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Iowa church a haven for tornado-ravaged community

First Presbyterian Church in Marshalltown fares better than most; offers meals, sanctuary to residents

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

An aerial view of tornado damage in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Photo by Jon Rottink)

LOUISVILLE — A dozen tornadoes slashed through Iowa recently, leaving behind extensive property damage in their wake. Marshalltown, a community of about 25,000 residents, suffered catastrophic damage to its downtown area. While not unscathed from the EF-3 tornado that tore through town last Thursday evening, First Presbyterian Church was more fortunate than most. In the storm’s aftermath, it’s focused on rebuilding and healing through worship and community service to those affected by the disaster.

“Our community is in rough shape,” said Jon Rottink, the youth and families ministries director at First Presbyterian Church. “Our entire downtown is destroyed and many of those buildings are going to have to come down. The residential areas that were hardest hit are populated by those who have the fewest resources to recover.”

A dislocated roof following a tornado in Marshalltown, Iowa. (Photo by Jon Rottink)

The 400-member church will likely need a new roof. It lost windows in the fellowship hall and sustained damage to its air conditioning units and the school bus it uses for outreach. First Presbyterian’s sanctuary survived, and a worship service was held as scheduled on Sunday after the Thursday evening storm despite some of the heaviest property damage occurring only a block away from the church. According to Rottink, First Presbyterian’s “good fortune” created an opportunity for the congregation. They are providing showers and evening meals for anyone affected by the tornado, as many residents are facing days or weeks of not receiving a paycheck.

“We’re kind of the only ones left standing around our area, said Rottink. “We’ve been providing meals and showers for those in need; we served 190 people Sunday night and 325 Monday night. We’ve begun a ‘free store’ for those who have been turned away from other services and so far, have helped 37 families with groceries, toiletries and cleaning supplies. We’re going to keep doing it until God tells us to stop.”

Rottink, who is filling in this week for the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Richard King, shared several stories of God’s presence in the wake of the disaster, including a family of 12 migrant workers from Texas who lost their vehicle in the tornado and were stranded in Marshalltown. A congregation member bought them a van, so they could return home.

Members of First Presbyterian Church in Marshalltown, Iowa, established a “free store” following a devastating tornado that hit the community on July 19. (Photo by Jon Rottink)

“Just sitting and talking with them I got to quickly love their family. It’s about building relationships and making connections outside of what normally would happen,” said Rottink. “That’s where God is blessing us, and his personal demonstration of love has been priceless.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has offered support in the form of an immediate $5,000 grant to First Presbyterian to help them continue their worship and ministry. According to the Rev. David Feltman, pastor to the Presbytery of North Central Iowa, it’s expected they will apply for long-term recovery assistance at the appropriate time.

“PDA stands with our brothers and sisters who have been impacted by the tornadoes and is ready to help support the response and recovery in the best way possible,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response.


Those interested in making contributions to assist those impacted by disaster can click here.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000180 on the memo line), you may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

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