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New pastor who survived tornado preaches inaugural sermon in barn

MULHALL, Okla. (BP)–Troy Withey never expected to preach his first sermon as pastor of First Baptist Church, Mulhall, Okla., in a barn.
Neither did he expect to enter that makeshift pulpit with little more than the clothes on his back.
Withey’s home, the Baptist parsonage, was leveled when a May 3 tornado ravaged through the small community north of Guthrie. He and his wife, Trena, were in the process of moving their belongings from Coyle, Okla., where he had been pastor of First Baptist Church.
It was his first day on the job in Mulhall.
The church building was damaged in the fierce storm, but Withey thought services could be held there on Sunday until both the worship center and fellowship hall were condemned.
“This seemed like the best option,” said Teri Valega, who along with her husband, Jamie, own the barn three miles east of town where First Baptist worshipers met the Sunday after the tornado.
Nearly 100 people crowded into the red and white structure where chairs and a pulpit were set up. Average attendance the last few months has been around 50.
A CD in the Valega’s red F-350 pick-up out front provided the worship service’s prelude. Choir director Harold Richards led the congregation in singing “Blessed Assurance,” “It Is Well With My Soul” and “Trust and Obey.”
Withey said he was going to preach a Mother’s Day sermon, because that’s the “only thing that’s normal in our lives today.”
However, while preaching on the text from 2 Timothy 1-7, Withey couldn’t help referring to the tragedy that hit the town less than a week before.
“You can look at your house being gone, but you have a firm foundation in Jesus Christ,” Withey said. “Christians are not immune to disaster. The storm is not going to take the house of our neighbor, who is not a Christian, and leave ours. The Bible says Christians will face trials and tribulations.”
Back to mothering, Withey, the father of two young sons, said parents have bought Satan’s lie that “we should give our children stuff, but not time.”
Back to the tornado, Withey added “what our children need is time. We can have things, and in one swift wind, they are gone. But God’s things remain. What you invest in heaven will be there.”
Withey said, “Every time Oklahoma suffers a catastrophe, we pull together. We have Bible roots, but it’s time to start watering them.”
Following the 40-minute service which got started 10 minutes late, flowers were given to all the mothers in the congregation, which included several visitors including Withey’s parents from Lavida, Colo., and at least 10 people from the media.
Withey announced there would be no evening services that night, and the congregation would continue to meet in the barn until further notice. He said plans were to put a mobile home on the property for him and his family to live in until the parsonage can be rebuilt.
“We’re more sure of our call to Mulhall than we’ve ever been,” Withey said. “We’re in a barn in the middle of a field, but Jesus is just a breath away.
“This is almost heaven; it doesn’t get any better than this. We’ve been together just a week, but it seems like a lifetime.”

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  • Dana Williamson