The Sunday after the Nov. 17 tornadoes saw crowds flocking to churches to hear a message of hope. For tornado victims and persons who have been involved in the cleanup, it was just what they needed to hear.
At Washington Crossroads UMC, Rev. Tom Goodell led a service that focused on the rebuilding, not the destruction, of the city, after receiving questions from the community about why God would send the tornado.
Goodell told parishioners he was searching for how to prepare his sermon, so he received advice from pastors from United Methodist churches in Joplin, Mo., and Moore, Okla., two cities devastated by tornadoes in the past three years.
They told him it was important to share the message of hope.
"It's hard to find hope in the midst of suffering, but it's there," Goodell said. "Find it and cling to it."
Hope was a key message resonating throughout the church in the relief efforts the hours and days following the tornado. Persons who lost everything have also turned into serving their neighbors as cleanup continues in Washington and the surrounding area.
In Gifford, where an EF3 tornado services of thanksgiving were evident at both St. Paul’s Lutheran Church where they were filled beyond capacity and where 50 gathered at the Gifford UMC.
"You know not one person died in Gifford from this storm," the Rev. Lisa Wiedman told a group of children who gathered around her for the service. "If you came through this town right after it happened, and even today, you could see walls blown out and a bed made like somebody just got out of it.
"But we have both of the houses of God standing. And both are able to have services today and both reach out to help," Wiedman added.
Later, in a prayer she said, "Heavenly Father, we are just overwhelmed by the blessing that you have laid upon this community and that so much devastation and so much loss, that no lives were lost. We can only thank you for that."
And in the Washington County community of New Minden, where an EF3 tornado severely damaged St. John’s Lutheran Church, residents gathered and braved the elements to attend a worship service held in the basement of the church schoolhouse.
Pastor Tim Mueller alluded to the church’s damage by sharing an account how his son Jacob explained the disaster. During his sermon later in the service, Mueller referred to eyewitnesses who said the tornado veered at the last moment away from the village's center toward its north end, where the church is located.
"As my son Jacob said, 'Dad, God was looking down on those families in the main part of the village and He said, 'I'm not going to hit those homes. I'll take the hit in my house instead,'" Mueller said. "That's a reminder of how God works....He'll take the hit so you can go free."
Here’s a summary of each disaster site for Monday, Nov. 25:
Coal City/Diamond Area: Coal City UMC is acting as a response center for disaster response. Hours for donations to be dropped off are: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. To inquire about donations of time and service, contact the Volunteer Call Center at 815-518-3061. This phone number is not for monetary donations or donations of goods.
A Facebook page has been established as a help desk for the disaster: https://www.facebook.com/diamondtornardovictimshelppage
Rev. Tom Logsdon, in an email to Bishop Keaton writes:
“I just want to thank you and our annual conference for all that you are doing to help those of us who were affected by Sunday’s tornado.
“I know you have had your hands full visiting from site to site and I want you to know that we were hit hard, but responded quick because so many of our folks are UMCOR trained ERTs.
“Our wonderful District Superintendent Leah Pogemiller contacted us from England right after it happened. DS Roger Russell, who is covering for her while she is gone, has called to check up on us. I’ve been in regular contact with Bunny Wolfe. Your Conference Lay Leader has been here every day (it helps that Ken’s house is right across the field from our church) and his wife has been working here helping to direct volunteers and those coming for assistance. United Methodist pastors from both sides of the conference line have been looking in to me to see that I am OK, along with pastors from other denominations and our district secretary Sandy Shay has also called to check on us.
“With over 200 homes damaged or destroyed, along with several businesses, the needs are great but so is our capacity to help.
“…We were hit by a horrible tornado, but we are OK, we are managing the disaster, we will rebuild.”
Pekin: Cleanup efforts continue today. FEMA began assessment on Thursday. Heavy equipment has been brought into the neighborhoods to remove debris.
Two families from Pekin Grace UMC were affected. Cleanup continues and the community is still under a curfew. There is no information on a call up of early responders or volunteer teams at this time.
Washington: Residential areas will be locked down for debris removal Monday and Tuesday after residents were allowed back in over the weekend to retrieve personal items.
Response teams must register at the Washington Chamber of Commerce through AmeriCorps, which is coordinating disaster response teams. To register a team, call 309-698-5003. Because of the devastation, most of the homes are destroyed; no building contractors are being allowed in until cleanup is complete.
