In the December issue of The Current, Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton share about his visit to Washington Crossroads and Gifford to survey damage left by the Nov. 17 tornado and how it rekindled a childhood memory of his own brush with disaster.
Bishop Keaton writes:
“On Tuesday, Nov. 19, I sat in a morning meet at Crossroads UMC in Washington. Lay and clergy from several churches, the district superintendent, IGRC personnel, representatives from the Salvation Army attended. We talked about way to coordinate our disaster response efforts for tornado victims.
Near the end of the meeting, Major David Dalberg of the Salvation Army office in Chicago, changed the focus of the meeting. He inquired of me how one ought to answer the question: “How could a loving God allow such a disaster to happen?”
My answer has not varied whether injury, destruction and/or death has been wrought by hurricanes, typhoons, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes or the spate of tornadoes that ravaged five states on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, Nov. 17.
“’I don’t know.’” The human mind is finite. It cannot fully understand the things of God. We ‘see through a dark glass dimly’ (I Corinthians 13:12).
“Since we cannot fully know the mind of God, more questions face us. Is the notion of God as “a loving God” the totality of who God is?& Does labeling God as a loving God reduce an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God to one dimension, love and nothing more? How does the idea of a loving God square with the famous Last Judgment passage in Matthew 25? Are love and judgment two sides of the same coin? If God is only Love, is God limited to making good things happen in the world? Or, can a loving God cause good to come from bad things happening to all people or just good people?
Why is God willing to risk his children being upset or angry with God by allowing or watching his creation wreak havoc upon the just and the unjust via tornadoes, loss of life, home, happiness etc.? Why would God risk ruining God’s reputation as a good God? To make sure that destructive acts of nature never happen to humankind, couldn’t God take pre-emptive action against say destructive tornadoes rendering them harmless before they strike? If not, how are we to understand fully a mantra millions of people recite and believe?
“’God is good all the time; and all the time, God is good.’” I don’t fully know. I do know God thoughts and tornadoes do cause human anger and frustration!!
“Surprise, surprise, God thoughts and tornadoes do inspire love for our neighbors. They pulverize the firewall we build around the notion of neighbor. How? Together, God and tornadoes move masses of people beyond the concept of neighbor into a genuine love of neighbor, if only for one moment in time.
All persons normally immobilized or stymied by culture, race, gender, poverty, immigration and class ad infinitum eagerly cross those lines to help others. Human suffering at the hands of fire, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, typhoons and tornadoes is too much to ignore. God within, compels a loving response. Here the great divide between the concept of neighbor and being a neighbor is bridged. When that happens, recipients of that divine love often speak of the Word made flesh e.g., “’God is our refuge and strength an ever present help in the time of trouble.’” (Psalm 46:1).
“’I don’t know’ was not my full answer to the Salvation Army Official on Nov. 19, 2013. Remember, he asked “How could a loving God allow such a disaster to happen? His question about a loving God rocked me. Lines of people receiving food, clothes, shelter, love and service from volunteers touched me. His question dredged up the stuff of nightmares.
“An old memory safely consigned to the dungeon of my memory for 50-plus years was resurrected. I thought it was dead and buried. In brief, our house caught on fire. Nobody was hurt. But the house sustained enough damage to make it uninhabitable. We lost family memories documented in letters, pictures and legal papers, etc. Seven children and two adults needed a place to stay, food to eat, beds for sleeping, etc., while our house was being repaired. On short notice, five or six families opened their homes to us. We were separated but cared for by loving neighbors until the family was reunited. For how long, I don’t recall. Out of that old memory of the fire came revelations of a loving God who brought my family through the nightmare of a terrible fire and ‘restored our broken dreams.’
“We are called as the church to do all we can, for as long as we can, to be the hands, feet, heart and particularly love of God to and for families who have lost a lot. In so doing, we represent the care and concern of God’s love embedded in Psalm 46:1, ‘God is our refuge and strength an ever present help in the time of trouble.’
