View of photo gallery of damage here.
A NUMBER of Southern Baptist congregations in Mayflower and Vilonia were impacted greatly during April 27 tornadoes and storms that ripped through Arkansas.
Fifteen people are confirmed dead as a result of tornados and storms across Arkansas, according to officials. The National Weather Service estimated the tornadoes had wind speeds of up to 165 mph during its 40-mile path of destruction across Central Arkansas.
An Arkansas Baptist feeding unit capable of producing 10,000 meals a day was deployed to Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia April 28. The church is located at 873 Main Street in Vilonia. As of Thursday, April 31, the unit from Calvary Baptist Association had prepared and served 4,500 meals.
The Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) is already providing monetary assistance to the pastors who lost their houses, and will be assisting the churches destroyed or damaged with recovery funds, said J.D. "Sonny" Tucker, ABSC executive director.
The Valley church, Vilonia, a Southern Baptist congregation, was completely destroyed by the tornado.
“The tornado took our entire facility. But our people hear me say every week that the Church is not a building.” said Rothacher, pastor of The Valley. “The Church is the followers and disciples of Jesus that are chasing God together.”
Rothacher said when he heard that a tornado was coming through Vilonia that his first thought was that The Valley would be able to minister to those in the community that would be affected by the storm. When a member of the church who works as a fireman in town called and told him the church’s building was destroyed Rothacher was surprised –but not concerned – about the building.
“Pray for Vilonia as a whole. I know some families that are hurting. Obviously we have had several casualties, one is too many but we had more than anyone expected. On top of that I know some families that have lost their house for the second time in three years. This is a very resilient community,” said Rothacher.
“Ultimately God is sovereign. He is working behind the scenes for our good. Even in times when we don’t see that.”
Matt Baxter, who serves as youth leader at The Valley, had his house destroyed by the tornado, as did Shane Cauthen, worship leader, who rented a house in Vilonia.
A portion of the roof at Saltillo Heights Baptist Church in Vilonia was torn off, and the church received other damage to other buildings on the property. Church vans and the pastor’s truck were damaged.
Rick Morrow, pastor of Saltillo Heights Baptist Church, relocated to Arkansas about six months ago from the Dallas area.
“Our main damage to our auditorium is the roof. We’ve got a lot of damage to the front of the church where the baptistery is located, and lot of the metal roof is torn off of it,” he said, adding, “the roof off of our nursery area was completely taken away and the whole back wall of the church is basically damaged. I don’t know if it is going to be able to be repaired or not.
“It kind of blew it off it’s foundation and kicked it out,” Morrow said. “It is kind of like it is just leaned up there now. It’s the whole back of the main church building."
Additionally, the church’s multipurpose building used for basketball, fellowship gatherings and Sunday school was severely damaged.
“Basically, both ends got blew out,” he said. “I won’t know how bad until the insurance company gets out here. It was hit really bad.”
The pastor said a number of members’ homes were damaged or destroyed by the tornado. The church parsonage where he lives received roof damage as well.
“It’s heart wrenching to see what folks are going through and experiencing now,” said Morrow, adding that he and others have attempted to help members of the church “that we could find.”
“We are in that stage now that everything is in such a disarray now that folks are just trying to get their roofs and their fences back up to keep their cows in and get the insurance people out,” he said.
“People have been so gracious and so generous,” said Morrow. “People have been bringing around bottled water and stuff like that that has helped a lot of people out. It’s really been a blessing. It’s amazing to see people reach out and extend that hand of encouragement.”
Morrow added that eight members of the U.S. Air Force stationed at the Jacksonville Airbase came to help out.
“They came out with their chainsaws. They worked in our yard and in our church’s yard from early yesterday morning (April 28) until late yesterday evening,” the pastor said. “And I mean they worked. There wasn’t any sitting around. They were hard-working gentlemen.
“It was a blessing to have our servicemen come.”
Morrow said he knows God ultimately has a greater purpose in the tragedy in Vilonia.
“I know He has far greater plans than I can imagine or ever hope for, and that’s what I’m trusting in” he said.
“In my finite mind I see all of the loss and the way it has totally uprooted lives,” Morrow said. “As far as my wisdom and understanding goes, I couldn’t even begin to think about what God is going to do with this, but I know that He is faithful and that He knows. I am just going to lean on that understanding.”
Randy Norman, pastor of Life Source Church in Mayflower, rode out the tornado in his home, which also served as the gathering place for his congregation. On the day the Arkansas Baptist News spoke to Norman he was actively searching for a new house to rent.
"'Cried out to God' takes on a whole new perspective and meaning after coming like this," said Norman, adding that he, his wife, Veronica, and son, Riley, huddled in a bathroom covered by a bed mattress as the storm ravaged his house.
"I've always wondered ... people say they believe in God, but do they really? I ask, 'What would they do when put to the test?'" said the pastor, adding that LifeSource church moved from Jacksonville in an effort to reach unreached people with gospel and that he is convinced more than ever that it was the right thing to do.
"In the middle of that storm God showed me that He was with me," said Norman. "I know He is with me and my faith is stronger than I thought it was."
He added, "(It's) making me more resolute in my call."
The house of Wade Lentz, pastor of Beryl Baptist Church in Vilonia, was completely destroyed in this year’s tornado after being damaged heavily in the 2011 tornado that hit the area. Lentz has only been pastor of the church for about six months.
Lentz told media at the scene that after hearing warnings of the upcoming storm, he was at first complacent that the Vilonia area could be hit twice in three years.
His wife, Amanda, convinced him otherwise and they left for his parent’s house before the tornado swept the Lentz house off of its foundation.
“We lived through this once before, and it was the same roar then,” Lentz told NBC News. “We went back to check out my house and I saw right away that we didn’t have a house.”
The pastor’s Chevy Silverado was turned upside down on its roof, as was the family’s Toyota Corolla. Like the Lentz house, both cars were completely destroyed.
“We don’t understand why the Lord has allowed us to go through this again, but I also know that our God does not make any mistakes,” Lentz told NBC News.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that federal disaster aid has been made available to the State of Arkansas and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, tornadoes and flooding.
Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
In addition to the feeding unit from Calvary Baptist Association preparing meals in Vilonia, a Geyer Springs First Baptist Church shower unit is located in Vilonia, along with chainsaw crews from Union Valley Baptist Church, Beebe the Arkansas Valley Baptist Association and the Bartholomew Baptist Association. Chainsaw crews from Faulkner Baptist Association, Balboa Baptist Church, Hot Springs Village, Central Baptist Association and the Arkansas River Valley Baptist Association are serving in Mayflower. Another chainsaw team from The Church at Rock Creek is serving in west Little Rock.
Arkansans seeking to assist with recovery efforts may make donations to the ABSC disaster relief fund by visiting www.absc.org and clicking on the “Donate Now” button. Donations will go directly to the recovery efforts and victims affected by the storms.
ABSC leaders are partnering with Arkansans to collect “Buckets of Love,” consisting of a plastic five-gallon bucket packed with selected items, for distribution to victims of the tornadoes. Those wishing to contribute to Buckets of Love may visit the ABSC Web site at www.absc.org and click on the “Buckets of Love” button, for more information. The collection point is at Central Baptist Church, Conway, and will continue until Friday, May 2.
Compiled by the ABN staff and additional media reports.