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Bible survives Katrina, finally returned this year to Gainesville woman
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Mel Lee Cutrell’s mother, Marolyn, flips through the Bible that was returned in spring of 2016 after it was lost during the family’s move to Gainesville in 1983 and survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005. - photo by JOSHUA L. JONES

With its faded cover and brittle pages, Kel Lee Cutrell’s childhood Bible might not survive regular trips back and forth to church on Sundays.

But it isn’t just another part of the Gainesville woman’s Bible collection or an ordinary relic from her past.

Instead, she said it serves as a reminder of God’s hand at work.

In the journey to the bookcase in her living room from her home church in Gulfport, Miss., the Bible survived Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast 11 years ago this week.

“Symbolically, you just can’t destroy faith,” Cutrell said, holding the Bible during an interview last week at her home. “No matter what kind of storm you’re going through — just stay ahold of this.”

“God’s word cannot be destroyed,” added her mother, Marolyn Cutrell.

Kel Lee first laid hands on the Bible on Christmas Day 1979, when her parents gave it to her as a present. A month later, her grandfather baptized her at the church where her father, Jimmy Cutrell, served as music minister.

The Bible has unfaded messages from her church’s pastor, Jim Keith, who wrote, “This Bible was dedicated to God’s glory.” Her parents also had written a message when they first gave her the Bible, calling Kel Lee their “precious daughter.”

A few years later, the family moved to Gainesville as Kel Lee’s father, who has since died, pursued a new ministry opportunity.

Kel Lee later discovered she had lost the Bible in the move.

Years later, she learned the Bible was found at some point by fellow church members, Jim and Linda Boyd, in the choir room at her Gulfport church, where Kel Lee had spent so much of her youth.

The Bible stayed with the Boyds, who had intended to return it on one of their trips to visit family in South Carolina, said Linda Boyd in a phone interview.

“That just never happened,” she said.

The Bible was at the Boyds’ home when Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, 2005. The couple promptly evacuated to Tallahassee, Fla., and “waited out (the storm) there,” Linda Boyd said.

When they were able to return home, “we came back to a concrete slab,” she said. “Our things had washed away — not into the gulf as many people think, but northwest of us into other yards and a gulley. It was crazy.”

But sitting on the slab was Kel Lee’s Bible — and it was intact.

“It was just meant to be,” Linda Boyd said. “God just wanted us to find that. It was like ... OK, we need to really get it to her.”

The Bible ended up in a box in their current home, which is in the Gulfport area north of Interstate 10.

The Boyds several years ago gave the Bible to a mutual friend, Lisa Fletcher, who had traveled from Gainesville for a wedding.

The couple’s story — and the Bible’s condition — amazed Fletcher, who had done some mission work in the Gulf after Katrina.

“It was a reminder that God is still God and he’s still in control,” said Fletcher, who had grown up in Gulfport and became close friends with Kel Lee.

It took several years, however, for Fletcher to return the Bible to Kel Lee.

“I had it, but honestly, never connected with Kel Lee to give it to her,” Fletcher said, with a laugh.

Kel Lee, now 48, didn’t know all the details of the Bible’s journey — including surviving one of the nations’s worst natural disasters — until after it had been returned.

“When she is telling me the story — and I wanted to put it on Facebook — I’m like, ‘You didn’t think to tell me all that before?’” she said.

So, when Kel Lee finished gathering the history, she knew she had an interesting Facebook post, which she made on April 18, along with a picture of the Bible.

“It was the coolest story,” she said.

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