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Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

Pastors predict bleak future if local casinos open (12/28/03)

Soap, figurines, candles keep books company in Christian stores (12/21/03)

In order to form a more perfect union (11/30/03)

Federal Marriage Amendment receives Fellowship’s endorsement (11/23/03)

Drug czar congratulates Teen Challenge (11/16/03)

Christian fiction no long back-shelf item (10/19/03)

DREAM3 benefits churches (10/19/03)

Youth rise to DC03 challenge (10/12/03)

Ministry uses drama, music to touch city for Christ (9/28/03)

Displeased viewers protest raunchy programs (9/21/03)

Grit, determination key to cities blocking cable pornography (8/31/03)

Economic slump doesn't always derail giving (8/24/03)

Ruling threatens family, Christian leaders say (8/17/03)

Anti-aging options require balanced approach to health, beauty (8/10/03)

Convoy of Hope reaches out to inner-city neighborhood (7/27/03)

Fight for the flag moves to nation’s schools (7/20/03)

Drama speaks volumes to alienated veterans (7/13/03)

Church's integrity well received following nightmarish ordeal (6/29/03)

Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation's midsection (6/22/03)

Accountability partners provide human feedback that filters don't (6/15/03)

Checking out your horoscope? God advises you to skip it (6/8/03)

Christian filmmakers pursue wider market success (5/25/03)

Intervention is key to preventing suicide (5/18/03)

Adoption often right decision for young expectant mothers (5/11/03)

Dallas-based ministry keeps inmates out of jail (4/27/03)

Medical analysis of Jesus' death generates interest (4/20/03)

Small-town church reaches community (4/13/03)

Young married couples lulled by false sense of security (3/30/03)

Virtual gambling days may be numbered (3/23/03)

Contemporary Christian music copes with its continuing success (3/16/03)

A/G prayer event set for gathering in nation's capital (3/9/03)

Volunteers give church voice in community (2/23/02)

Federal law protects churches in zoning battles (2/16/03)

Singles find cyberspace dating not always match made in heaven (2/9/03)

Predators often plan strategies long in advance (1/19/03)

The Cross and the Switchblade still makes impact 40 years later (1/12/03)

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Tornadoes cut wide swath across nation’s midsection

By John W. Kennedy (6/22/03)

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.

Orrell hurriedly 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.

“A massive 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!”

“The clouds 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 trees.

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 house.”

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.

“I wouldn’t 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 service.

“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 “Amazing Grace.”

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.

“Marilyn learned 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.

“It’s been precious to see the community pull together,” Orrell says. “It’s been a wonderful exercise in humanity and Christianity.”

“I thought 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.”


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