Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Tushka tornado rends church family life


By Holly McCray

On April 14, a tornado ravaged Tushka, including the home of Leo and Sammie Dement, members of New Zion United Methodist Church there.

Killed were Sammie, 80, and her sister, Ava Walkup, 75, of Sherman, Texas. Leo, age 83, was critically injured.

As New Zion’s other members busy their hands at work in storm cleanup, they remain faithful in prayer for the Dements. Leo’s guitar playing is missed on Sunday mornings; he chairs the Trustees, too. Sammie sometimes sang as he played.

"We don’t need a prayer chain," said Pastor Daniel Ramey, about the small congregation. Twenty worshipped on Easter.

According to Rev. Ramey, Sammie "was there every time the doors were open, if she was physically able." Leo helped build the parsonage.

They "always enjoyed music and singing, bringing joy to many, especially ministering at the local retirement and nursing homes," stated Sammie’s obituary.

Ramey assisted April 23 in Sammie’s funeral at Atoka UMC and presided at her graveside service later that day in McKinney, Texas. He is also pastor at Atoka UMC.

He reported the tornado felled a large tree that pierced New Zion’s metal roof in at least three places. Volunteers from McAlester-First UMC promptly removed the brush.

Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. recalled two times he has worshipped with the congregation in southeastern Oklahoma.

"When you lose life in these storms, it’s always a sad day," he said. "I’ve preached there. I can remember the faces of the people, and their church. My heart goes out to them. I pray for those families and for that church, as they seek to get beyond this tragedy."

He noted the storm’s occurrence during the Christian season of Lent, leading into Easter. "We mourn and we grieve, but we also realize God makes all things new. God has even defeated death. We celebrate their lives and ministry, and we hope and pray God will restore and renew the work of that little church there."

The church burned about six years ago, according to Ramey. Bishop Hayes met with the congregation, prayed with them, and viewed that devastation, then returned a few short months later when rebuilding was complete.

"They are resilient, wonderful people," Hayes said. "Even though they are small, they’re very active. They’ve been worshipping there over 100 years. I treasure the memories of my visit."

He continued, "They had to replace the organ because it, too, burned up. They went online and found an organ exactly like the one that had been destroyed. But it was in Tampa, Fla. The price was $39.95 ! A brother (of a church member) lived in Tampa and was coming to the opening of the new church. He put the organ in his truck and brought it to the church, and they had that organ in the church on the Sunday we dedicated the new building. That’s how God works!"

Since the April tornado, the disaster response office of Oklahoma Conference Volunteers In Mission is active in coordinating help for Tushka. Volunteer groups should contact Richard Norman in the Conference VIM Office. He emphasized the importance of directing service to where it is most needed in the affected area.

The Oklahoma Conference Treasurer’s Office is accepting donations. Checks should have "Tushka" in the memo line.


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