Washington, Ill. | Joshua Monda stood just outside his church Sunday morning, watching a powerful tornado churn on the horizon a half-mile away. He shot video with his cell phone before calling the few other church members standing outside to get inside. Sirens sound just as the video ends.
Twenty-four hours later, Monda stands in a WalMart parking lot in a part of Washington not blocked off by police and first responders. Pastor Monda made it to First Baptist Church briefly that morning, but his office is on the move as he tries to meet immediate needs in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado that flattened parts of Washington. Several other communities all over the state suffered fatalities and severe damage from tornadoes on November 17.
Immediately after the tornado, Monda posted his cell phone number on Facebook for anyone needing assistance. He has received calls from all over the country from media wanting to talk, and people asking how they can help.
That Sunday morning, Monda had just started his sermon when someone’s cell phone sounded a tornado warning. He herded his congregation to the basement, where they waited out the storm. It came as close as a quarter mile away, he said.
The congregation stayed inside until the warning expired. As they tried to get to their homes, Monda and another church member went to an area that sustained severe damage. They ran up and down the street, helping who they could, and freeing a woman trapped under a wall.
Monda’s voice breaks as he tells the story. “Boy, all the emotion hits, you know?” He is tired, having spent much of the weekend before the storm in the hospital with his teenage daughter, who is fighting a severe infection not related to the tornado.
“It’s the Lord,” Monda said. “That’s the only answer. I can’t do this on my own. I don’t know, He gives you the strength.”
Disaster Relief response
A chainsaw team from Sullivan Southern Baptist Church was in Washington two days after the storm, and others are on standby to help as needs become more clear. Disaster Relief volunteers set up a feeding trailer at Woodland Baptist Church in Peoria, preparing more than 1,000 lunches and dinners for responders and residents in Washington.
Volunteers also moved quickly into several other communities affected by the swath of severe weather that tore through the Midwest, doing its worst in Illinois. Pekin and other Peoria-area communities reported damage, as did Diamond and Coal City, 100 miles to the northeast. In New Minden, seven miles north of Nashville, Ill., officials reported two storm-related deaths.
In extreme southern Illinois, First Baptist Church in Metropolis served as a Red Cross shelter for families who lost their homes in tiny Brookport, where an EF-3 tornado killed three people. Church members cooked 300 meals a day for victims and relief workers.
“Disaster Relief has become a large part of our church’s ministry,” said Pastor Joe Buchanan. This is the fourth disaster in five years during which the church has served as a shelter.
Chainsaw teams also began working in the Brookport and New Minden areas last week. “I am so grateful for our volunteers who have taken the time to prepare to respond during a disaster,” said Rex Alexander, IBSA’s Disaster Relief coordinator. “When a disaster strikes there are many people with good hearts that want to help. But we primarily rely on those who have been trained to help.”
It’s a powerful storm that can pick up a house from one side of the street and drop it on the other. That’s what happened on School Street on the outskirts of Washington.
Residents began to pick up the pieces the next day. As they packed clothing into their cars or sifted through debris for keepsakes, they talked about their neighbor who died during the storm – the only fatality confirmed here. They also pointed out where the homes landed after being picked up by the tornado.
Place of refuge
Mary Boles stood outside her daughter’s house as her son-in-law carried his family’s belongings to a van parked in the driveway. He and his wife had gone to the store to pick up breakfast when the tornado wreaked havoc here. Three of their children took cover in the basement.
Morton and Pekin, nearby cities, have had storms like this. “We’ve usually been missed here,” Boles said. “This is our big hit.”
The neighbors on School Street showed signs of resilience the day after the storm, packing salvageable items into black plastic garbage bags, and rejoicing over a found Christmas decoration. It’s likely adrenaline keeping them going, said Harold Booze, a Disaster Relief “blue cap,” or supervisor. Booze is helping to coordinate the recovery effort in Washington, Pekin and Peoria.
Monda hopes his church will be a place of refuge in the days to come, where people can come for food, water, counseling and prayer. He asks for prayer for the families in his church who lost their homes. And for others who are hurting physically, emotionally and spiritually after the storm.
In his Sunday School lesson the morning of the tornado, the pastor taught “humanitarian effort without the Gospel is simply humanitarian effort.” He didn’t know how quickly his lesson would be put to the test.
He says, “Pray that we will best figure out how we can effectively minister to our community, but in so doing, show them what is most important, which is knowing Jesus Christ as Savior.”
To donate to Illinois Disaster Relief or find out about upcoming training opportunities, go to www.IBSA.org.