News Articles

Church hosts prayer services after tornado

SUFFOLK, Va. (BP)-—Many residents in Suffolk, Va., are testifying to God’s protection after the worst of six tornadoes in central and southeastern Virginia hit their city April 28, leaving 200 people injured but no fatalities.

“Everything we’ve seen on TV, everything we’ve heard, every testimony — even from [unbelievers] — has been how merciful God was,” Bryan Ray, pastor of First Baptist Church in Suffolk, told Baptist Press. “There has not been one loss of life. It has been supernatural.”

The church hosted two citywide prayer services April 30, one at noon attended by about 60 people and another in the evening that drew more than 150.

“We felt burdened because we have people hurting and we realized it’s not just our people, it’s the whole city,” Ray said. “People all over the place were affected by it. So we wanted to give people an opportunity to come together as believers in the name of Jesus and to pray for those who are hurting and also pray for those who might have the opportunity to hear the Gospel.”

Ray said a group of men at his church have been praying for a couple of years for God to send revival to Suffolk, a city of 80,000 west of Norfolk, and he hopes the tornado might be a catalyst.

“We’re praying that this might be the way God allows us to experience a spiritual awakening or a great movement of God,” he said. “People are obviously very ripe for the Gospel, so we’re hoping the Lord will allow us to be a huge blessing in the community and see a lot of people come to know Christ.”

A graduate of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Ray said the students who lived through that tornado in February would come closer than anyone to understanding what people are feeling in Suffolk.

“We have a church member whose house was condemned, and the house beside it was completely destroyed,” Ray said. “The only thing that was left standing was an American flag. It was really unique. The lady and her two children made it [through the storm]. Everybody made it. When you look at the houses, it’s just totally the hand of God.”

During the first prayer service on Wednesday, two classes each of second- and fourth-grade students from First Baptist’s school joined church members and some people from the community to read Scripture and pray for those affected by the disaster, Ray said. Three families whose homes were destroyed in the tornado attended, and the group surrounded them in prayer.

After the noon event, Ray joined other church members who had packed bagged lunches to distribute in neighborhoods hit by the tornado. The pastor repeatedly marveled that “the hand of God has been all over this situation” because homes were left splintered but no one was killed.

At the evening service, a praise band led in worship and a man who lost his home spoke about God’s mercy and goodness, Ray said. The next morning, the pastor joined other local leaders at a National Day of Prayer breakfast, and he said people there also were grateful for God’s protection.

Ray requested that Southern Baptists pray for strength and comfort for the city of Suffolk as people dig through the rubble of their homes and try to start over.

Mark Gauthier, disaster relief coordinator for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, reported April 30 that the state convention had two chainsaw/cleanup teams and one assessment team on site in Suffolk.

“Currently, both chainsaw teams are assisting in conducting assessments,” Gauthier said. “We have four additional chainsaw/cleanup teams standing by and an additional 20-25 volunteers who have yet to be assigned to a specific team.”

After completing assessments in two of three neighborhoods, disaster relief officials reported that 277 homes were damaged and 24 were destroyed. Gauthier anticipated having six recovery teams on site in Suffolk May 1, in addition to an assessment team finishing up. He said he and Terry Raines, disaster relief coordinator for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, would be working together on the response.

“At this time we do not feel that assistance from conventions outside of Virginia will be necessary,” Gauthier said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach