Tornado recovery efforts in Dallas

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 31st of October, 2019. Thank you for listening to The World and Everything in It. Good morning to you. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, recovering from natural disaster.

Nearly two weeks ago, a series of tornadoes ravaged the Dallas metro area. The twisters destroyed dozens of homes and businesses.  Estimated damages have reached the $2 billion mark.

REICHARD: It’s remarkable that there were no fatalities. But recovering from the physical devastation will take effort over time.

WORLD correspondent Katie Gaultney brings us the story of how Dallas Christians are rallying to support a congregation whose church building took a direct hit—And how that church, in turn, is helping others.

WOMACK: This is the back of the sanctuary. So this is where, um, the pastor would be, this is where our choir would be…

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Josh Womack has worshipped at Northway Church in Dallas for the better part of a decade. Now, he’s standing where the church sanctuary stood just a week ago… What looks like a bombed-out shell is all that remains.

WOMACK: Some of the bricks have been torn off, but pretty much all the glass on the back end is gone and their roof, um, on the back end, most of the roof has gone as well. … They’ve got to take, I think, the whole thing down.

Northway has hosted decades of baptisms, weddings, and worship gatherings. The Sunday night service had wrapped up just a couple hours before the tornado struck.

WOMACK: So just kind of amazing that literally we had people standing right here where I’m in the chapel where, you know, it’s obviously demolished, uh, and, and you can see the glass missing and the large wood pieces missing from the top that I can’t imagine what was going on inside there when it hit, but just what a blessing that literally no people were inside there to, to receive the brunt of that.

As soon as the tornado threat passed, Northway’s pastor, Shea Sumlin, jumped in his Jeep to survey the damage. The devastation was clear immediately.

SUMLIN: It looked like a war zone. All the power’s out, it’s dark. All you could hear is chainsaws and tears. And then there’s gas lines going off. You could smell the gas … and I couldn’t really see the damage from the angle… I had to walk around the side and then just a giant gaping hole in our sanctuary and, uh, water. Not only the water from the rain, but the water from our sprinkler systems inside the building were just broken and they were just dumping water everywhere and it was just, it was just awful. So it was just immediate shock.

Then Sumlin looked across the street. The public middle and high school directly facing the church were destroyed. The Mexican Baptist church behind Northway was completely flattened. And many homes in the surrounding neighborhood are just piles of brick and timber.

SUMLIN: So number one was how can we minister to the brokenness around us? Uh, number two was how can we secure our building in the meantime to all the danger spots that were part of it? And then number three was we need to send some folks out and start figuring out what our future is.

Northway’s insurance will cover the bulk of necessary repairs, as well as funds to lease a church space during the 18 months it will take to reconstruct the church. But the church is in an economically diverse area. It will be harder for some of its neighbors to rebuild.

SUMLIN: You can go out one door, go out to the east door of our church, and you can throw a rock and you’re hitting some of the wealthiest homes in all of Dallas, like Mark Cuban lives there and Dirk Nowitzki. And you can go out the other side of our door, through our west side. You can throw a rock and you’re hitting some of the most impoverished people in all of Dallas. That has been the primary target for us is, “How can we serve those needs?”

Right away, nearby Watermark Church offered up its facilities for Northway to host its Sunday night service through the end of the year. That church’s pastor, Todd Wagner, said when people or churches are facing trauma, it’s the capital-C Church’s job to step up.

WAGNER: We knew that would strengthen them to do what we know is their primary desire, which is to serve other people…. It’s a good lesson for all of us. You can’t serve other people if you’re not in a healthy place. So we saw an opportunity to restore some health in an area of real need for them so they could keep their focus where it needs to be. 

And that’s exactly what Northway is doing. With insurance covering the clean-up and repairs, and a temporary meeting space in hand, the church started raising money to help its neighbors recover. It’s collected over $150,000 in a week. That will all go to the surrounding community.

And church members are now going door to door in the neighborhood to see what needs they can meet. They gathered Saturday morning with tools, supplies, and food, ready to help.

SUMLIN: And then, and then there was even one point when we ran out of supplies that we needed and we put a social media post out, and within 19 minutes we had everything that we needed for hundreds and hundreds of families in the neighborhood.

Today, Northway’s worshipers fill an unfamiliar building. The choir lines up on a new stage. Volunteers get their bearings in children’s classrooms they haven’t set foot in before today. It will be a long time before they’re back “home.” But Pastor Sumlin said that emphasizes a spiritual reality.

SUMLIN: Again, it’s just a building and we’ve been just chanting this all week. The church is not a building, it’s a people. We know that cognitively, but effectively it becomes a very visceral reality that it really is. And there’s beauty in that of getting to rest in that.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Katie Gaultney reporting from Dallas, Texas.

(Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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