Archives For 2013 tornadoes

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.”


The Massac Pope County Recovery Committee has helped rebuild five homes since a tornado tore through the region last November. Nine more new houses are under construction. Photo from MPCRC Facebook page

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.”


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

Humanitarian effort void of the gospel of Jesus Christ does nothing to change one’s eternal destiny. Moments after making this statement during a sermon, a tornado would rip through our town, passing a quarter mile from our church.

The day of the tornado was not without trouble, even before the storm came through Washington. A month before, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The day before the tornado, my 14-year-old daughter laid on my living room floor near death, and that evening was in the hospital.

Taking a full load in seminary, and trying to balance all that was going on in my life, I gathered our two young sons that Sunday morning and got them ready for church. The rest, as they say, is history. An EF-4 tornado hit our town as my congregation took shelter in the church basement.

It would have been easy then (and now) to focus on all that changed that day, or how everything after November 17 would be different than before. Indeed, a lot is different, even a year after the storm. Members of my church, deacons in my church, lost their homes. One of our deacons moved away, and for a small church, this is difficult.

Change has touched my family too. My daughter eventually recovered from the infection that put her in the hospital, but my father-in-law passed away before the tornado.

Not every change has been negative: After the storm, people seem more in tune to the needs of others, and thoughts about possessions have changed.

But my focus, and our church’s focus, is on something that will never change: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not by mistake that I would make the statement about humanitarian effort and the gospel moments before the tornado hit. Our focus has to be on the gospel.

When people are hurting, our focus must be the gospel.

When people are suffering, our focus must be the gospel.

When people know not where to turn, our focus is the gospel.

A tornado can change our circumstances, it can even change where we live. But a tornado will not transfer someone from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light; only the gospel does this.

As a people, as a church, we can allow a tornado to either drive us to what truly makes a difference, or distract us from it. May our focus be on what makes a difference; may our focus be on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Josh Monda is pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington.

Disaster Relief volunteers served across the state after several tornadoes Nov. 17, including one in Brookport in southern Illinois.

Disaster Relief volunteers served across the state after several tornadoes Nov. 17, including one in Brookport in southern Illinois.


When Time magazine announced the new pope as its person of the year, we were reminded that sometimes the publication has not chosen an individual, or even a person.

Time named “the computer” as its entity of the year in 1982, and in 2011, following the Occupy movement and the “Arab spring” uprisings in the Middle East, the “honor” went to “the protester.”

So it’s not surprising that the village of Sturgis, South Dakota, chose not a single person to receive its annual Volunteer of the Year award, but a group. And that group is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Volunteers.

When Sturgis was hit with a winter storm in October, SBDR sent 110 relief workers in five teams to help them dig out. About 50 of those volunteers were from Illinois.

The town council noted in their announcement last week that many of the people receiving assistance were elderly or disabled, and the time given amounted to 576 days of work. Sturgis is grateful.

So are many others.

“Thank God for you all showing up to Mary Lou’s house in Rapid City, SD, to help with all the trees and branches due to the snow storm,” one couple who look after their elderly neighbor wrote to the Illinois team that aided them. “We are praising God and thanking Him for each one of you who made it all possible to come out to South Dakota and serve God.”

And when Rex Alexander, IBSA’s DR mobilization director, summed up the recent response to tornadoes in Illinois, he said there were more volunteers and offers of assistance than he had ever seen. Just before Christmas, 250 relief workers finished up their service in Washington and other communities laid waste by twisters in mid-November.

A new NAMB video shows Illinois residents picking through the remnants of their homes, weeping not so much at their loss, but in gratitude for the aid of strangers in yellow shirts.

“It’s raining, it’s cold, it’s nasty,” said a tearful Melissa Helfin outside her home. “And all these people – they’re here with chainsaws and pulling limbs and – it’s amazing…. I don’t know what we would have done, honestly. And it’s such a blessing.”

If we offered a “Person of the Year” award, it would be to the whole group who share Jesus Christ with a Bible in one hand and a spatula, mop, or chainsaw in the other.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The images in a new video produced by the North American Mission Board serve as reminders of how devastating were the tornadoes that ripped through Illinois, Indiana, and other Midwest states Nov. 17.The two-and-a-half minute clip also tells how Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and local churches, like FBC Washington, helped residents begin to pick up the pieces.

“I don’t know what we would have done, honestly,” says one storm victim helped by DR volunteers. “And it’s such a blessing.” Read more about tornado relief efforts in the Dec. 16 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Other stories:

Race, religion and Santa Claus
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly stirred up controversy when she said on air that Santa Claus is white – and Jesus is too. Her comments, made in response to a story on, have revived a national conversation on the intersection of faith and race. Kelly’s reference to Santa got plenty of press, probably more than her statement about Jesus’ race. But culture writer Jonathan Merritt says it’s important to remember the Bible is mostly mum on the Messiah’s appearance.

