NEWS | Meredith Flynn
“Our town is starting to come back,” said Pastor David Siere. For a year, he has watched Brookport, Ill., recover from a tornado that destroyed several homes and killed three people in Massac County, located at the southern tip of the state.
The storm hit on a Sunday afternoon, part of a tornado outbreak that wreaked havoc all over the state. Siere’s church, First Baptist in Brookport, sits next to a mobile home park that was almost completely destroyed, he said.
But Brookport is rebuilding, and Siere and his church are playing an integral role in the process. The town is starting to look a lot better, he said, and “we’re praising God for what He’s done so far.”
Immediately after the tornado, FBC became Brookport’s ground zero for storm recovery. A ministry facility they had built in 2011 across the parking lot from the main building housed donated food, water and clothing. The pastor sees God’s provision in that building—“I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t had it.”
Illinois Disaster Relief teams moved quickly into the area to cut down damaged trees and visit with shaken residents. About a week after the tornado, Siere was approached by a city leader about being part of a long-term recovery team. Two of his church members, Bob Craig and Jerry Muniz, also joined the Massac & Pope County Recovery Committee.
So far, volunteer groups working through MPCRC have built five houses in Brookport, and nine more are in process. In August, the first homeowners moved in, including Clark Blasdel, who said he had never been through anything as bad as the tornado, and had never had anything as good happen to him as his new home.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m happy,” Blasdel told WPSD in Paducah, Ky.
The work of the committee is funded through grants and donations, combined with money provided to residents by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Their goal is two-fold: To provide housing for people who were displaced after the tornado, and to make Brookport a better place to live. In doing so, the team, which includes members of local churches, is also looking out for the spiritual well-being of their town.
“We keep God at the center of it, and I think that’s what makes a difference,” said Craig, noting that without God, it would be difficult to keep a sweet, loving attitude. The committee’s meetings start with prayer and Scripture reading, and they recently sponsored a “gospel sing” on the one-year anniversary of the
Craig, who pastored FBC Brookport before Siere, told around 200 attenders that with all the safety precautions people take—like storm shelters and weather radios—there’s a greater safety to be found in Christ. “You might not make it through another circumstance like this, and you need to have that provision taken care of,” he said.
When asked if there are stories from the past year that stand out, Craig recalls one young man whose mobile home rolled over several times during the storm, even as his wife and child were inside. They were bruised and banged up, Craig said, but survived. And the young man gave his heart to Christ.
“It was such a thrill, because it was a son-in-law of a long-time brother in Christ that I’ve known many years.”
To God be the glory
After the tornado, Siere was unsure what to put on the church sign, in light of everyone who had done so much to help Brookport. He settled on a simple message: “Thank you, everybody.”
Certainly, many are thanking the church in return. All of the houses built through the recovery committee have been constructed by volunteer workers, and those workers are fed at the church through the efforts of a woman from Metropolis who coordinates the meals. She was looking for a way to help and, Siere
said, “God led her here.”
The volunteer teams have slowed down for the winter; one group is scheduled for late December and one in January. But as the weather warms up, the committee expects more people will come to help.
When they started a year ago, eight houses was set as a goal, Siere said, and “God has seen fit for us to do a lot more than that.” The number 23 has come up, but whether or not the committee is able to see that many projects through, they want to help as many people as possible get a place to live.
Ultimately, he said, they want God to get the glory.
“We meet once a week still, here at the church, and as we’re seeing things happen, we just thank God because it has to be a God thing.”