Texas Trail of Tornadoes: UMC Response Underway
In the wake of deadly and destructive tornadoes and twisters over a 50-mile stretch, the United Methodist connectional system is full-response mode to mitigate the aftermath of damage to some 5,000 structures in a three-county region. According to TAC Mission Center Director Rev. Scott Moore, the path of devastation occurred along the border of the North and Northwest districts, sparing much of Canton but hitting many small towns in the nearby vicinity. “The Mission Center immediately sent 150 cleaning kits, 60 tarps along with lumber and screws to protect damaged roofs,” he says. “A trained and badged ERT team from Rusk deployed May 2, and will soon be followed by teams from Greggton UMC and Atlanta FUMC.”
Rev. Jon Thornsbury, pastor of FUMC Canton says, “The response to the need for those who are suffering has been a clear testimony of people's care for those in need: from the couple who drove from Oklahoma to bring diapers, water and blankets to the man and his dog from Alvin who brought macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, diapers and cleaning wipes.” Adds Jon, “Many, many people from the East Texas and Dallas area just showed up with much-needed items. We were overwhelmed by the response of people who will never meet those who live on the country roads --whose lives were devastated -- who are so appreciative for water, food items and a blanket. The supplies multiplied in the first 24 hours.”
“Many of our local churches of all denominations, 12 fire departments and 25 law enforcement groups helped with the panic projects in the first phase and now we are transitioning into the recovery projects,” reports Rev. Alan Van Hooser, Cheatham Memorial UMC from Canton’s neighboring town of Edgewood. “We are thankful for the ERT teams from five Texas Conferences and a big team from Oakhill UMC in Austin and Richardson. Another shout out goes to Rev. Greg Oberg, Sam Houston State’s Wesley Center for recruiting students from seven colleges via the UM Army system to help us throughout May.”
According to District Superintendent Marlin Fenn, the 50 miles of damage from Eustace to Emory is dramatic. “We are thankful to Alan for coordinating much of our conference ERT work,” he says. “It's a massive situation and all the relief organizations are trying to get their feet on the ground.” According to Marlin, the Catholic Church in Emory was destroyed but the Methodist congregation has invited them to share their facility.
Jon says, “Through the Red Cross Canton First was able to provide shelter, food, water and basic items to those effected by the storm during the first part of the relief effort. More recently, all the donated items have been transferred to the Fairgrounds so those in need would have a centralized place to receive assistance. Mercy Chefs set up in the church parking lot to provide fresh made meals to first responders and families affected by the storm. By the end of the week Mercy Chefs had provided over 5500 meals to those assisting and those in need.”
Canton First has also been able to partner with the Tyler radio station KVNE in their efforts to raise $20,000 in gift cards for the victims of the storms. Additionally, numerous ERT teams have stayed at the church as they are assisting in the recovery effort, and many others teams are coming in from the area for day trips to lend a hand.
“The night of the storm was the night of a big prom in the area,” shares Alan, “and the venue for that event was totally destroyed – but since dinner and pictures were taking place elsewhere, very few were onsite at the time it was hit.” Adds Alan, “The tense times we have been dealing with are offset by the kindness displayed on a daily basis. For example, one pastor from the North Texas Conference placed 400 gift cards in my hand for use in the recovery. I’m also excited to learn that three more churches want to schedule training so they can have an ERT team in the wings.”
Even though the storm is not in the headlines anymore, the Methodist legacy is to stay involved in the rebuilding phase as long as required.
“I cannot adequately express our heartfelt thanks to all in the Texas Annual Conference and around the country who have given, called, texted and prayed for Canton and Van Zandt County during this time of devastation,” Jon shares. “The outpouring of help and assistance has been overwhelming and continues to this day. It is truly amazing to see the body of Christ come together to help and assist those who are in need due to the storms. In my sermon this past Sunday I explained how incredible and wonderful it was to see everyone come together to help and assist those who were in need. But then I asked the question -- do we have to experience the devastation of an F4 tornado for us to do what we have done this week or as those who follow the risen Christ? Are we not called to do this each and every day?”
To fund the recovery, Scott encourages individuals to give to the UMCOR Disaster Response Advance #901670. “If we put out a call for general volunteers, it will be a few weeks down the road,” he adds.
Adds Marlin, “Out of tornadoes come the most amazing stories and miracles. I am so grateful for our conference early response teams, for Scott Moore's quick action, and for our pastors and churches that are working to bring peace in the midst of chaos, and hope in the presence of devastation. The Holy Spirit unites us in tragedy and the presence of God is even more visible than the damage of the winds.”
See Additional Photos: