- HOLLY MEYER
Mayfield, Kentucky, United States
After weathering the violent tornado that devastated their town in a tunnel under their church, Reverend Wes Fowler and his family emerged from the devastation spanning blocks: crackling power lines, piles of rubble and calls using which they could not identify in the dark.
Later, safe at home, his daughter had a question that puzzled him: “My little girl asked me, ‘Why would God let this happen?’ Said Fowler, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Mayfield.
The Rev. Wes Fowler, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, poses for a photo next to a broken stained glass window in the church sanctuary following tornadoes that ravaged the area in Mayfield, Ky., On Monday 13 December. PHOTO: AP Photo / Holly Meyer.
Although he thinks God allowed the tornado to happen, he didn’t understand why the western Kentucky community where he was baptized, grew up, and chose to raise his family didn’t. was spared by the Friday night storms that left dozens of people dead and communities. tottering through at least five states. But he felt he knew what to do next: glorify God in the midst of suffering and serve those in need.
“It’s easy to serve the Lord when the going is good,” Fowler said. “It’s harder to serve him when times are tough, and I think it’s really when people are looking to see if our faith is genuine, if our faith is real.”
Despite the damage to their own church buildings, First Baptist staff and volunteers have stepped up to provide whatever they can to help survivors cope with the aftermath of the disaster and stay afloat – cards -gifts, food, generators, water, a listening ear and more.
Blake Schuecraft, associate pastor, said church leaders formed three teams in the aftermath of the storm: one to help affected members of the congregation, who number about 350 on Sunday; a second to focus on patching up and cleaning up the First Baptist campus; and a third to serve the larger community of around 10,000 people and coordinate offers of help.
A Georgian ministry showed up with generators ready to serve coffee to the community, and the First Baptist invited them to use their space, Schuecraft said. He has sent offers of help from churches as far away as New York and from individuals in Florida and Illinois: “Some people just load up what they have and bring it here.
The congregation, whose foundation dates back to before the Civil War, was about two months away from moving into its newly renovated and nearly century-old sanctuary when the tornado struck. Some of its stained-glass windows blew and a wall cracked, delaying its reopening. But it streamlined the best of First Baptist structures.
A blown-out window in front of a crucifix is seen in the First Baptist Church, following tornadoes that ravaged the area, in Mayfield, Ky. On Monday, December 13. PHOTO: AP Photo / Holly Meyer.
Across the street in the church children’s building, the decorated Christmas tree in the foyer was miraculously intact, but shards of glass, soggy ceiling tiles and other debris were strewn about on the ground as workers rushed to cover holes in the roof of the congregation’s temporary worship space.
Outside and in front of one of the dust-covered entrances, dispensers of coffee, creamers and sweeteners were lined up on folding tables under a towering cross in a shattered second-story window.
Debbie Samples, a member of First Baptist for about 20 years, spent hours Monday brewing pot after pot of coffee that was handed out in styrofoam cups to community cleaning crews and neighbors through the downed car windows crawling through the devastated city center.
This small comfort offering was a familiar act of service for Samples, who often provide meals to mourners and those in need through one of the church ministries. Heartbroken with destruction, Samples wanted to help in any way he could.
“This church has been a vital part of our lives, but it’s not just the building – it’s our church family,” Samples said. “It’s who calls us or who we call on when the going is bad … it’s Christ, and we hope we can shine for him through that.”
Samples said she squatted with more than a dozen family members and neighbors in her basement on Friday evening as the tornado roared like a freight train. They have a permanent invitation to take shelter there, the only house with a basement in its neighborhood. Located a few miles from Mayfield, the area was untouched by the tornado – so she gasped when she saw the extent of destruction in the city.
“The pictures don’t do justice to what we’re seeing,” Samples said. “It’s worse than we could imagine.”
Workers throw metal from the roof as they repair damage to First Baptist Church following tornadoes that swept through the area in Mayfield, Ky. On Tuesday, December 14. PHOTO: AP Photo / Holly Meyer.
Fowler also recalled the terror of that night, when he and his wife used their bodies to cover their three children in the tunnel as the ceiling shook violently, enveloping them in a cloud of dust.
“It probably lasted … 30 seconds or more.” It was like it lasted five minutes, ”Fowler said. “The kids were crying and I was telling them verbally, ‘It’s going to be fine. “Everything will be fine.” … But in my mind, I thought maybe we weren’t okay.
For the time being, their focus was on staying alive. Once safe, their conversation turned to God.
Days later, as the afternoon sun shone through the damaged stained glass windows of the empty shrine, Fowler still had no answer to his daughter’s question. He believes in a sovereign God but could not find any theological reasoning as to why the tornado dealt such a fatal blow to Mayfield and not to another town.
“I must have looked at my 8 year old little girl, who is looking for answers to me,” he said, “and I must have said…” I don’t know. I do not know.'”