WASHINGTON, Ill. (BP) — An approaching tornado interrupted worship at First Baptist Church in Washington, Ill., Nov. 17, leading Pastor Josh Monda to shepherd his congregation to shelter in the basement and ensure all were out of harm’s way.
“We stepped outside, and you could see the updraft pulling into the storm,” said Monda. “We saw the tornado form and began moving through the neighborhood where we knew several of our members live.”
A church member was hospitalized with injuries from the storm. Four homes of members were destroyed and other residences were damaged as the tornado passed approximately one-quarter mile from the church, Monda said. The church building received no damage.
“We went out and started to help people. We pulled a couple of people from the wreckage of their homes and prayed with them. Some of our members tried to make it home but could not. It was a tough situation. We pray we will be able to help people, but more than that, also share the Gospel,” Monda said.
The tornado that struck at approximately 11 a.m. was part of a storm system that raced across the Midwest, spawning scores of tornadoes and claiming six lives. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers responded within hours.
Illinois suffered the worst damage, with state officials confirming six deaths, including one in Washington, a farming community, and others in the small towns of Nashville, Brookport and Unionville, Ill. The storm system was reminiscent of other November multi-state tornado outbreaks.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a seven-county region as a disaster area, including Tazewell County, where Washington is located. The National Weather Service initially reported a three-mile path of destruction in Washington, with damage later recorded in Indiana, Missouri and other states.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units were deployed in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The North American Mission Board was dispatching supplies including bottled water and roofing tarp to the area Monday (Nov. 18).
“The SBDR network in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri is equipped, trained and prepared,” said SBDR executive director Fritz Wilson, “and they responded quickly, as soon as the storms were clearing.”
“The states are responding, as they always do, and we will assist them and provide support as they have need,” Wilson said. “That is one of the great things about working in cooperation. Just like in the Philippines, there were people [in states affected by the tornadoes] trained and ready to serve. We are supporting them and assisting with the coordination of state volunteers. Our network puts us in place before disasters ever occur.”
In all, Wilson said 12 states experienced severe weather from the system and had some damage. Illinois State Baptist Association Missions Mobilization Director Rex Alexander has been in contact with NAMB and is assessing needs.
“With the situation in Illinois, it may not be the magnitude of the typhoon or a Moore, Okla. [tornadoes], but it is significant to the people of Washington,” Wilson said. “It is important for our volunteers and leaders to be able to bring help, healing and hope in the midst of disaster. That is the beauty of the Cooperative Program and the cooperative nature of SBDR ministry.”
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers — including chaplains — and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Donate by phone at 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks designated “Disaster Relief” to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.
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