By BosNewsLife Americas Service
OKLAHOMA CITY, USA (BosNewsLife)– Crisis-trained chaplains linked to famed American evangelist Billy Graham have arrived “to help spread home” in the U.S. midwestern state of Oklahoma where a rare and powerful tornado claimed at least 24 lives, injured 230 and left dozens missing, officials said.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains are “also ministering to the emotional and spiritual needs in Granbury, Texas, after last week’s storms,” the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) told BosNewsLife in a statement. “Your prayers and support enable us to share the love of Christ with people in desperate need of hope,” the BGEA added in remarks aimed at its supporters.
The tornado devastation is the latest challenge for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, a network of Christian chaplains across 48 states, specifically trained to deal with crisis situations.
They arrived while police warned that thunderstorms and lighting slowed the rescue effort, though 101 people had been pulled from the debris alive. Among the dead were at least seven children of the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, including nine-year-old Janae Hornsby, whose father told reporters his child had “always a smile on her face”.
Additionally, at least 45 of the 230 people known to have been injured were children, according to area hospitals. Reporters also saw families anxiously waiting at Moore churches to hear if their loved ones were all right. Another elementary school, homes and a hospital were among the buildings leveled in Moore.
President Barack Obama has promised earlier to make available all necessary government resources to Oklahoma to help in the rescue and recovery effort in devastated Oklahoma City suburbs.
“The people of Moore [Oklahoma] should know that their country will remain on the ground, beside them, for as long as it takes,” Obama said in remarks at the White House.
The U.S. president called the devastation “one of the most destructive tornados in history”, even though he akcknowledged that the extent of the damage was still unknown.
However “Pictures don’t do justice to what’s going on in the hearts of the people there,” explained Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team in a statement distributed by BGEA. “Our hearts are breaking for all those in the path of this horrific tornado. Our entire organization is praying for them.”
Two chaplain coordinators reportedly arrived Monday night, May 20, around sunset — reporting the scene from the 200-miles per hour (320 kilometers) tornado as “carnage — like everything has been through a blender.”
“You can see the damage, as far as the eye can see,” said chaplain coordinator Carolin Perez, who along with husband Desi reside in Oklahoma. “There are huge buildings with half the building just gone. There was a shopping center where it looked like the tornado peeled up the concrete.”
A man with a megaphone was seen Monday night, May 20, near St Andrews United Methodist Church calling out names of surviving children as parents waited nearby.
Six more Billy Graham chaplains arrived Tuesday, May 21, “with another 10 or so on standby, bags packed,” officials said.
Organizers stressed that they do not want to be “an added burden on the Moore and Shawnee communities”, but to “simply be available to pray with those affected, give them a shoulder to cry on” or just listen to their story.
“Our purpose is really just a ministry of presence. Our role is to be supportive to the families and the churches there,” Munday explained. “Sometimes it’s just giving them a bottle of water. Or maybe listen to them for hours.”
Yet, “It’s a very difficult situation. The streets are blocked so we’re working on the perimeter,” he added.
There was also concern of more troubled ahead as the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted a 10 percent chance of new tornadoes in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. It said parts of four other states – Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Iowa – had a five percent risk of tornadoes.
The Oklahoma deployment comes on the heels of major storm damage in Granbury, Texas, where BGEA chaplains are also working. That May 16 storm killed at least six people and destroyed more than 200 homes and more than 50 businesses.
Last month, chaplains also arrived in the tiny central Texas state town of West the devastating April 17 explosion at a local fertilizer plant killed at least 14 people and destroyed an entire neighborhood.
In December chaplains were seen at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, where Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members.
Since its foundation following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S., the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has responded to more than 155 natural and man-made disasters in America and around the world, officials said. (With reports from Oklahoma. BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos contributed to the story).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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