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7/17/97 Life goes on after Jarrell killer storm

JARRELL, Texas (BP)–The few trees at Double Creek Estates left standing by the May 27 tornado that killed 27 people are beginning to grow leaves again.
“I think it is a sign that life does go on,” said Kirk Dauphin, the Houston-area youth minister who led Day Camp and Teen Club activities the week of July 7 in storm-ravaged Jarrell, Texas.
Dauphin and his group of 30 young people and sponsors from North Oaks Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, went to Jarrell expecting to see destruction. Even so, they were surprised by the devastation caused when three tornadoes combined to strike south and west of the hamlet of Jarrell, midway between Waco and Austin, just off Interstate 35, wiping out nearly 30 homes in the Double Creek Estates.
“We also were surprised by the amount of emotional destruction it caused,” Dauphin said. “Every one of the kids we worked with had lost a close friend in the storm. Some of the teenagers were the first ones on the scene (after the 3:30 p.m. storm struck), and they have really had a hard go of it.”
Again and again, Dauphin said, the Jarrell young people would make reference to the fact that 13 of the 27 killed in the storm were children and youth.
“They would tell us that their class had had 45 members, but now there were only 37, or that the football team had lost some of its best players.”
Dauphin said one of the mothers from Jarrell told him that the Day Camp and Teen Club “was the first time the kids (of Jarrell) had gotten together to play and to have fun since the storm.”
“We wanted them to know that it was okay to laugh and smile and have fun,” he said. “It was kind of like when Moses threw the tree into the bitter water and it became sweet. We went there to take the tree that Jesus died on — the cross — to make the bitter water from the storm sweet again.”
“Cotton” Bridges, a volunteer from Plano, Texas, conducted the Day Camp as he has in hundreds of other situations across the years.
“The difference here was that our purpose was to get their minds off what they had been through,” Bridges said. “One of the boys in the youth group had gone to four funerals in three days and was a pallbearer at one of them. It is going to take a long time for them to heal, but we feel like we were able to help.”
The Day Camp and Teen Club were conducted at First Baptist Church, Jarrell, under the sponsorship of Texas Baptist Men.
The Day Camp had a total registration of 50, and it had an Indian theme. “We were able to explain the plan of salvation to everyone who came,” Bridges said, noting six professions of faith were recorded, plus one made by a member of the North Oaks Baptist Church.
Dauphin, who has been youth minister at North Oaks only a month after moving from Midway Road Baptist Church in Dallas, said a group from First Baptist Church, Killeen, Texas, came to help and was present for the evening activities, which featured music, drama, skits and recreational activities such as basketball and volleyball.
“We had Teen Club from 7 to 9 p.m. but stayed around to talk and play games until past 10:30 every night,” he said. “We feel it was really a positive thing for them to get out and have some fun again.”
“I thought it went very well,” said Max Johnson, pastor for 17 years of the congregation which averages about 60 in attendance and now has become a center for rescue and relief activities. “We are following up on the professions of faith now.”
The activities are especially important, Johnson said, since school will be starting in a few weeks and the absence of the teens killed in the storm will be even more noticeable and poignant.
The activities for youth and children are only a part of the continuing efforts to rebuild the storm-ravaged town.
Johnson said, “We still are having a lot of telephone calls and letters. The outpouring of compassion has been just amazing.”
The church — at the request of the Community Council — did not advertise its needs but has received 1,100 letters in the weeks since the storm, the pastor added.
“About a third of the letters are from churches — Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist and even a Church of Christ. They want to help but they want to make sure it went through our church, and that the help was done in such a way that God would be praised,” Johnson said.
He said about $500,000 has gone into a fund established by the church, including a gift from a “sophomore class in a public school which got together during the summer, contacted their teachers and made the gift to us.”
The fund will be used to help the 76 families identified as having suffered some loss in the storm. Johnson said it will be administered by a committee appointed by the church, which will include Oris Smith, director of missions of the Williamson Baptist Association, of which the church is a part.
Most of the people displaced by the storm have been “absorbed by friends and family. I do not know of anybody who is still misplaced. All of them found some place to land,” he said.
Meanwhile, commodities contributed to the church have been put in a common store at the school, Johnson said.
“Those things are being handed out as needed, but we are hoping to get out of that business soon because we have a lack of room, and the space at the school will have to be used for other purposes fairly soon,” he said.
Some of the homes are being rebuilt or repaired by work crews led by Mennonites, who have volunteered to come to the community, Johnson said.
With the funds, commodities, rebuilding and repairing under way, the Day Camp and Teen Club were welcome additions as the community attempts to cope with its second killer storm in eight years.
“We are just a little country church that is hanging in there,” Johnson said.

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  • Dan Martin