SHAWNEE—Eight confirmed tornadoes slashed across Oklahoma’s midsection the evening of Wed., April 19, inflicting major damage to structures at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) and to other sections of Shawnee. Those twisters were among at least 15 tornadoes reported in Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
An EF3 tornado also swept through the town of Cole, destroying many buildings and, tragically, taking the lives of three persons in McClain County.
In the wake of the severe tornado damage in Cole and at OBU, Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers were on the ground assessing damage and seeking to help in a variety of ways by the following morning. That was in addition to DR volunteers who already had served in chainsaw and ash out as a result of recent wildfires in Central Oklahoma and in debris removal in Arkansas following a widespread and deadly historic tornado outbreak the week of March 31-April 1.
Jason Yarbrough, state director, said Oklahoma DR volunteers had returned to the state on April 15 after five teams completed two weeks of ministry at North Little Rock, Ark., Levy. Oklahoma DR chainsaw volunteers completed 135 work orders, and the large Oklahoma feeding unit was set up in conjunction with feeding units from Arkansas and Texas.
“Our feeding teams prepared 1,084 meals for volunteers and 1,000 meals for the public,” Yarbrough said, adding that DR volunteers washed and dried 184 loads of laundry, provided 427 showers, and that ministry contacts totaled 267, with four persons making a profession of faith.
Three ash out teams—one from Texas Baptist Men—are working after the wildfires in the Edmond area, along with an Incident Management Team (IMT) and a small feeding unit.
“Here at home, our trained volunteers were ready be part of a coordinated response to the devastation in Shawnee and other areas,” Yarbrough said. “We are heartbroken for our OBU family—and for our friends and neighbors who were affected across Oklahoma—and we will be working to provide all the help and hope people need.”
“Callout” Chaplains were dispatched to Cole, First on Fri., April 21 and in Shawnee on April 21-22, seeking people to whom they could minister and pray with. Other chaplains also accompanied assessor and chainsaw/debris removal teams in Shawnee, operating out of Shawnee, Immanuel.
Oklahoma Baptist DR chaplaincy coordinator Debbie Inselman explained that “callout’ chaplains is “a new type of chaplaincy in which chaplains, ideally working in pairs, walk/drive through neighborhoods and business areas and visit with and minister to those impacted by the storms.”
The Oklahoma mass feeding team is preparing 1,500-2,000 meals for both lunch and dinner, which are being delivered to both Shawnee and Cole communities. One chainsaw team, a small feeding unit and an IMT are working in Cole.
“We will have 110-120 volunteers in the field this week, with the same number planned for next week. We want to share the love of Jesus and the Gospel as we serve people at their point of need,” Yarbrough added.
“This is the worst natural disaster that OBU has faced in its 113-year history,” Oklahoma Baptists’ executive director-treasurer Todd Fisher reported to Oklahoma Baptist personnel. “I am so grateful to report that there have been no casualties or even reported injuries. OBU’s Emergency Response System worked as it should, sending alerts and instructions in plenty of time for students and staff to get to safety. All students, faculty, and staff are accounted for. We thank the Lord for His protection!
“Four buildings have structural damage, including Raley Chapel and Shawnee Hall. OBU administration is working with expert professionals to address structural damage, roofs, and the cleanup process. A significant amount of work clearing the campus of debris has already taken place. As usual, our Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief teams were on site immediately and have made a huge difference in the opening hours after the crisis of this storm.”
Oklahomans needing to request assistance from DR can visit okdisasterhelp.org/request-assistance. On that website, people may also make a tax-deductible donation to Oklahoma Baptist DR relief efforts.