“As some historians and theologians have posited, the silence of the Scriptures on the issue of Jesus’ skin color is critical to Christianity’s broad appeal with people of various ethnicities,” Merritt wrote for The Atlantic. “In a world where race often divides communities and even churches, the Biblical depictions of God’s son positions him as one who can bridge those divides.”

View Kelly’s response to the controversy on

Bible reading tips for everyone
“Stress the simplicity of the Bible, and the people you are hoping will read the Bible next year may begin to wonder if they’re just too dumb to understand it,” says LifeWay’s Trevin Wax. On his blog, he offers advice on “How to get people to read the Bible without making them feel dumb.”

Thousands leave jobs for restaurant gigs
Not really, but @tipsforjesus probably has some considering a change of vocation. Across the country, people are leaving huge tips for restaurant servers under that tag line. The gratuities – some for thousands of dollars – haven’t yet been linked to a specific group or organization, but some believe former Pay Pal executive Jack Selby is behind the generous tips. Read the full story at

Jesus is most successful meme ever
Two researchers have named Jesus the most successful meme in history, based on an analysis of Wikipedia entries about Him. Wondering exactly what a meme is? We were too. Merriam-Webster (via Wikipedia) defines is as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

Steven Skiena and Charles Ward have compiled their findings in a book, “Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank.” Following Jesus on their top 10 list: Napolean, William Shakespeare, Mohammad, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson.

Read the full story at

The 2012 nativity scene at the Illinois Capitol.

The 2012 nativity scene at the Illinois Capitol.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The nativity scene in the Illinois Capitol’s rotunda will be unveiled today, likely near a “winter solstice” sign placed there over the weekend by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The sign reads: “At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta said “viewpoint equality” is the key issue in the dueling displays. “If Christian groups are allowed to put displays up in the Capitol building, then atheist groups can as well…” he wrote about the sign.

The nativity scene, now in its sixth year, is privately funded and organized by the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee. Thomas More Society, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty matters, calls the scene “classic free speech” in a release on its website.

“The SNSC’s primary goal is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  But its secondary mission is to proclaim and demonstrate to the public and to the media alike (statewide and nationwide) that such private expressions of religious belief in the public squares of our nation are not merely tolerated but fully deserving of robust legal protection.”

Read more at and

Other news:

Tornado relief efforts continue
Disaster Relief chainsaw teams currently are serving in Washington, Ill., and surrounding areas, but are expected to complete their work by the end of this week, said Illinois Disaster Relief coordinator Rex Alexander. Since the outbreak of tornadoes Nov. 17, volunteers have helped with clean-up, provided childcare, and met emotional and spiritual needs as chaplains. A feeding team served for nearly two weeks in Peoria, preparing meals for storm responders and victims. Click here to donate to Illinois Disaster Relief.

Supreme Court to consider Hobby Lobby case
Baptist Press reports the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next year whether business owners can exercise religious freedom by objecting to the abortion/contraceptive mandate in President Obama’s healthcare reform package. The mandate requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health care plans.

Craft retailer Hobby Lobby and its sister corporation Mardel found favor in an appeals court, but Mennonite-owned Pennsylvania business Conestoga Wood Specialties was ruled against in a similar case. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases and will hear oral arguments next year, with a decision expected by he court’s summer adjournment, according to Baptist Press.

“This legal challenge has always remained about one thing and one thing only: the right of our family businesses to live out our sincere and deeply held religious convictions as guaranteed by the law and the Constitution,” Hobby Lobby founder David Green said in a written release. “Business owners should not have to choose between violating their faith and violating the law.”

Read the full story at

Americans weigh in on end-of-life issues
A new poll by Pew Research found 66% of Americans say there are circumstances where a patient should be allowed to die, but a growing number of people believe medical staff should do everything possible to save the life of a patient in all circumstances.

Religious beliefs play a role in what people think about the issues, Pew found. 42% of white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants say a person has a moral right to suicide if he or she is in a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement, compared to 62% of all adults surveyed.

Read more about the survey at, and check out Religion News Service’s analysis by Cathy Lynn Grossman here.

Week of Prayer for International Missions is Dec. 1-8Go to for daily prayer guides, missionary stories, and creative ways to mark the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in your church.

Disaster Relief volunteer Dave Weger from Sullivan, Ill., clears debris from a backyard in Washington.

Disaster Relief volunteer Dave Weger from Sullivan, Ill., clears debris from a backyard in Washington.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

In Washington, Ill., Disaster Relief chaplains were struggling to know exactly how to minister to residents digging their homes out of the devastation left by an EF-4 tornado Nov. 17.

Until someone thought of Twinkies.

“By faith we sent a team of chaplains to walk the streets and try to engage people in conversations and prayer,” Illinois Disaster Relief coordinator Rex Alexander wrote in an e-mail update. “They quickly found that homeowners were not really in the mood to talk because they were busy with their work and very cold.”

But the chaplains broke the ice with a surprising treat, Alexander added.

