By Paul Black
PEORIA – When two dozen tornadoes blazed a trail of destruction across Illinois last Nov. 17, no one could imagine the enormity of the challenge and the way in which pastors and laity in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference would respond.
Conference Lay Leader Ken Miller yielded his time to allowing others caught in the storm to tell their stories and how the United Methodist presence has been present in all parts of the conference.
Mandy Mattingly, who attends Washington Crossroads UMC, shared via video how she was getting ready for worship when she and her daughters were taken to a safe area of Crossroads UMC to ride out the storm.
“We never realized how much damage there was, because we were protected,” Mattingly said. “And although my husband was still at home and getting ready to come to church, God protected him as well.”
Mattingly said the experience was life changing. “When I come into the church now, there is a sense of calm that comes over me and I don’t want to leave,” she said. “Even as we rebuild, there’s something about knowing the church is there for me.”
Judi Hauck of Washington Evangelical UMC told of how her church became a strategic partner in the aftermath of the EF4 tornado. The church served as a Red Cross shelter feeding site with the church’s women providing hundreds of meals throughout the first week after the tornado. The church also heard from churches throughout the United States and the United Methodist connection was present.
The Illinois Great Rivers Conference was able to provide $18,500 in funds for Hope Swings in Washington to purchase materials for the construction of 100 swing sets this summer by youth mission teams.
Lisa Wiedman, pastor of Gifford UMC, spoke about the aftermath of the EF-2 tornado that struck the community. In all, 80 homes were destroyed in Gifford with another 15 in the outlying areas. A total of 150 homes were damaged.
Wiedman said the community is in recovery due to “an outpouring of love and gifts.”
The Illinois Great Rivers Conference is funding a summer camp, Camp Noah, for the children of the community. The camp will be held in two weeks.
Mark Souders, a lay member from Metropolis First UMC, told of the tornado that struck his hometown – a small river community across the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky.
Reconstruction has begun in Brookport and the IGRC Disaster Fund has provided $50,000 to assist the community in building the foundations of the reconstructed homes. In all three deaths were reported in Brookport, including one in nearby Unionville. Although the United Methodist Church closed in 2008, Metropolis First UMC has served as a contact point for teams going into Brookport.
The fourth site – Diamond and Coal City area – were assisted by the Coal City UMC, which had a cadre of badged early responders which took the lead in cleanup and recovery. Bolstered by volunteers from the Northern Illinois Conference, the community has come through the disaster and is into long-term r