"A cup of water in Jesus name"
May 20, 2003
|Darlene Young reacts to the devastation around her house in Pierce City, Mo., Monday, May 5, 2003, the day after the town was hit by a tornado. Young says her house was spared destruction by a church next to it that took the brunt of the winds. (AP Photo/John S. Stewart)|
JEFFERSON CITY – "A cup of water in Jesus’ name."
The slogan, painted on the side of the trailer that carries equipment for the Cane Creek-Stoddard Baptist Association’s chain saw disaster relief team, pretty well summed up the attitude of Missouri Baptists the last two weeks as they responded to havoc created by a series of deadly tornadoes.
Of the 18 tornado deaths statewide, three were members of Southern Baptist churches.
• Dale Taughton, chairman of the deacons at First Baptist Church, Pierce City, had attended Sunday evening services, which were dismissed early because of stormy weather. He took his family to the Pierce City National Guard armory. His wife, Debra, had gone to the armory basement, and Dale was following. The building collapsed, however, before Dale could get down the steps. He was crushed by a falling steel beam.
• George and Betty Jones, members of New Home Baptist Church, Camdenton, was killed when a tornado smashed into their home along Highway 5 south of Camdenton.
President George W. Bush flew into Springfield on May 13, drove to Pierce City and met with tornado victims, including Mrs. Taughton.
"The President made a point of swinging by her table," said Greg Bunn, pastor of First Baptist, Pierce City.
"…my heart is right here, in Pierce City, with people whose lives were destroyed as a result of a tornado that swept down this street," the President said, standing outside one of the businesses destroyed in downtown Pierce City.
"And let me say one thing about what I saw at the (St. Mary’s Catholic) church (where Bush met with Pierce City residents). I saw a group of volunteers from all over this state, and even some from Texas. I want you to know that they want to help. And for that, I’m grateful, and I know their nation is, as well. They love their country."
The response effort by Missouri Baptists was massive. They could be found ministering:
- In the ruins of two southwest Missouri towns, Pierce City and Stockton;
- In northern Polk County where the violent storms literally flattened homes and communities;
- Along Highway 5 south of Camdenton where a tornado cut a wide swath, killing an elderly Baptist couple and destroying the Buffalo Prairie Baptist Church at Montreal;
- In Liberty where a tornado ripped into the William Jewell campus, causing an estimated $20 million damage to dorms and other buildings;
- In DeSoto where another storm tore into the Parkview Baptist Church, ripping off the roof.
A A National Weather Service map shows the paths of major tornadoes through Southwest Missouri and extreme eastern Kansas on May 4
Courtney Stocker, a 2001 Southwest Baptist University graduate and now employed as the school’s activities director, was typical of many Missouri Baptists as she volunteered to help organize groups of students to work in the nearby affected areas of Dunnegan and Stockton.
"It’s such a devastating thing," Stocker said. "My heart goes out to all those who lost their things. I just wanted to do something to help."
The Southwest Baptist University effort mushroomed as Stocker worked with Kurt Caddy, who heads the missions office at SBU, to mobilize students.
"We had as many as 175 volunteers," Caddy said. "Everybody knew about Stockton and Pierce City, but we hit the places nobody knew about. It’s my understanding that SBU provided 90 percent of the volunteers in Polk County. This was really outstanding."
C. Pat Taylor, SBU president, said the students response "demonstrates that we have some of the finest young people in the world enrolled her at Southwest Baptist."
"We had at least 50-60 kids going out every day. I know they were a real blessing to a lot of people," Taylor said. "My wife and I eat in the cafeteria once a week. Two football players came over to us and said they had to tell us about what they were doing. You could tell they had an exhilarating feeling. The kids have been a blessing to others, but it’s been a blessing to our kids to be involved in this kind of ministry."
It wasn’t just SBU students that were helping.
The disaster relief effort mobilized quickly after the first storms hit.
The MBC executive team, led by David Clippard, executive director, analyzed the situation on May 5. Word went out to Directors of Missions to collect names of affected Baptist families and churches.
By May 7, money had been drawn from the Disaster Relief Victim Response account. Checks were delivered to DOMs in Lawrence County, Greene County, Mid-Lakes, Tri-County, Lamine, Spring River, St. Joseph and Clay-Platte Associations for distribution to churches and families.
Churches with storm damage each were given $500. Baptist families with home damage each received $200.
"The money was designed to meet some immediate needs," Clippard said. "Many people lost their home, their check book, everything. This gave them some immediate pocket money until their insurance kicked in."
The day after the first tornado, Gary Morrow’s disaster relief truck was in route to southwest Missouri from its base at Marshall.
"It’s was a very positive effort," said Morrow while working at the Mount Vernon relief distribution location. "Our response teams have been putting a 100 percent effort into this thing. They’ve been doing a little bit of everything from providing child care in the Springfield area to helping with cleanup at other locations."
One of the services most appreciated, Morrow said, was the food preparation.
"As the food was prepared it was taken to the locations," Morrow explained. "Part of what we prepared went out on the Red Cross portable feeding units. The main thing was not who delivered the food but that it got to where it needed to be.
"This is one of the best things we could do for the people because they didn’t have a place to cook. Some of these towns didn’t even have water or electricity restored. We’ve worked several hurricanes in Florida, and the hurricanes damage doesn’t have anything over the tornado damage I saw in Pierce City and Stockton."
While Morrow was in Mount Vernon, a May 8 storm hit his home town, damaging the MBC disaster relief building at Marshall.
The tornado damage provided the Cane Creek-Stoddard Association chain saw unit an opportunity to use new chain saws donated to the unit by the Marble Hill Stihl dealer.
As of May 10, Morrow said the Missouri Baptist disaster relief response had kitchen operations at Mt. Vernon supporting the southwest area and at Linn Creek supporting the Camdenton area. The Arkansas Baptist Convention disaster relief team traveled to Midwestern Seminary at Kansas City to support cleanup efforts in the Liberty area.
The seminary narrowly escaped damage from the May 4 twister. Dozens of students and their families took shelter in the basement of the music building.
Randy Eaton, director of campus operations, said he saw the tornado approaching campus. "It appeared to be headed directly across the campus, but it continued to keep inching in a northerly direction as it got closer," he said. "I thought it might cross the northeast end of resident housing or clip the north campus facility."
The tornado hit William Jewell hard.
Administrators estimated damage at $15 to $20 million. No injuries were reported. Of the school’s 1,200 students, about 1,000 live on campus. Many had gone home for the weekend.
The steeple on Gano Chapel, installed less than two years ago, was toppled. And the married student dorm was severely damaged – maybe beyond repair, school officials said.
"We had very well-rehearsed emergency procedures," said John Westile, a William Jewell dean. "Our staff knew what to do and evacuated everybody to safe areas when the warning came a half-house before the tornado hit."
Westile said almost every building on the campus sustained roof damage. He said the oldest building on campus, Jewell Hall, was marred by a burst water pipe. Sports facilities sustained heavy damage, including Greene Stadium where two light poles collapsed onto the stadium seating area.
A spokesman at the Springfield weather bureau said the storms developed when a cold front stretching from the Kansas City area to southeast Kansas moved across Missouri.
"It was a textbook case for a tornado," said Drew Albert, the chief forecaster at Springfield.