Tyler church responds with power, provision and prayer during freezing weather
By Lindsay Peyton
The frigid Arctic blast in East Texas resulted in all-time temperature lows. In Tyler, the thermometer dropped to 6 below, and residents lost electricity. Despite the freezing weather, Dayspring UMC, Tyler sprang into action, ready to act as the hands and feet of Jesus.
Rev. Rusty McKee, who serves the church’s Flint campus, shoveled snow Wednesday morning to make way for a shipment of portable potties. They arrived just in time at noon. Already, about 60 people, residents of a neighboring apartment complex, are waiting for the church to open its doors.
“This is unprecedented,” McKee said. “Now we’re open. Whoever needs to come can stay.”
He plans to be on site for the next couple days, to meet and greet guests. “It’s fantastic to be the church without walls, to see the ministry that can happen when you throw open your doors,” he added.
Only a day ago, the clergy at Dayspring decided to become a warming shelter. McKee, Rev. Mike McDonald, who leads Congregational Care and Senior Pastor Rev. Kris Bagley brainstormed the best way to be the church in the midst of the winter storm.
“We had power at Dayspring,” Bagley said. “We decided, ‘If other people don’t have it, we need to make it available to them.’”
Church networks on social media to offer help
McDonald credits McKee for coming up with the concept. “I wanted to be a force multiplier for Rusty’s idea,” McDonald said. “We reached out to our network on social media. In a couple of hours, we had 30,000 shares.”
Before long, students from the Wesley House, residents from the neighboring apartment complex and a homeless family showed up. Police even brought in a man that they found on the side of the road to shelter in the church.
A prayer circle formed in the lobby. “It was encouraging,” McDonald said. “To see people show up like this, it was awesome.”
His wife Karen, office administrator at the church, made calls to area stores in search of food. “They were kind of laughing saying there’s no way we were going to get food,” McDonald recalled.
Vehicle breaks down with hundreds of sandwiches
The minute she hung up the phone, however, a call came in. A church member who manages a truck stop reported that a vehicle broke down – and was full of hundreds of sandwiches and pre-packaged salads that were now available.
“It was a modern-day fish and loaves story,” McDonald said.
“We fed everybody who was at our church,” Bagley added. “And we have more leftover for today.”
It seemed as if everything was going well at the church. “We had food, power, love and warmth,” McKee said.
Then, the pipes froze. “We had a trickle of water, but that’s it,” Bagley said.
But that didn’t stop Dayspring. The clergy simply transported the people staying there for the night to other churches with running water.
“We even went back to our church and transferred our food and water to them,” McDonald said.
Dayspring still wanted to provide warmth and shelter to neighbors in need. Portable bathrooms would be a temporary solution, McKee said. Church staff called a number of companies before finding one willing to deliver.
Now, McKee said that the church is open again for anyone in need of warmth. “The porta-potties, the food in the truck, they’re modern day miracles,” he added. “The Lord is moving.”
In the midst of the chaos, McDonald said he remembered that it was Ash Wednesday. “We always say, ‘Repent and believe the good news,’” he said. “For this year, I think we should focus on the second part.”
After all, even in the middle of a devastating winter storm and a pandemic, McDonald witnessed as Tyler residents banded together to help each other. “There’s so much good out there,” he said. “If you’re looking for it, you’ll see it.”
Bagley added that Dayspring is committed to being a church without walls. “It’s part of our identity,” he said. “We exist to serve our community.”