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Amber Payne reads a story to children at Dodson Chapel Childcare at Hermitage (Tenn.) United Methodist Church. Hermitage United Methodist Church provided a facility at their satellite campus after a tornado destroyed the nearby Dodson Chapel United Methodist Church in March 2020. The new center opened Sept. 13. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

Bent, but not broken: Churches respond to deadly tornado aftermath

As thousands of tornado victims begin the long task of rebuilding their lives, churches send supplies and relief workers. And hope.

“Finally got my flocked tree I was wanting,” Taga Jones posted to social media. “Trying to find the humor.”

Jones, who worships with the Seven Oaks Church of Christ in Mayfield, Kentucky, was joking about the latest fad in Christmas décor — flocking a tree with a white, powdery mixture to give it a snow-kissed look.

The “flocking” on Jones’ tree is brown ceiling insulation, wood chips and dust. Debris covers the living room, illuminated by sunlight pouring in between beams in the collapsed ceiling. But the tree, topped with a top hat, stands tall.

Jones’ home is one of hundreds destroyed by a rare December tornado that tore through four states — Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois Tennessee and Kentucky — in four hours. It was part of a Dec. 10-11 outbreak in which more than 30 tornadoes were reported across six states.

READ: Samaritan’s Purse among ministries responding to tornado destruction

tornado churches

Taga Jones shows her Christmas tree, newly “flocked” by the tornado that destroyed her home.

As the storm ripped apart the house, Jones sheltered in the basement with her husband, Anthony, their infant son and a small group of extended family members. The tornado destroyed much of downtown Mayfield and collapsed a candle factory, killing at least eight people.

“My heart is just shattered for so many,” Jones posted after the storm passed. “Please pray for all of those still trapped and those who have lost loved ones.”

“We could have all been taken tonight,” she added. “Thank you, Lord, for keeping us safe.”

‘If we want to blame God for something …’

The Joneses and thousands of other tornado victims are salvaging what they can — in the midst of winter weather, without electricity or running water. Experts say it may take years to recover.

Their congregation, Seven Oaks, and the Northside Church of Christ in Mayfield are working with Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team to provide relief for those in need. The Ohio-based ministry will house and feed volunteers at the Seven Oaks building and distribute supplies from the Northside building.

The Seven Oaks Church of Christ prepares to welcome storm victims with hot meals and showers.

“The search and rescue/recovery phase is still ongoing, so we are limited on the areas we can work in,” Disaster Response Team members posted to social media, “but families are being helped with supplies as well as labor on their homes and properties.”

Across the storm-battered region, other congregations and ministries are responding:

  • Project Unify, a ministry supported by multiple Churches of Christ in the Southeast, is sending disaster relief volunteers to work with the Mars Hill Church of Christ in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the congregation aids its community.

“We’re doing what we’re doing to spread the gospel,” said Cody Michael, a director of Project Unity and outreach minister for the Decatur Church of Christ in Alabama.

“So many people are upset and hurting right now and angry. ‘Why did God let this happen?’” Michael said. “If we want to blame God for something, let me tell you what to blame God for: Blame God for all of the help that is arriving in Kentucky right now as we speak.”

Rebuilding with hope


Among the debris in the Jones family’s home was this painting by Terry Jones, “Bent but not Broken.” Photo by Taga Jones.

Back in Mayfield, Taga Jones faces the long task of rebuilding her life as she tries to help her employees rebuild theirs. She and her husband are franchisees for Little Caesars and operate seven restaurants in the Mayfield area. Two are currently without power. As the storms approached, the couple closed the stores early to allow the employees to get home and prepare.

Tyler Alverson, minister for the Seven Oaks church, told The Christian Chronicle, “Anthony and Taga Jones are not only hard workers in our community but also are very important parts of our church family. We love them and hope that you will continue to pray for them.”

Among the debris in their home, Taga Jones found a painting done by her aunt, Terry Jones, more than two decades ago. Titled “Bent but not Broken,” it depicts a lone, leafless tree — reminiscent of the tiny, forlorn fir in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” — standing in a storm-swept field.

“This picture is beyond amazing,” Jones said. “It could not be more fitting that it survived our home being destroyed.

“My family and community are certainly bent, but not broken.”

Erik Tryggestad is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact erik@christianchronicle.org, and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad.

This story is republished from The Christian Chronicle.