FEMA began damage assessments Thursday. These assessments will continue until complete.
Crossroads UMC is serving as the community’s nerve center for disaster response. The congregation has cancelled all church activities for the immediate future with all of its staff and resources devoted to providing disaster response. Noon meals are offered each day at the church. After peaking with as many as 28 persons, the Red Cross is currently sheltering eight persons in the church building.
Rev. Tom Goodell said 3,500 meals were served on Thursday; 5,300 meals on Friday and more than 6,000 on Saturday (note: this was on a three-meal schedule, which has been reduced to one meal). The church has dispatched tons of water, flood kits and supplies out to needy families.
Various agencies, including Ameren, Verizon, the Secretary of State’s office and various insurance companies have all established tables in a converted all-purpose room to provide “one-stop shopping” with disaster response. Medical personnel are also on-hand to provide basic medical care.
On Friday, the Midwest Mission Distribution Center in Chatham, an UMCOR partner, was contacted and 504 personal dignity kits of toilet articles, were shipped this morning. Persons and congregations wishing to replenish the MMDC stock are asked to contribute $4 per kit, since these kits are produced in-house and the Center is able to leverage more by buying in bulk.
East Peoria: An active callup for Early Response Teams (trained, background-checked, and badged) has been issued. Earlier this week, IGRC ERT Trainer Steve Schoeffel contacted those that have the UMCOR training which would enable them to assist in this callup asking about availability dates for working disaster sites. If you have not been contacted and are badged through UMCOR, please email your dates of availability to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first teams went in Friday morning (Nov.22)
East Peoria First UMC is part of an ecumenical response, serving as a Red Cross Shelter. Rev. Mary Arnold said much of the church’s effort has been in listening to the stories of victims and distributing materials and supplies as well as gathering information which will assist caseworkers later.
Glad Tidings Assembly of God is serving as the center for volunteers and the Baptist Church is managing the supply donations at the community’s Expo Center.
Gifford: UMCOR-trained Early Response Teams from the Iroquois River and Vermilion River districts began their work Wednesday Nov. 20, assisting residents in cleanup and sorting of items from damaged homes. Ron Monroe, who is coordinating the response, reported that work is beginning to slow with probably cleanup expected to be completed this week. FEMA assessments were completed Thursday.
County Health Care and Rehab Center in Gifford is a shelter. The Lutheran Church is serving soup and sandwiches.
Rantoul First UMC has an emergency drop-off center in the Gathering Place, operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The church has already received food, water, cleaning and hygiene supplies, diapers, toilet paper, blankets and clothing. There has been an immediate call for plastic totes (containers with lids) for families trying to save belongings from damaged homes in Gifford. Totes and all supplies can go to Rantoul First UMC.
New Minden: Relief work headed by the Lutheran Church continues in New Minden to assist 10 local families whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Gift cards are being collected for the families. They can be dropped off during the next day or so at the school building, which is serving as sort of a command post, or can be mailed to: St. John's Lutheran Church, 15538 State Route 127, Nashville, IL, 62263.
Brookport and Unionville: Early response teams from the Cache River District and District Superintendent Roger Russell have been in Brookport since Nov. 20. Rev. Ed Hoke and Rev. Pete Ryan are coordinating the United Methodist response in Brookport and Unionville.
More than 200 volunteers responded to an urgent call to assist residents in getting debris moved from their yards to the curb so that trucks can pick up and remove the debris ahead of a cold front that is expected to move through by week’s end.
Brookport UMC closed in June 2008.
Response teams register at the old Veach’s station at the junction of Illinois 145 and U.S. Highway 45. Volunteers are asked to bring their own tools, gloves and food and drink. Dress for work and the weather. Wear work shoes fit for rough conditions and bring supplies to be self-sufficient. The registration process may take time. Volunteers will be matched with assignments in affected areas.
FEMA assessments were completed on Friday. A special request has been made for plastic totes that can store items salvaged from the storm debris. First Baptist Church in Brookport (618-564-2772) and Mt. Sterling Presbyterian Church, just outside Brookport (618-564-2616) are coordinating supply donations. Contact the church to get a current list of urgently needed items.
In responding to community needs, Brookport is establishing a Multi-Agency Response Center (MARC) to provide various forms of assistance.