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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Iowa church becomes a haven for tornado-ravaged community

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

September 19, 2018

Iowa is still reeling from a dozen tornadoes that slashed through the state one night in July, leaving behind extensive property damage.

 Marshalltown, a community of about 25,000 residents, suffered catastrophic damage to its downtown area. While not unscathed from a EF-3 tornado that tore through town, First Presbyterian Church was more fortunate than most. In the storm’s aftermath, it has been 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.”

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 the Sunday after the 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 have provided showers and evening meals for anyone affected by the tornado, as many residents have faced 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 [after the storm]. 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 filled in the week of the tornado 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 storm and were stranded in Marshalltown. A congregation member bought them a van so they could return home.

“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.

“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.

 Scott O’Neill, Communication Associate and Project Management, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  First Presbyterian Church in Marshalltown, IA

Let us join in prayer for: 

First Presbyterian Church, Marshalltown, IA

Rev. Dr. Richard A. King, Senior Pastor
Jon Rottink, Youth Pastor

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Teresa Waggener, OGA
Anne Walker, PMA

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, be present to all of those living with loss. Strengthen those who accompany a loved one on this long journey. Give us compassion, courage and understanding as we reach out to families affected by loss. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 15; 147:1-11
First Reading Job 42:1-17
Second Reading Acts 16:16-24
Gospel Reading John 12:20-26
Evening Psalms 48; 4