SBTC DR chaplains convey hope along path of East Texas tornadoes

May 5th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

SBTC DR chaplains convey hope along path of East Texas tornadoes

SBTC disaster relief chaplain Wayne Barber hands a children’s Bible to a young girl whose house was damaged by a tornado in East Texas. Photo by Jane Rodgers

CANTON—SBTC disaster relief teams converged upon East Texas May 1, bringing spiritual encouragement in addition to chainsaws and tarping equipment to assist victims of six tornadoes that devastated parts of Van Zandt, Henderson and Rains counties the previous weekend.

SBTC DR chaplains in East Texas saw six professions of faith and made dozens of spiritual contacts and presentations of the gospel in the early days of the deployment.

Chaplains John and BJ Fuller didn’t have to travel far to respond to the emergency. They have lived between Canton and Grand Saline since 1992 and attend Crossroads Church, the site of the SBTC DR command center. The tornadoes hit close to home, affecting neighbors and friends.

John and BJ invited the TEXAN to ride along Tuesday, May 2, as they assessed damage, filled out work orders and shared the hope of Christ.

The Fullers’ road to involvement in DR came through their work in prison ministry were they met Darryl Cason, then SBTC director of chaplains, who asked them to attend the first SBTC DR chaplain training, BJ said.

The couple’s early joint deployments ranged from work as shelter chaplains for evacuees from Hurricane Ike to work in Tuscaloosa, Ala., following tornadoes.

“We do everything together,” BJ said.

As John drove along Van Zandt County Road 2318, he stopped the truck at a manufactured home. The homeowner, Todd Gamel, waved from the backyard as his wife, Peggy, walked onto the front porch.

“You don’t have a tree on your house, you have a tree through your house,” John humorously told Peggy after an initial visual inspection.

Inside, the Fullers saw an enormous tree trunk jutting through a gaping hole in the roof. Stepping over shredded insulation, BJ assessed the damage as the two couples chatted. The Gamels said they attend a local cowboy church.

“God smiled on us,” Todd remarked, explaining they were not home during the twister. BJ and John prayed with the couple and continued along VZCR 2318.

The Fullers stopped at an address supplied by a woman who earlier visited the command center. Her extended family sat in the yard beside a gray brick house, its red shutters still affixed to walls askew like so many toppled children’s blocks. The roof was a matchstick jumble of cracked rafters and joists.

BJ filled out a work order and talked to the homeowner before both Fullers prayed with the family.

The Fullers were next directed down the street to the home of Vicky Germany. Here the damage was minimal, and BJ noted a small tarp job as a top priority, with rain in the forecast. Germany explained neighbors had already repaired fencing to contain her cattle, chickens, hogs and goats.

Germany’s relative, a woman whose mobile home down the street was destroyed, told her story. The woman’s three children, ages 6-13, were in the trailer only moments before the tornado struck. Germany, a vendor at First Monday Trade Days, said she was huddled in the fairground’s restroom when her grandson rushed to bring the children to her brick home. The tornado hit four minutes later.

“I texted my mom and grandma, ‘I love you. I’m gonna die,’” said 10-year-old Elizabeth Ball, admitting she was screaming too loudly to hear the tornado.

A final stop down a nearby county road occurred when BJ spied Margie, a middle-aged Hispanic woman in T-shirt and jeans working in the yard beside a modest home. A massive tree blocked the doorway.

As they stopped the truck, BJ explained to Margie that DR chainsaw crews could remove the tree at no charge and offered to create a work order.

Margie told the Fullers she has three children, all in college. She said she loves God and knows she can pray directly to him.

John presented the gospel: “Me, you, the preacher, the Pope, we’ve all sinned. And the wages of sin is death.” Margie agreed.

BJ asked to pray for Margie, closing with, “Father I pray blessings on this family, on this home. We might not see each other again on this earth, but one day we rejoice that we will be with you.”

The Fullers’ counterparts, veteran DR chaplain assessors Wayne and Ann Barber, drove out Wednesday morning in search of victims to assist.

“We go where the Holy Spirit leads,” Wayne said.

The Barbers stopped along Highway 64 at the home of a man who said he sometimes attended church. The man and his wife were home during the tornado, which carried off his carport.

“It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think,” he said.

“Can I ask you something personal? If you lost your life in this tornado, where would you spend eternity?” Wayne asked. This question led to a gospel presentation, and the man prayed to receive Christ.

Another stop took the Barbers to a damaged house where the homeowner gave Wayne permission to give her granddaughter a Bible.

Along a private road, they struck up a 30-minute conversation with a homeowner, a veteran recovering from a motorcycle accident who received a Bible, prayer and encouragement as he shared his story, adding, “I need a little help for this hard time.”

“We’re out here because we love Jesus and Jesus loves us. He loves you,” Wayne told him.

DR teams and chaplains will be rotating in and out over the next couple of weeks and currently have more than 40 volunteers on site in the areas of recovery, chaplaincy, assessments, shower/laundry, communications, and an incident management team.

For more information on how to give or volunteer, visit