South Mississippi counties were on alert for potential tornadic activity on the morning of January 21, 2017. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, around 3 a.m., the University of Southern Mississippi’s tornado siren began to sound. It could be heard for about a three- to four-mile radius. Sam Amfo Jr., D.Min., shared, “At 3 a.m., the church’s security system called immediately to notify me, and Michael Thomas, head deacon, that there was a problem at the church.” Alerts were steadily coming in, and around 4 or 4:30 a.m., it was reported that a tornado had touched down in west Hattiesburg. Soon after, it was reported that William Carey University had been hit by an EF3 tornado. Ephesus Church, in Hattiesburg, is located about a half mile from the University and had sustained massive damage.
Amfo reported that the members of the church were safe. However, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported to CNN that storms shattered parts of southern Mississippi early that Saturday morning, killing at least four people and injuring more than 20 others in Forrest, Lamar, and Perry counties. The members’ hearts were lifted to Heaven for those families.
Most of the top floor of Ephesus Church was blown off. On both sides of the church, you could see the sky from the stairwells. One side was filled with blocks and mortar. On the other side, you could walk up the stairs from the inside freely. The two industrial-size refrigerators in the kitchen were still on the second floor, but the stoves were tossed across the back of the church. The granite island in the middle of the kitchen was still intact. The three upstairs classrooms were totally blown away. The front porches’ beams were totally gone. The front doors were intact, but the windows adjacent to the doors were shattered. On the left side entrance, the over-hang had collapsed. The sanctuary had one stained glass window damaged. There was a hole in the roof near the pulpit and front row seats. None of the pews and furnishings were moved out of their places, but there was lots of water damage on the entire first floor. The ceiling in the vestibule was badly damaged, and areas in the mother’s room and the over-flow room.
Danny Chandler was preparing to travel to Hattiesburg that morning. Here’s his account of the day: “I was scheduled to speak at the Ephesus Church on January 21, 2017, in Hattiesburg, Miss. This date had been on the calendar for quite some time. My topic, ‘Life Storms,’ and scriptural text, Mark 4:35-41, had already been sent to the person in charge of the bulletin. My wife, a licensed professional counselor, was scheduled to present a seminar in the afternoon on depression and the handouts were ready.
“Just before we got dressed to travel, a member of the congregation called. Her conversation was shocking. ‘A tornado hit the city early this morning and destroyed our church. We won’t be having services, so you don’t have to come,’ she explained.
“As I turned to share the conversation with my wife, she asked what I was planning to do. We were scheduled to be in Hattiesburg today. Instead of a sermon, they needed our service. We were sticking to the schedule. Once we arrived in the city, my wife, son, and I went to the hardest hit area. We parked and walked three blocks to get to the trailer community. We were told of the deaths and injuries. They were trying to salvage the little that was left and start rebuilding.
“It was refreshing to see strangers roll up their sleeves to help people they had never met. From delivering water and food to those who had no electricity, trees in their living rooms, cars unrecognizable, to comforting those who had lost family and friends. It was the display of practical Christ-like compassion that was most reassuring.”
On Sabbath afternoon, the Lord sent angels, several people, members from the south Columbia Church, a family from Bay St. Louis, and students from the University of Southern Mississippi to offer assistance before the members were ready. A tarp was secured on the roof, and more volunteers called to come out to serve on Sunday. The members were able to clear debris from the parking lot to make it accessible.
Amfo concluded by saying, “We received love, support, water, food, and help clearing away debris from Laurel Church, Hattiesburg Church, Bass Memorial Church, Columbia Church, and NAPS. People have come from all over southern Mississippi to give us assistance in this difficult time. Thank God for His human angels.”
is the communication leader at Ephesus Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
South Central | March 2017