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Tornadoes cause major damage to 3 OKC-area churches

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–At least three Southern Baptist churches suffered damage as a series of tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City metro area May 8-9.

The May 8 tornado cut a path across two counties and six communities, leaving more than 1,900 homes damaged. The following day, a similar storm cut through western and northwestern sections of Oklahoma City into Edmond and continued toward Tulsa. There was damage to at least three Southern Baptist churches in the path of the tornadoes — Trinity Baptist Church in Moore; Tulakes Baptist Church in Bethany; and Witcher Baptist Church near Edmond.

At First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, which was just a quarter-mile north of the May 8 tornado’s path, a command post was set up for civil authorities and the news media. Ralph Speas, the church’s associate pastor, said early reports were that fewer than 10 members of the congregation had damage to their homes. He said the church evacuated its employees about an hour before the storm hit.

Across town in Moore, Trinity Baptist Church was not so fortunate. Narrowly missed by the record F-5 tornado on May 3, 1999, the church this time was nearly demolished, with only one wall left standing — a wall with a cross that hung by one nail. Pastor Ed McCreary had left the church about 15 minutes before the storm hit, unaware that the weather was turning nasty. As he headed west toward his house, McCreary saw the wall cloud and called his wife, who works at a counseling center across the street from the church.

“I told her to get under the desk and cover up with whatever she could find,” McCreary said.

He said he headed back toward the church, which took nearly two hours because of the backup of traffic.

McCreary’s daughter and three grandchildren were staying in a motel across Interstate 35 from the church because they were transitioning from one house to another. The motel was hit by the tornado, but Sheryl Seals and her three small children, Rebekah, 4, Hannah, 2, and Zachary 1, were standing in front of the counseling center with McCreary’s wife, Gloria, when he drove up.

“Boy, were they a sight to see,” McCreary said.

The pastor said about eight to 10 Trinity families’ houses were destroyed in the 1999 tornado, but this time only four or five were damaged, but not leveled.

McCreary said when he came to Trinity five years ago buckets were catching water due to leaks in the roof, and the church was selling cookbooks to pay for a new roof. He said retirees helped to renovate the church as members looked to God’s Word on how He built His tabernacle. The church had put on the new roof in 1999 just before the tornado, and in February 2001 the interior was reconstructed.

“It was warm and receptive and exuded a spirit of worship,” McCreary said, looking at the destroyed building. People talk about when you do good, God will sustain you, the pastor reflected. “When you look at this damage,” he said, “you wonder if you’ve done something wrong, but what we have seen is miraculous. We had no fatalities and God saved my daughter and grandbabies.”

McCreary added that members are taking consolation in the 18-foot wall that is still standing — the one with the cross. “We believe God still has a purpose for this church,” he emphasized. “I believe God is going to raise something out of this rubble.”

He said last fall the church, which runs about 65-85 in worship services, began talking about new beginnings, keying in on the emphasis in January with an evangelism and outreach program, with eight couples committing to participate.

“I told the people that when they plan to do good things, bad things often happen,” McCreary said. “We were attacked by an internal problem, and hearts were broken. Because of that we lost about 15-20 people. When Satan can’t break us from the inside, he attacks from the outside.

“God has gotten our attention,” McCreary said. “He is calling us to truthful obedience and a faithful walk.”

Sunday services on May 11, Mother’s Day, were held at 2 p.m. at Regency Park Baptist Church in Moore, which sustained major damage in 1999 and recently had moved into its new facilities. Regency Park pastor Keith Jacobs was at Trinity the day after the storm to help McCreary move his library, about half of which was saved, out of the church.

McCreary said the church’s insurance should be adequate to build new facilities.

Meanwhile at Tulakes Baptist Church in Bethany, pastor Joe Masterson was assessing damage Saturday morning after the Friday night storm. He said he told a reporter from Fox News that the church was fine; it was just the building that was destroyed. “All of our members are OK,” he noted.

Masterson said he got a call about 10:30 Friday night from one of his members telling him he needed to get to the church, where he found the roof completely gone and walls ripped off their foundation.

The church met in the chapel of Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany on May 11. Masterson said the church has three acres of land behind the current facilities and will probably rebuild on that part of the property.

“In the meantime, we are thinking about setting up one of the [Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s] tents to hold our worship services in,” Masterson said.

Meanwhile, Glenda Bolding, a member of Witcher Baptist Church, said the church had roof and window damage, with glass covering most of the auditorium. A new auditorium, which was under construction, also had damage to the metal roof and the one side of the building, which was already bricked.

“Part of the roof from Oakdale School is in our auditorium,” Bolding said. Pastor John Burns was returning from vacation when the storm hit.

The Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief van set up at First Southern Baptist Church in Del City to feed those who were left homeless.
Dana Williamson is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger. Jerry Pierce, Messenger advertising manager, contributed to this story. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MESSAGE OF THE CROSS, TORNADO AT TULAKES, PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE, EXEC’S ENCOURAGEMENT, MORE WORK TO BE DONE and DOING THEIR PART.

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  • Dana Williamson