Children sang as tornado
pounded DeKalb church
___By Ken Camp
___Texas Baptist Communications
___DEKALB--Kristy and Monte Clearman huddled with their three preschool children and 100 neighbors in a narrow basement hallway at First Baptist Church of DeKalb when a tornado bounced through the Northeast Texas town of 2,000 last week.
___As the acoustic ceiling tiles above them popped and bowed, Mrs. Clearman reminded her oldest daughter of the words to a favorite Scripture song she had memorized: "When I am afraid, I will trust in you."
___Her husband, minister of music at First Baptist Church, led some of the people nearest
to him in prayer as the tornado passed over them, ripping half the roof off the church's sanctuary, destroying 90 percent of the downtown business district and killing one woman in a neighboring county.
|FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DEKALB suffered major damage during last week's string of deadly tornadoes across Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Members of the East Texas congregation were grateful no lives were lost in the immediate area and that they didn't suffer more structural loss than they did, but still there was much clean-up to be done. Here, church members Sandy Wood and Michael Beckwith work to clean up the damage to the church and the church grounds. The storms destroyed 20 houses in DeKalb and damaged others. (Photo by Ken Camp)
___Swirling winds collapsed the church's bus barn, knocked out double-paned storm windows in the fellowship hall and damaged the family life center roof.
___None of the three staff residences adjacent to the church sustained serious damage, but the tornado destroyed 20 other houses and heavily damaged more than two dozen, many of them belonging to members of the church.
___"There were so many who suffered loss, but it was just stuff. It was just things," Mrs. Clearman said, giving thanks that no fatalities resulted in the immediate DeKalb area.
___Representatives from the church ministries department of the Baptist General Convention of Texas were slated to work with Bowie Baptist Association Director of Missions David Warren to make limited financial assistance available to Baptist families affected by the storm. The BGCT church facilities department helped assess damages and offer structural recommendations to First Baptist Church.
___Those seeking shelter in the downtown church basement included a dozen children and four teachers from a nearby Christian daycare center.
___Pastor Bill Townsley and a lay leader from the church picked up the children when
member Kellie Fannin, who runs the facility, called to ask where they should seek shelter. They crowded into the narrow basement hallway just moments before the storm hit.
|FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH IN DEKALB was damaged, but those seeking shelter inside were unhurt when the tornado passed through.
___"I've been looking around for Brother Bill to hug his neck," Fannin said the next day, as she and other members gathered at the church to clear debris.
___The tornado had snapped towering pine trees like match sticks and littered the church yard with stuffed animals and flowers from a florist shop down the street.
___The regional East Texas Baptist disaster relief unit set up emergency food service outside the church's family life center.
___Mike Brittain, pastor of Morton Baptist Church near Diana and regional disaster relief coordinator, said a state trooper initially stopped him and his group when they tried to enter the area.
___Once he identified them as Texas Baptist Men disaster relief workers, he turned on his flashing lights and escorted them downtown.
___Townsley planned to hold a Sunday morning worship service in the church's family life center. Brittain said the wives of men on his crew planned to attend the Mother's Day service and offer comfort to women in the community who lost so much.
___Even though it was hard to see in the middle of suffering, Townsley said he was confident God would bring good things out of the experience.
___"One man who hasn't ever been to our church, as far as I know, told me: 'I'll be on the front row the first Sunday morning you have services again. Just tell me when it'll be,'" he recalled.
___"I really believe this will bring our community closer together," he continued, tossing broken lumber onto a trash pile outside the church. "I imagine there are people working alongside each other today who haven't spoken to each other in years."?
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