What have you discovered about God during the COVID-19 pandemic? This is a crucial question, because you discover what truly matters about God much more clearly when your life is turned upside down than when things are going well. Hopefully, you’ve discovered that it’s easier to be authentic in your relationship with God now than when you were in control of your life and somehow were convinced you needed to convince God how good you are. Hopefully, you’ve discovered just how serious Jesus is about reaching out to you just as you are, and that all he wants you is to love him passionately and trust him completely just as you are. Hopefully, you’ve discovered that the Holy Spirit blows through your life every single day enabling you to live with integrity, joy, compassion and hope in the most difficult circumstances. In other words, God’s grace is so transformative that God is even able to use a horrific pandemic to help you discover deep well-springs of faith that will enrich your life forever more.
EF3 Tornado Hits Jonesboro, Local Churches Spring Into Action
Recovery efforts now underway amid COVID-19 pandemic
A bronze statue still stands despite the destruction surrounding it at the Mall at Turtle Creek Mall in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The tornado, rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, carved a path of destruction through the city center. Although 22 injuries were reported, none were life-threatining and no fatalities have been reported. Photo by Jonesboro Police Department.
By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
On Saturday, March 28, a powerful storm whipped through the Northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro, producing a large tornado that damaged hundreds of homes and businesses and injured 22 people.
Relief efforts are now underway to help the more than 200 buildings that were damaged by the tornado, which was rated an EF-3 by the National Weather Service office in Memphis with maximum winds of 140 mph.
According to local media reports, hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were caused by the tornado, which made its way through major city streets in the middle of town and through several residential areas north of the city center.
Remarkably, in part due to the current COVID-19 social distancing efforts in place throughout the U.S., no fatalities were reported from the tornado.
Despite the destruction caused to several businesses usually packed with people, including the Mall at Turtle Creek and surrounding restaurants, many buildings were empty when the storm hit Saturday evening.
United Methodist Churches in the city also received minimal damage, although several church members’ homes were impacted.
The Rev. John Miles, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, said that more than 100 church members were out on Sunday morning assisting in clean-up efforts, and more would be sent out in the coming days.
“While I am grieved by the disaster I am amazed that no one was killed. The damage to many houses was enormous,” Miles said. “I feel relief that no one was killed, sadness for the people who have lost their homes, and gratitude for the many people who have flooded these neighborhoods to help.”
Janice Mann, disaster response co-coordinator for the Arkansas Conference, said that at this time, access to the city is still very limited, although their team was allowed to enter on Monday and bring donations for relief efforts.
“Right now, it looks like 20% residential damage, 80% businesses, but we don’t have official numbers yet,” Mann said. “I want to say thank you to St. Paul UMC for allowing us to use their facilities for our relief efforts and First UMC for housing our volunteers.”
At Cornerstone UMC, the Rev. Kathleen McMurray said her church has been hard at work sewing face masks to protect against the coronavirus since before the tornado hit, but after Saturday they have worked to hand out the masks to disaster response workers.
McMurray said that it’s been difficult to balance the need to help the community recover from this disaster while still remembering that physical distancing rules related to the coronavirus still have to be followed.
“It is really difficult to process such loss in the midst of the rising global pandemic of COVID-19. We want to help but we also want to help safely, and so we are doing our best to listen to the needs and procedures from our Disaster Response leaders in the community,” McMurray said.
Victor Moran, a member of First UMC Jonesboro whose home was damaged in the tornado, said the support he and his family have received from the church has made a huge impact on how he’s processing this challenging time.
“The team from First Church showed up at our house this morning like a conquering army. They completed in less than an hour what would have taken me days. Then they spread out through the neighborhood serving with grace, timeliness, and excellence.
“Please convey to the whole church Teresa’s and my deep, deep gratitude for what you all have done,” Moran said.
McMurray said that despite the tragedy of the past weekend, there is still hope that can be found in all of it.
“One of the biggest things we as people of faith can do is to offer hope. COVID-19 brings with it so much fear and anxiety already. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude on top of it can be overwhelming. Being able to share the gospel of resurrection, in word and deed, in the midst of this is powerful for our community.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared a state of disaster for Jonesboro on Sunday, allowing the city and state to potentially receive federal money for disaster relief as well.
The Arkansas Conference has also set up a donation hub for disaster relief in Jonesboro and the surrounding community. To donate to tornado relief efforts, visit our online donation website and select Jonesboro Disaster Relief.
COVID-19 Government Aid Info for Churches and Church Workers
Join us for a government aid webinar, Tuesday, March 31
We have received many questions regarding the recent passage of the CARE Act through the United States Congress. Many of these questions revolve around if there are any provisions in the act that will help non-profits, churches and church workers during this period of economic turmoil and uncertainty.
The Center for Finance and Administration has released a helpful document that analyzes the most imporant information that churches, pastors, and non-profit groups need to know in order to receive government assistance.
We are also hosting a webinar on Tuesday, March 31 to go over the steps you and your group need to take in order to receive government aid, as well as answer any questions you still have about this important legislative development.
The Government Aid webinar will be held at 1 p.m. on March 31. The link to the Zoom webinar can be found here: https://arumc.zoom.us/j/100891545
For further questions, contact Todd Burris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A Sunday Prayer”
Oh Lord, my God!
My heart breaks for all the death, illness, lives turned upside down, uncertainty and fear that has been unleashed in our world because of COVID-19. My soul aches for all those who cannot be with loved ones in the most tender moments of their lives. My spirit winces for all those who are beginning to wonder if there is any hope.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Unleash your healing power into the lives of those who are ill and dying. Indeed, I boldly pray that those who are sick will be cured, and that this virus literally will be cast out of our world.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Protect and encourage those who are caring for the ill even as they know they are putting themselves at risk. I pray you will lift them up, fill their spirits and enable them to know how deeply they are loved and cherished.
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Let the Good News of Jesus Christ ring forth like a clarion call in these days when people need to experience his love, his joy and his new life. I pray that all who love Jesus – pastors and laity alike – will find ways to share his passion for people, regardless of who they are.
I pray this and so much more in the strong, strong name of Jesus – Amen!
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting your life every single day. And while you know how blessed you are, it’s a challenging time. You’re getting sick and tired of Zoom meetings. You may feel like a cast member of “Groundhog Day,” in which every day is repeated exactly the same. You are longing to be with people you can hug and look in the eye. And you may feel sorry for yourself about a whole host of things. The Bible says this is the day the Lord has made, and you should rejoice and give thanks for it. These words are a powerful reminder that the quality of your life is not primarily determined by your ability to do what you want when you want and how you want. Rather it blossoms as you grow closer to God, experience the fullness of God’s grace and dwell in the presence of God – regardless of what’s going on.