“The late great mystic and theologian Dr. Howard Thurman wrote a poem about this loving God in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Millions of hearts have been fed by its good news and great joy:
“When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
“To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart “
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Here’s an updated status from each tornado site where disaster response efforts are underway:
Coal City/Diamond: Coal City/Diamond resident April Albrecht posted this testimony on Facebook:
“My family and I have been volunteering at the Methodist Church in Coal City. It is truly amazing the amount of donations that we have received. However, the volunteer turnout is even more impressive. We have had people from all over Illinois, and even out of state. The hours that they have worked are countless. When many of us are running on fumes, fresh volunteers keep pouring in. We so deeply appreciate the continued ongoing support. We could not unload and sort all of the amazingly generous donations without you!! Many hugs and a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported us!!!”
Coal City UMC has been leading the disaster response. The Morris Daily Herald reported Monday that the four people who were hospitalized due to injuries sustained from the storm have all been treated and released.
Donations of food, supplies and durable items have been significant and Coal City UMC will cease the receipt of these items. If donations were already gathered to support the relief effort, the church will take these donations through 4 p.m. today (Tuesday).
The Mazon State Bank will continue to take donations for the Diamond and Coal City Tornado Disaster Relief Fund.
There will be a continued effort to coordinate the services available to those affected by the tornado. The Red Cross will assist with a joint Multi-Agency Resource Center, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Diamond Banquet Hall, 55 S. Daly St., Diamond.
Attendees will find many useful and beneficial services from state, local, community, government and non-government partners. This one-stop-informational shop will help residents as they begin their recovery process.
Pekin: Cleanup efforts continue today. FEMA began assessment on Thursday. Heavy equipment has been brought into the neighborhoods to remove debris. The area is expected to reopen this weekend.
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.
Rev. Judy Doyle reports that several families from Pekin First UMC were also affected. She writes:
“Several members of our congregation were affected by the tornado. One home had substantial damage. Another lost the garage/carport. It looked like a saw was used to remove the garage/carport. The house itself sustained no damage. Yet another home was shifted on its foundation, the resident can live in the house but many repairs are necessary. Located at the end of court another family found a tree in the back of the their pick-up truck, a hole in the roof and the garage door damage. Another family found its backyard filled with trees, but very little damage to the house and their VW Beetle had a tree on it. The car will have the windshield replace and small "dings" removed. What thrilled me was to see the church in action. At least three volunteers from the church showed up with chainsaws to clear the trees in the back yard. The wood was hauled away but it took about five truckloads to clear the yard. Two of those men suffered damage in the Mothers' Day tornado of 2003. One had to have their house rebuilt.
“Another family suffered roof and window damage but could stay in their home. A couple from our church provided meals for them as it was difficult for the family to prepare their meals.
“When the Wrigley family (members of Pekin First UMC) learned one of their employees had suffered substantial damage when the tornado touched down in their subdivision, they went to work. An assessment of what was needed to make the home safe, secure and sanitary was made. They made a quick trip to Menard's and returned with supplies. A blue tarp was placed on the damaged roof, plywood applied where necessary. A couple employees of the Wrigleys also arrived to help. What a blessing to see the church being a witness to employees and others.”
Pekin also benefited from the shipment of 504 personal dignity kits from the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, an UMCOR partner, which arrived Monday.
Washington: Residential areas will be locked down for debris removal 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, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed.
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. After taking Sunday off, the church resumed serving noon meals on Monday with 1,000 people served. After peaking with as many as 28 persons, the Red Cross is currently sheltering eight persons in the church building.
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 and was a staging area for IGRC Early Responders. 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: Work is beginning to slow with probably cleanup expected to be completed this week. FEMA assessments were completed Thursday.
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 Wednesday. Rev. Ed Hoke and Rev. Pete Ryan are coordinating the United Methodist response in Brookport and Unionville.
Hoke reported Monday that most of the cleanup to the mobile home park is complete and the large influx of volunteers on Sunday greatly expedited total cleanup operations.
Response teams must 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.
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.