(The Rev. Darryl Wootton serves as youth pastor at Carbondale Assembly of God in Tulsa, Okla. (the Rev. Phil Taylor, pastor). He recently described his experience at the church during last week's storms that hit Oklahoma and Kansas.)
We have received so many calls, voice mails, and E-mails from so many loved ones over the last several days. I wanted to give you a report of how tremendous God has been to us this week.
My wife, Faith, and I and our 4-year-old daughter, Lindsay, were with Vicki Taylor (our assistant pastor's wife), and her daughters Whitney, Emily, and Natalie, in the church when the tornado struck. We had had a Youth Rally on Monday night and, fortunately, all the teens had been picked up by their parents. We stayed thinking the storm would quickly pass over us. Jeff Taylor (our assistant pastor) was in the Dominican Republic leading a team of our men on a missions trip. Ironically, they were rebuilding a church that had been destroyed in last year's hurricane.
The tornado sirens blew and we went to the church basement (a small room with heating units in it). We were listening to the radio when we realized that the tornado was quickly approaching our location. The power went out and it became silent. Suddenly, a rumbling noise started and shook the basement. After a few moments, the roaring noise subsided, but our prayer meeting didn't.
While still in the basement, we tried to call our pastor, who lives next door, on our wireless phone. There was no answer. I went to the top of the stairs, opened the door, and realized we had been hit substantially. After several unsuccessful tries phoning Pastor Taylor, I ventured out to see if they were all right. Not knowing how safe it was, I told the girls to stay put in the basement.
As I exited the church, I immediately saw massive debris between the church and the parsonage. I thought one huge section was part of my pastor's house. Fortunately, it ended up being part of what used to be the second story of the church. I got closer to the house and began to yell for Pastor Phil or Paula. They came outside with their youngest daughter, Rebekah. We all hugged.
I immediately went back to the church to get the girls. By the time I returned, we could all smell gas throughout the building. We exited the building safely and went to the partially damaged parsonage.
Afterwards, Pastor Taylor and I walked around the facility and we realized that the entire structure was damaged. The entire second floor of the north educational wing had been completely blown off. The east and west wings both had the roof ripped off of them. The gym's east and west walls were caving in. The sanctuary suffered the least structural damage, but still had glass and water everywhere. Three of our church vans, my car, and Pastor Jeff's car were smashed. The parking lot was covered with all kinds of metal beams, air conditioners, brick walls, signs from across the interstate, and much, much more.
As we viewed the damage, we realized how God had truly had His hands wrapped around us. The sanctuary seemed to be in the direct path of the storm but suffered the least. If it had collapsed, we may very well have been buried alive.
One of the only things standing on the second floor was a table with a Bible Quiz set still in place just like it was for Sunday evening practice. There were no walls or ceiling but the table and quiz pads were left exactly like they were. We always knew God loved Bible Quiz. The adjacent room was the Youth Game room. The pool table was completely crushed.
Another strange thing we found was when we entered what was left of the youth room. We give each of our students and every visitor a copy of "On Course" magazine, a joint publication of the national Youth Department and Christian Higher Education Department. They had been blown all over the room. On each cover could be read, "Where is God When Tragedy Strikes?" We all learned firsthand that God is truly faithful even through tragedies.
Thanks again for your prayers and support. We have truly felt the love of the body of Christ throughout this week.
In Christ, Darryl Wootton (Pastor Wootton can be reached with messages of encouragement at NVisionUth@aol.com.