Less than 48 hours after a historic tornado ravaged a rural Kentucky community, members of the local Baptist church walked across glass and debris to gather Sunday in a tattered sanctuary and find solace amidst a life-changing tragedy.
First Baptist Church in Mayfield suffered major damage to its roof and windows during Friday's deadly tornado, although the structure itself remains standing. At least 74 people were killed in Mayfield and across Kentucky.
Wes Fowler, the church's pastor, posted an invitation on Facebook Saturday night inviting his members to gather Sunday morning for a brief service in the sanctuary, warning them that glass remains on the floor and that the church's chairs had been removed. Fowler, though, quickly added, "The Lord is kind" and "will see us through this tragic situation."
On Sunday, dozens of church members and residents showed up at the sanctuary, standing throughout the service to sing, pray and worship.
"In the middle of the storm, there's only one place where we truly have peace," Fowler told them. "And that's when we place our faith and our trust in Jesus."
Fowler shared a similar message on social media.
"Most of the structures in Mayfield are damaged," he tweeted, "and many have crumbled to the ground, but the Gospel will remain for eternity."
Most of the structures in Mayfield are damaged, and many have crumbled to the ground, but the Gospel will remain for eternity. pic.twitter.com/by9CW6Ssof— Wes Fowler (@jwfowler128) December 13, 2021
"I believe the Lord will somehow use this difficult time for His glory," he wrote on Facebook.
Barry Fowler, a member of First Baptist Mayfield, said he found hope within the debris in the form of a large white cross that was undestroyed.
"It's amazing to me that in the education building across the street, that cross that we put up in the window is still there – and the window is gone," Fowler said. "Everything else is gone. The cross still stands."
Fowler and his family took shelter from the tornado in the church basement alongside the youth pastor and his family, he told the Washington Post.
"We have a tunnel here that actually connects two of our facilities," he said. "And we could hear the storm getting closer. We could hear it getting worse, power went out. We heard and saw the ceiling tiles in the tunnel violently shaking up and down, falling out. The tunnel filled with debris and dirt. There was a cloud of smoke in the tunnel. It was a very, very scary situation."
Fowler kept telling his family, "We're going to be okay, we're going to be okay" – even though, deep inside, he wasn't sure.
"The truth is, in my head, I didn't know that," he told the newspaper. "It didn't feel like we were going to be okay. My wife was concerned. She told me later that she thought we were going to die, which is a terrible feeling. And then it probably lasted 30 seconds to a minute. It felt like longer. We went out to see some of the debris and to see some of the destruction, and it was just a very bad scene. Every part of our structure is damaged – ceilings ripped off, roofs ripped off, windows busted out. Just a devastating scene.
"... Right now, the town is coming together around this tragedy. I think it'll take years, but I do think we'll rebuild, and I think we're going to be okay."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brandon Bell/Staff
Video courtesy: ©The Washington Post
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.