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COMMENTARY | Josh Monda

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.

People in Washington, Ill., say two things when they talk about the tornado that stunned this city of 15,000 on Sunday: Pictures don’t accurately capture the destruction. And, this is the kind of thing that happens to other people. But on November 17, it happened here.

“You see it, and you think, ‘I’ve seen this on TV before.’ It’s always on TV. But this is real. This is us,” says Susan Schildt as she sat with a bowl of soup in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Washington. She and others working to salvage what they can came by today for lunch, prepared by church members and served buffet style. Pastor Joshua Monda publicized the free meal on Facebook.

The Schildts’ home is no longer liveable. Susan was at church Sunday morning, talking to her husband, Donald, on the phone, when the line suddenly went dead. He hunkered under an overturned couch while their son, Daniel, took cover in a walk-in closet. The family reunited soon after the storm.

“We’re alive; that’s all that matters,” she told a friend at lunch today. “It’s all stuff. I keep telling myself it’s just stuff.”

Phil Jones is another member of FBC that lost his home. He stands outside the, talking on his cell phone. He breaks away from his conversation long enough to say he’s doing OK, that he’s living on adrenaline right now. But as soon as that ends, he plans to crash, he says it with a smile.

Roland Manor Baptist Church across town is serving as an incident command center for Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief. Eight volunteers from Sullivan Southern Baptist Church and Westfield Association worked in Washington today, clearing debris and putting tarps on roofs. They’re working against the clock – rain is in the forecast for the next few days. Six more volunteers from Capital City and Sandy Creek Associations are at work in Pekin, 20 miles to the southwest, and another crew in Peoria is cooking meals for these volunteers and for other storm responders and victims.

Recovery work here in Washington is slow, as crews work to remove downed power lines and police keep the most damaged neighborhoods blocked off to everyone except residents. At the incident command center, Harold Booze and Bob Elmore are working to coordinate individual jobs for the volunteers that are here now, and another crew from Salem South Association arriving tonight.

At the other end of the state, Disaster Relief volunteers are working in and around Brookport, where a tornado Sunday killed three people and destroyed dozens of homes. First Baptist Church, Metropolis, is preparing 300 meals a day to be delivered by the Red Cross.

Volunteers from Kaskaskia Association also assisted homeowners in New Minden, Ill., seven miles north of Nashville.

To donate to Illinois Disaster Relief, go to www.IBSA.org.

A Disaster Relief volunteer in southern Illinois takes care of a felled tree in southern Illinois.

A Disaster Relief volunteer in southern Illinois takes care of a felled tree in southern Illinois.

Volunteers started serving  in and around Brookport, Ill., almost immediately after the Nov. 17 storms.

Volunteers started serving in and around Brookport, Ill., almost immediately after the Nov. 17 storms.

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Donald and Susan Schildt visit with Carole Vanderburg (right) over lunch at First Baptist Church in Washington. The Schildts’ home is uninhabitable after the storm.

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A message of thanks on a store sign in Washington, Ill.

 

Volunteers get ready to serve lunch at FBC Washington.

Volunteers get ready to serve lunch at FBC Washington.

Whole neighborhoods in Washington are completely destroyed. Police have several streets blocked off to everyone except residents.

Whole neighborhoods in Washington are completely destroyed. Police have several streets blocked off to everyone except residents.

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Ed Dean, a Diaster Relief volunteer from Sullivan, Ill., gathers debris from a backyard in Washington, Ill., on Nov. 20.

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This is only the second callout for Disaster Relief volunteer Johnna Howard.

This is only the second callout for Disaster Relief volunteer Johnna Howard.

Bob Elmore (left), who's helping coordinate DR efforts in Washington, meets on the job site with Bob Jackson from Sullivan.

Bob Elmore (left), who’s helping coordinate DR efforts in Washington, meets on the job site with Bob Jackson from Sullivan.

Washington, Ill., Nov. 20.

Washington, Ill., Nov. 20.

IBSA communications staff was in Washington, Ill., Monday, to hear about tornado recovery efforts by local churches and Disaster Relief volunteers. We talked to Pastor Joshua Monda of First Baptist in Washington, and also saw the Disaster Relief feeding unit operating out of Woodland Baptist in Peoria. Here, some photos from the day:

Joshua Monda listens to a voice mail while he waits Monday to get back into Washington, blocked off because of possible gas leaks.

Joshua Monda listens to a voice mail while he waits Monday to get back into Washington, blocked off because of possible gas leaks.

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Family and friends look for keepsakes in the pile of rubble that was a home on School Street. Tornadic winds lifted it from one side of the street and set it down on the other.

Family and friends look for keepsakes in the pile of rubble that was a home on School Street. Tornadic winds lifted it from one side of the street and set it down on the other.

Mary Boles' daughter and son-in-law had run to the store when the tornado hit School Street. Three of their children took cover in the basement. Morton and Pekin, nearby cities, have had storms like this. “We’ve usually been missed here,” Boles said. “This is our big hit.”

Mary Boles’ daughter and son-in-law had run to the store when the tornado hit School Street. Three of their children took cover in the basement.
Morton and Pekin, nearby cities, have had storms like this. “We’ve usually been missed here,” Boles said. “This is our big hit.”

Disaster Relief volunteers working at Woodland Baptist in Peoria prepare a chili dinner for storm responders and victims.

Disaster Relief volunteers working at Woodland Baptist in Peoria prepare a chili dinner for storm responders and victims.

The meals are loaded into red cambros and delivered to shelters and workers on scene by the Red Cross.

The meals are loaded into red cambros and delivered to shelters and workers on scene by the Red Cross.

Disaster Relief vehicles parked at Woodland Baptist Church, Peoria.

Disaster Relief vehicles parked at Woodland Baptist Church, Peoria.

Harold Booze, a Disaster Relief "blue cap" supervisor, visits the Red Cross command center to coordinate efforts between the two organizations.

Harold Booze, a Disaster Relief “blue cap” supervisor, visits the Red Cross command center to coordinate efforts between the two organizations.