panola was? Boligee and Morningstar? There aren’t even any road signs to Panola. I know, I have been there over 20 times since the fire… I have taken truckloads of items there. I even got a $7000 convection oven donated to them from St. Vincent’s.

But the BIG news is… there is now a Boy Scout Troop there, it is Troop 243, restarted from when Pastor Bob Little was a boy. They have 15 boys and their Scoutmaster Derwin Binion is a math teacher. Law and I have worked hard with other Scout troops to furnish them with uniforms, camping gear, tents, etc. I was asked to become their Unit Commissioner, an honor and title that are bestowed on someone who helps the Troop. I want you to know that when I go there I pray each time for Matthew and the others. The people at the church always comment, “Look what good has happened since the fire. It is like the Lord has blessed us with so much help since then.”

When they speak, there is no anger in their voice, only a tone of forgiveness. I know, I have heard it. I was at the rededication, too.

One time I went to the church site in Panola and witnessed Carpenters for Christ sleeping in the trailer after a long day’s work during the rebuild. These carpenters were white Christian men from Cullman. Do you know what a great difference this is from 1960? Cullman citizens used to not even let black people walk around after dark in the city limits…

Matthew’s mistake was not racial, it was a bad mistake, but we all make bad mistakes. That’s why there was someone called Jesus Christ who died to give us those second chances. Matthew is being protected by God right now. His witness will be more than tremendous when he comes home. His heart is being purified now and soon he will be able to help God touch more people in a positive way.

If you get a chance to send this email to Matthew, please let him know that there are 15 Boy Scouts in Panola who are being directed in the right direction, away from drugs, being taught to love God and their community… The Troop probably would have never gotten restarted unless something shook up the town. I pray for Matthew to know this, to give him strength and a peace knowing that something good, a gain has come out of this loss.

Law and I keep working to help those in the Black Belt and we were thrilled to hear that an Eagle Scout chose to redo the sign for Morningstar Baptist. I guess now we’ll just have to find one for Galilee Baptist, too.

God bless you and thank you.

Tom Byars

Part IV

Cindy to Tom-email

From: Cindy Cloyd
Subject: Re: Look at the GOOD that has happened
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 17:36:18 -0500

Dear Tom, Of course I remember you! :^) Thank you sooooooooo very much for your touching letter. I immediately printed it out, addressed it to Matthew, and dashed it up to the post office so that it would go out today. He’s used up all of his telephone minutes for the month, so we’re all trying to write him every day. I sent him a card this morning, but your email will certainly make his day.

I hope you don’t mind, but I also forwarded it to Mike and Kim (Matthew’s Mom and Dad). They, especially, need to know the “good” that has come from the “bad”.

I am thrilled to know about the scout troop! Awesome! What ages are the boys? I would like to use my “time and talents” to do something for them… Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your incredibly wonderful letter.


Look back at all the good that has come from this incident:
Cindy and her Church sign design
Jackson and his Eagle Scout project
Mike and Kim and their humility
The preacher/prisoner and his discernment
Tom’s compassion
The Boy Scout Troop
Cindy’s tenderness towards others
And above all, God’s faithfulness to His people as He weaved good things through all these peoples’ lives.