By Kim Plummer Krull
Thirteen Sunday-school children and their teachers huddled in the Zion Lutheran Church basement, saying the Lord’s Prayer as an EF2 tornado ripped through Delmont, S.D., mid-morning on Sunday, May 10.
“The pressure was in our ears and then it got quiet,” said teacher Brenda Lau, recalling the eerie silence until the Sunday-school superintendent spotted an overturned tank that was spraying propane outdoors and shouted for everyone to evacuate the church. (Morning worship had already concluded, and only the Sunday-school classes were meeting when the tornado hit.)
When the youngsters and their teachers emerged, they saw that prayers had been answered.
“This beautiful church is ruined, yet no one [inside the church] was hurt. It’s just a building. The church is the people,” said Lau, her voice breaking with emotion the next day when she returned to help with cleanup at the 100-plus-year-old church building that has been called a total loss.View Photos
The twister claimed no lives but injured nine people, including at least one Zion member who was hospitalized.
Some 20 homes were severely damaged, including those belonging to five Zion families. Also demolished is the church parsonage, the home of Zion’s pastor, the Rev. Christopher Bucklew, who was out of town at the time of the storm but returned Tuesday, May 12, to “our crumbled church.”
“That it didn’t rain bricks on those Sunday-school kids in the basement … Truly God is our shelter in Jesus Christ,” Bucklew said, quoting from Psalm 91 in a telephone interview a few hours after seeing his devastated home, church and community and joining a “quick prayer service” with congregants.
“It looked like a bomb blew a whole street off the map,” he said of the family’s drive into town.
When the tornado hit, the pastor was worshipping at First Lutheran Church in Little Rock, Ark., where he and his family had traveled to visit his seriously-ill grandmother. They had planned to continue to Florida for a scheduled beach vacation, but instead returned to Delmont.
In light of the small town’s widespread destruction, LCMS Disaster Response Director Rev. Ross Johnson called the absence of fatalities “an absolute miracle.”
“When you drive down the street and realize that on Sunday morning, the vast majority of the people were at church or at home, it’s an absolute miracle that no one died when you see the amount of property damage. God’s protective hand was on this community,” said Johnson, who arrived in Delmont the morning of May 11 with the Rev. Michael Meyer, manager, LCMS Disaster Response.
Unique opportunity to show mercy
The pair worked alongside church and community leaders to assess needs and begin a Gospel-centered response by Zion in this town of about 200 people in central South Dakota.
After an evacuation order — in response to the danger of leaking propane tanks — was lifted, congregants gathered at the demolished church and parsonage to retrieve hymnals, furniture and other salvageable items.
Also assisting with the recovery was the Rev. Scott Spiehs, LCMS Disaster Response coordinator for the LCMS South Dakota District, and South Dakota District President Rev. Dale Sattgast.
The pastors spoke with many Zion members. Among the hard-hit are two farm families who lost homes, livestock and equipment.
One longtime member told how “five generations of his family were baptized at the [Zion] baptismal font. He was pretty torn up,” Sattgast said.
“But South Dakota people are awfully resilient,” Sattgast added. “In spite of the severe loss of property, they are thankful there is no loss of life. They are already looking to the future of this congregation with an amazing attitude of gratitude.”
Zion’s Pastor Bucklew said the congregation is planning an Ascension Day service on May 14 at Emmaus Lutheran Church in nearby Tripp, the other congregation he serves as a dual-parish pastor. By Sunday, Zion hopes to provide a worship opportunity in Delmont.
In spite of the material losses, “we know we are safe in Christ Jesus,” said Bucklew, who, with his family, is staying at the home of Zion members. “We are still in the Easter season, and we still have His ascension to celebrate.”
To help Zion reach out with Christ’s mercy in the battered community, Johnson asked for prayers and donations.
He noted that donations given to tornado relief will support assistance and recovery work in Delmont, and other tornado-impacted locations, to help congregation members and their neighbors in those communities recover. Johnson called Gospel-centered disaster response “a unique opportunity to show mercy.”
“When we work with a local congregation like Zion in times of disaster, we sow seeds that impact lives, both now and for eternity, with the Gospel message and the love of Christ,” Johnson said.
To support LCMS tornado-relief efforts, make a gift online at https://lcms.org/givenow/tornado or click the “Give Now” button below.Give Now
Kim Plummer Krull (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Des Peres, Mo.
Posted May 11, 2015 / Updated May 12, 2015