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Oklahoma Tornado: For one church, it pays to be prepared

May 29, 2013

In January 2013, the Rev. D.A. Bennett, senior pastor at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, felt convinced he and his church should go through training to be a designated Red Cross emergency shelter. He believed that God was leading them to go through the training, but no amount of training could prepare them for this.

On May 20 a tornado started two miles from their church and made its way toward nearby Moore, Okla.

When they heard the advisory for a severe storm, they waited for the Red Cross to contact them to see if their facilities would be needed as a shelter.

A Red Cross emergency shelter provides some of the most basic needs: a place to sleep, a place to shower, and medical attention. When St. Andrew’s was put on alert, they prepared space for the Red Cross to set up cots and a nursing service for such basic needs.

In the meantime, the local news stations began to list designated shelters for the tornado victims. St Andrew’s was one of the many that were listed. Unfortunately, news outlets also mistakenly listed the church as a donation center, and the American Red Cross does not accept donations at their emergency shelters. The expected response was to turn people away with their donations and not accept them, but “as a church,” Bennett says, “St. Andrew’s does not turn people away.”

St. Andrew’s happily collected various donations. Soon, the word got out that the church was a collection and distribution center as well as a Red Cross shelter.

“Since then, truckload after truckload of supplies have come in,” says Kim McKinley, the church’s communications director. “If we run out of something, say shovels, we put that out on social media and immediately people start bringing it, so that’s been a blessing. The whole community has really gotten together and worked really hard to get things back to the way we need to be.”

Later, the government rescued the trapped Southmoore High School students. Many families were forced to separate with their loved ones, because of the devastating tornado. Locations for reunions between families and friends are vital. The location for the Southmoore High School anticipated reunion was St. Andrew’s.

For Bennett, this was a great relief because his oldest son is a student of Southmoore High. The pastor was unable to get to his son after the tornado has diminished. When notified that they were using St. Andrew’s as the designated location, Bennett said his heart “skipped a beat and became overjoyed.”

God had prepared their church for this time and place.


UMNS Audio: D.A. Bennett: “God had us prepared, God has provided.”

Flickr slideshow by UMNS photographer Mike DuBose