WASHINGTON, Ill. — Worship service at First Baptist Church here was cut short Sunday (Nov. 17) when a tornado associated with a powerful line of storms came speeding toward the church. Pastor Josh Monda quickly led his congregation to shelter in the basement. Then, with another member, returned upstairs to be sure all church members were out of harm’s way.
“We stepped outside, and you could see the updraft pulling into the storm,” said Monda. “We saw the tornado form and begin moving through the neighborhood where we knew several of our members live.”
Monda said four homes of members were destroyed and others were damaged as the tornado passed approximately one-quarter mile from the church. One member was hospitalized with injuries from the storm. The church building received no damage.
“We went out and started to help people. We pulled a couple of people from the wreckage of their homes and prayed with them. Some of our members tried to make it home but could not. It was a tough situation. We pray we will be able to help people, but more than that, also share the gospel,” said Monda.
The tornado that hit near Monda’s church at approximately 11 a.m. was part of a swift moving storm system that raced across the Midwest Sunday, Nov. 17, spawning scores of tornadoes and claiming six lives. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers responded to storm survivors within hours.
The storm’s worst damage was concentrated in Illinois where state officials confirmed six people were killed, including one in the farming community of Washington. The storm system was reminiscent of other November multi-state tornado outbreaks. The other fatalities occurred in the small towns of Nashville, Brookport, and Unionville, Ill.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a seven-county region as a disaster area, including Tazewell County, home to Washington. The National Weather Service initially reported a three-mile path of destruction in Washington. Damage was also recorded in Indiana, Missouri, and other states. The National Football League game at Chicago’s Solider Field was delayed two hours while the storm system passed the stadium.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) units were deployed in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) was dispatching supplies, including bottled water and roofing tarp to the area Monday.
“The SBDR network in Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri is equipped, trained and prepared, and they responded quickly, as soon as the storms were clearing,” said Fritz Wilson, NAMB Disaster Relief executive director.
“The states are responding, as they always do, and we will assist them and provide support as they have need,” said Wilson. “That is one of the great things about working in cooperation. Just like in the Philippines, there were people there, trained and ready to serve. We are supporting them and assisting with the coordination of state volunteers. Our network puts us in place before disasters ever occur.”
In all, Wilson said 12 states experienced severe weather from the system and had some damage. Illinois State Baptist Association Missions Mobilization Director Rex Alexander has been in contact with NAMB and is assessing any potential needs.
“With the situation in Illinois, it may not be the magnitude of the typhoon or a Moore, Okla. [tornado], but it is significant to the people of Washington,” said Wilson. “It is important for our volunteers and leaders to be able to bring help, healing, and hope in the midst of disaster. That is the beauty of the Cooperative Program and the cooperative nature of SBDR ministry.”
At press time on Monday, David Acres, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief director, had just completed a conference call with other DR directors across the nation.
“All the states seem to be able to handle their own needs,” he said, noting many are still doing assessments. “They are not looking for outside help at this time,’ he reported.