When employees at a Joplin, Mo., Walmart tried to herd customers toward the layaway area of the store as a tornado bore down on the building, Shaun Fanning resisted their efforts. Not because he wanted to disregard their advice. But the member of Destiny Church (Joplin III Foursquare Church) sensed the Holy Spirit saying, “Don’t go back there.”
Remaining in the hallway, Shaun, the human-resources director for a Joplin company, sustained a broken arm; his wife suffered a back injury. However, many customers who went to the layaway area either died or were seriously injured when a nearby wall collapsed.
Earlier that fateful day of May 22, Shaun was at Destiny Church when Pastor Gene Bebee preached the second sermon of an eight-week series, “Tune In: Hearing God’s Voice.”
The senior pastor teaches that, many times, people are looking for God to speak audibly or demonstratively when He most often speaks softly and leads people to take a certain direction.
“It takes a step of faith to step out and do what He’s put in our hearts to do,” says Pastor Gene. “By faith Moses and Noah did what God had asked them to do. Oftentimes, that means you don’t hear clearly if you’re stepping out in faith.
“But when we look to the Spirit of God, He will speak,” Gene continues. “I’ve been teaching that our Shepherd is calling, and we can hear His voice. He said in the Bible that He has many things He will tell us if we will listen.”
Pastor Gene’s sermon series wasn’t the only way God prepared members of Destiny Church for disaster.
Three weeks before the tornado, Gateway District Supervisor Sam Rockwell visited the church for the first time. Just before he spoke about Joseph (Genesis chapters 42-45), Sam sensed God prompting him to tell members that God had given them the keys to the city, and that they should roll up their sleeves and get ready.
Although he didn’t associate that prophetic word with his sermon, after reflecting on events since then, the supervisor sees a correlation. His message revolved around how both Joseph’s and his brothers’ decisions and circumstances divinely conspired to give God glory and provide for nations in need.
“The point is that God is the hero of our stories, not us,” Sam tells Foursquare.org. “God works in our lives like a GPS: When we take a wrong turn, He ‘recalculates’ and gets us from where we are to where we need to be.”
Other teaching helped congregational members face the stark reality that is part of daily life today—particularly the theme that happiness is not found in things but in a relationship with Jesus Christ. That message had been emphasized in many sermons and Bible classes, although at the time no one had any inkling of how true it would prove to be. Ten families from the church saw their homes wiped out by the tornado.
“This seems to have been a strong word spoken many times in our teaching, and seems to have come out a lot,” Pastor Gene shares. “We continue to tell people that the void they’re looking to fill can only be filled by Jesus.”
The Lord not only prepared the church to be ready to deal with the impact of the storm, but also He protected one couple after the tornado slammed into their house.
Chad Wentzel had called his mother, Shelley Wentzel, on his cell phone just before the heart of the storm passed over. Despite the blast from the twister, he maintained contact with his mother as he and his wife, Jennifer, went to the bathroom and crouched in the tub.
En route to a monthly leadership meeting at Destiny Church, Shelley—a member of the prayer ministry—had stopped at a hardware store just down the street when she got her son’s call. After telling her about the softball-size hail pounding their neighborhood, Chad yelled: “Mom! Mom! Pray! Pray!” Shelley did, also asking strangers in the store to agree with her in prayer.
Soon after, Chad told her his legs were numb, and he could feel himself dangling in the air. The reason: The tornado had dragged Chad and Jennifer at least 50 yards from their house.
After he regained his senses and told his mother they were heading for the hospital, his cell phone went out. When the couple returned later to survey the ruins, they saw that a car had flipped upside down and landed where their bathroom once stood.
“I think the main thing was the protection of God’s hand, even when we don’t see it as we’re being dragged through a storm,” Pastor Gene affirms. “They were able to see God’s hand saving them and keeping them out of harm’s way.”
If you would like to help those impacted by the recent tornadoes, give to Foursquare’s U.S. disaster-relief fund.
Read more about how Foursquare churches are helping with disaster relief efforts in Joplin »
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist in Huntington, W.V.