Tornadoes cut wide
swath across nation’s midsection
By John W. Kennedy
Sandy Alexander normally
turns her cell phone off before worship services, but Sunday
evening, May 4, she purposely left it on because of the threat
of severe weather. Just before Pastor Richard Orrell asked congregants
to stand for a closing prayer, Alexander, the youth pastor’s
wife, received a frantic phone call from her sister-in-law warning
that an on-the-ground tornado had been spotted near the church,
Battlefield (Mo.) Assembly of God.
dismissed the congregation. Some rushed home, while others filtered
into the basement, along with around 40 neighborhood residents
seeking shelter. They witnessed a scary sight.
boiling cloud of debris began raining out of the sky: shingles,
insulation, bits of wood, papers, leaves, tree limbs,”
Orrell told PE Report. “The storm spewed out an unbelievable
cauldron of material.”
Then came flashes
of electrical light as power lines snapped and transformers
exploded, darkening the church at around 7:45 p.m. A funnel
cloud bore down on the building. Looking out the basement door,
church member Pam Kezerle shouted, “I rebuke you in the
name of Jesus!”
parted and it was calm,” Orrell reports. Although shingles
blew off the roof, they had been repaired by Monday morning.
The 84 Midwestern
and Southern tornadoes spawned by “supercell” storms
on May 4 represented an unprecedented number for one day. As
the tornadoes spread eastward, seven people died in Kansas,
18 in Missouri and 15 in Tennessee, including two members of
First A/G in Jackson. Several A/G members lost their residences,
including three families who attend the Battlefield church.
In addition to the
40 deaths, the tornadoes caused an estimated $1.55 billion in
property damage, the third highest total in history.
The storm system
made its way through the heavily populated Kansas City area
late Sunday afternoon. It swept past Victoria Tabernacle Family
Church in Kansas City, Kan., at 4:15 p.m., with around two dozen
people inside for puppet-ministry practice and a new membership
class. Those assembled crouched under the platform — and
prayed. The church sustained major structural damage and has
relocated to a local high school for services. Three church
families lost their homes.
About the same time,
members of puppet and drama teams sought shelter in the basement
of Northland Cathedral in Kansas City, Mo. Although the church
avoided damage, the tornado destroyed one member family’s
home and seriously damaged a dozen others. Associate Pastor
Ron Steen organized volunteer crews to help families sort through
belongings, clear debris and secure damaged housing from the
elements. Volunteers also cleared streets blocked by downed
Shirley Rankin, who
lives in Parkville, Mo., thought the impending tornado sounded
like a jet ready to crash into her home around 4:30.
“It was looking
me right in the face,” Rankin told PE Report. “Outside
my windows everything was black and swirling. I didn’t
see a speck of daylight.”
Rankin, the receptionist
at The Tiffany Fellowship Assembly of God in Kansas City, Mo.,
ran to the basement for cover, praying as she went. “I
screamed out to Jesus, ‘Please help me!’ ”
Rankin remembers. “Not more than five seconds after I
prayed that prayer everything got calm.”
Rankin went upstairs
and found that not only was the house miraculously intact, but
trees in the yard were spared as well. “If that funnel
cloud had not turned it would have taken the house,” Rankin
says. “It was like God just wrapped His arm around my
Although Paul Billings
of Kearney, Mo., lost his livelihood, he took the destruction
in stride, grateful that it happened at 5 p.m. Sunday instead
of on a weekday.
have survived if I had been there,” says Billings, a general
contractor based in Liberty. “The Lord is good; I’m
thankful.” The tornado destroyed his warehouse and office
buildings, construction equipment, vehicles, computers and tools.
Billings says a lesson
from Sunday school that morning at The Tiffany Fellowship helped
sustain him. “Our teacher said, ‘Remember, the next
step you take you might be in heaven,’ ” Billings
recalls. “Life can indeed change in an instant.”
In southwest Missouri,
the cyclone that ended in Battlefield started in Pierce City
at 6:25 p.m., leaving seven people dead in its 40-mile path.
Simultaneously, another storm 60 miles to the north struck Stockton,
killing three. The twisters demolished most businesses along
the main streets of the two small towns, although the A/G churches
in neither sustained any damage.
Convoy of Hope, based
in Springfield, 40 miles northeast of Pierce City, became the
first relief agency to respond in that community as a truck
arrived at 2 a.m. on Monday with bottled water, snacks and bedding.
Some emergency personnel collapsed onto mattresses as soon as
Convoy workers unloaded them. The following Sunday after church
services Pierce City A/G distributed hundreds of sacks of groceries
provided by Convoy of Hope.
Other area A/G churches
and ministries rallied to help later in the week. For instance,
Billings A/G and a Light for the Lost team each served meals
that fed 250 relief workers in Pierce City.
In Stockton, the
tornado arrived when people had gathered for the Sunday evening
“The wind was
ferocious, the doors were buckling,” recalls Stockton
A/G Pastor Randall Hayward. “We saw it coming and we prayed.
Because we prayed, we were spared.” The tornado veered,
and the church sustained only minor roof damage. Four Stockton
churches had to relocate because of damage, and Hayward offered
the use of the A/G church, which has an average attendance of
240, to other congregations.
The tornado destroyed
the homes of three families who attend the church and damaged
the houses of 19 other families who are members. In addition,
16 who belong to Stockton A/G lost their jobs because of businesses
that have been wiped out.
At a Wednesday evening
prayer service in Stockton, members from five churches gathered.
“If we ever needed God, we need God now in this community,”
Hayward said. “We are family.”
The tornado damaged
the Stockton United Methodist Church, and that congregation
accepted Hayward’s offer to meet at Stockton A/G for Sunday
morning services until repairs are made. “Our church is
your church,” Hayward said. At the end of the service,
Stockton residents held hands, formed a giant circle, then sang
On Thursday, Convoy
of Hope delivered water, food, cleaning supplies and paper products
to Jackson, Tenn., a city of 60,000, where the storm ripped
through at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday. Winds exceeding 205 mph lifted
and tossed the mobile home of 44-year-old Marilyn Tosh and her
23-year-old daughter, Angela. The women, who attended First
Assembly of God in Jackson, died instantly.
Pastor Joe Dee Kelley
conducted a double funeral that Thursday. Kelley recalled the
transformation in Marilyn Tosh from the time she started attending
the church two years ago, when she felt betrayed, rejected and
in bondage to life-controlling problems. After her second visit
to the church, Tosh received Christ as her Savior and was water
baptized. Later she experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit
and joined the church. She became a worker at an assisted-living
facility and lately had been preparing to take her licensed
practical nurse exam.
to both see and feel her self-worth in Jesus Christ,”
Kelley says. “Marilyn discovered that in Christ a person
finds she is loved, needed and accepted.” Tosh’s
20-year-old son, Brandon, accepted Christ as his Savior the
day of the funeral.
In the aftermath
of the tragedy, Christians throughout the affected areas united
in spirit and in faith.
been precious to see the community pull together,” Orrell
says. “It’s been a wonderful exercise in humanity
I was going to die,” Rankin says. “I’m so
thankful to our Heavenly Father. I’m praising the Lord
with a whole new meaning now.”