‘There’s a time to be a Christian’ — Church members help neighbors after midwestern tornadoes

It’s not every day teenagers are allowed to skip Sunday School. But on Sunday, Dec. 19, several wards across the midwestern United States dismissed Church after sacrament meeting to spend another day cleaning up after tornadoes hit their towns.

And the youth in particular are seeing the blessings from giving that service.

“It’s been great for the kids to serve outside of themselves. They recognize the need,” said Bishop Steven Gittins of the Hendersonville Ward in the Madison Tennessee Stake. “It helps them to realize how much being a good neighbor is important.“

Tami Hale and Harrison Hoyt gather branches, sticks and other debris from a pasture around Defiance, Missouri. Members of the Lake St. Louis Missouri Stake spent Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, cleaning up from the tornado damage the week before.
Tami Hale and Harrison Hoyt gather branches, sticks and other debris from a pasture around Defiance, Missouri. Members of the Lake St. Louis Missouri Stake spent Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, cleaning up from the tornado damage the week before. Credit: Bradley Lewis

Bishop Gittins said the priests quorum had planned a Christmas party for last Wednesday night, but they chose to forgo that and instead go out as a full young men’s group to help more neighbors around Hendersonville, Tennessee.

“That moment of going out and doing service — there’s a time to be a Christian. You need to go out and start helping your neighbor,” said Bishop Gittins.

Church members across the midwest are helping their neighbors and will be for several weeks to come. Dozens of tornados tore through parts of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky the night of Dec. 10-11.

Several dozen members of the Lake St. Louis Missouri Stake drove to the rural area around Defiance, Missouri, on Sunday after sacrament meeting to help clean up. The full-time missionaries were there as well.

Mark Patton, a member of the Lake St. Louis Missouri Stake, picks up strewn debris around Defiance, Missouri on Dec. 19, 2021 after a tornado went through the area the week before.
Mark Patton, a member of the Lake St. Louis Missouri Stake, picks up strewn debris around Defiance, Missouri on Dec. 19, 2021 after a tornado went through the area the week before. Credit: Bradley Lewis

“There are positive feelings as people are working together out there with chainsaws, hauling wood and picking up debris out of the fields and woods,” said Stake President Bradley N. Lewis.

Much of the work involves taking care of half-felled trees, broken branches and other debris. Massive, tall trees toppled in the strong winds, leaving huge stumps to remove. Branches and tree limbs were blown onto homes and property. Roofs, carports and fences were destroyed.

The tornado and high winds toppled massive trees all over Hendersonville, Tennessee in early December, 2021.
The tornado and high winds toppled massive trees all over Hendersonville, Tennessee in early December, 2021. Credit: Steven Gittins

The Church members have been either hearing about the different needs from their neighbors, or answering the requests for help coming through the crisis cleanup line.

As the youth and ward groups show up to a check in spot, they introduce themselves and say they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they are there to serve in any way.

“Neighbors have certainly appreciated the help and getting to know us more. It will continue this week with different efforts,” President Lewis said.

There are more cleanup days scheduled this week before Christmas. And Bishop Gittins said they are prepared to drive even further away to help others.

“We stand ready as soon as we get the green light and it’s safe to go up and help Bowling Green, Kentucky, where it is even worse,” he said.