“They first offered water and were usually turned down. Then they followed up with the question, ‘Would you like a Twinkie?’ Repeatedly the homeowners replied with, ‘Twinkies! You really have Twinkies!’”

Washington, which had been closed for security reasons, opened Nov. 23 to volunteer agencies like Disaster Relief. Braving daytime temperatures in the 20’s, chainsaw teams worked there and in East Peoria over the weekend. A childcare team also served at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) set up by the Red Cross. The volunteers minded kids while their parents signed up for recovery assistance.

A feeding team at Woodland Baptist in Peoria continued to prepare 1,700 meals a day for storm victims and responders.

Disaster Relief also staffed a table at the MARC, where they took orders for jobs over the next several days. The areas that sustained the heaviest damage were closed again Monday and Tuesday for debris removal.

Alexander said Disaster Relief is currently planning for an active response in the area through Dec. 7. If the work slows, teams could be told to stand down. “Right now, we still think there’s going to be quite a bit of work in Washington and even the outlying areas for the next two weeks,” he said.

Additional volunteers are welcome to join with the teams currently on the schedule. Contact Rex Alexander at (217) 391-3134 or

Disaster Relief volunteers and local churches also responded in other parts of the state affected by severe weather in mid-November. For more on the recovery efforts in Brookport and other areas, read the new issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Other news:

Poll: Pastors favor immigration reform
A new poll finds 58% of Protestant pastors favor immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who currently are in the U.S. illegally, but far fewer – only 15% – say their churches are hurt by the current system. The LifeWay Research study also says 51% of pastors believe immigration reform will help their church, denomination or movement reach Hispanic Americans. Read more at

Mind your manners when talking Calvinism, leaders on both sides say
Two Southern Baptist leaders on opposite sides of the Calvinism debate sat down this month to demonstrate good “table manners” to seminary students. Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and Mississippi pastor Eric Hankins engaged in a public discussion on Calvinism before students and faculty, modeling how people who disagree on the topic can still work together.

“We have to learn the table manners of denominational life,” Mohler said. “There is a certain etiquette and kindness that is required, just like in the family reunion.” Read the full story from Towers, the news service of Southern Seminary.

Are we having the wrong conversation?
Caleb Kaltenbach, the California pastor who found Bibles labeled as fiction in Costco, tells his side of the story on Ed Stetzer’s blog. He writes that he wanted to start conversations about the Bible; read why he says most of the outraged posters missed the point.

Pen pals with C.S. Lewis
As a child, Kathy Keller exchanged letters with C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month. Christianity Today interviewed Keller, wife of Redeemer Presbyterian Church Pastor Tim Keller, about how she remembers the author.



Disaster Relief volunteers got to work in southern Illinois just two days after a tornado hit the area Nov. 17.

It’s a clear day in Springfield. The storms have passed. But in the third floor conference room of the IBSA Building, the effects of the tornado-band that killed six people in Illinois are real and present in the minds of those at the table. By this time on Monday morning, IBSA’s Rex Alexander has been working since just after the first storms touched down on Sunday, gathering reports from the Illinois Disaster Relief field teams on the scene, taking calls from across the nation with offers of help, and readying the response of Southern Baptists in Illinois.

In the “situation room,” the leadership team shares news of churches and members affected by the tornadoes, discusses their emergency needs, and our actions. Illinois Baptists are already headed to hard-hit communities. In at least two churches, DR workers prepare meals – more than 2,000 a day. And chainsaw teams from 13 associations are on standby for their assignments.

The yellow shirts are on the move.

What many people don’t know is that Southern Baptists nationwide have 82,000 trained volunteers. Our state conventions and associations have 1,550 mobile units for every need that arises after disaster, from childcare to showers to mobile kitchens, and more. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is the third largest relief agency, after the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. And a lot of people don’t know that.
But they do know in the northeast U.S., where our teams are present still in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and mission teams are planning return visits this summer.

And they know in New Orleans, where mission teams from churches and colleges and Campers on Mission are still helping devastated residents muck out, tear down, and rebuild eight years after Hurricane Katrina. A recent letter to the editor decried the fact that certain Catholic churches are still not repaired. The Catholics should ask the Baptists to help, the writer said, because Baptists could get the job done.

“You have changed the image of Southern Baptists in New Orleans,” SBC President and New Orleans pastor Fred Luter told Illinois Baptists during a visit here in April.

And they know in South Dakota and Colorado, where Illinois teams served last month. And they know in Moore, Oklahoma. National news anchor (and Methodist) Harry Smith said at the time of the tornado there, “…if you’re waiting for the government, you’re going to be in for an awful long wait. The Baptist men, they’re going to get it done tomorrow.”

And they know in Peoria, where spring floods drove hundreds from their homes, and Illinois Baptists were there mudding out, feeding hungry people, and sharing Christ.

And now they know in Washington and Brookport, and wherever help is needed.

The yellow shirts are on the move.