God in the rubble: Looking for faith in the headlines after the Dallas-area tornadoes

"It's been a reminder that this world is not our home, and we should be focused on what's eternal."

That's what a Christian whose family lost its home in the recent Dallas-area tornadoes told me yesterday. 

Since the Dec. 26 storms, I've been following the in-depth coverage in The Dallas Morning News — and looking for the faith angle.

From the 1999 tornado outbreak in Oklahoma to the 2011 twister in Joplin, Mo., I've witnessed the destructive power of tornadoes. In 2013, I wrote about the "faith-based FEMA" that helped Moore, Okla., recover.

But for more than a week, I failed to see any substantive coverage in the Dallas newspaper of people of faith responding to the recent tornadoes. Could we blame that delay on the Morning News' lack of a full-time religion writer?

Finally, this past Monday, an above-the-fold, front-page feature focused on churches in hard-hit Rowlett, Texas:

ROWLETT — Brian Hiatt jumped in his Ford pickup. The storm was roiling toward his church, toward his friends.
The pastor, his wife and their 20-year-old son raced from their Mesquite home. That night, they found Cornerstone Assembly of God intact.
But nearby on Schrade Road, the twister showed no mercy. It left neighbors amid rubble and in the dark.
Cornerstone had generators. Hiatt grabbed a string of white Christmas lights and slung them under the awning of the front building.
“I plugged them in so we could at least give a beacon of light to let people know we were here,” he said.
Only a father and son sought refuge in the church gym. But in the days that followed, Cornerstone and other Rowlett sanctuaries transformed into busy relief centers. All week, volunteers delivered meals to tornado victims and dispensed tubs filled with groceries and cleaning supplies. First responders came, too, looking for a place to rest.
As they filled immediate physical needs, churches also worked on giving people spiritual direction. The rash of tornadoes Dec. 26 killed 11 people in Dallas and Collin counties and left many homeless. What to make of this tragedy?

GetReligion reader Deann Alford saw the piece, too, and praised the Morning News for its "snark-free church tornado story":

Guess I shouldn't be so skeptical but I really liked this story. Rowlett is part of the metro Dallas area, hence I know two families helping friends dig out from under the mess. One family helping is my brother-in-law's. 
The story, much of which told from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, allows readers to see and hear Christians from various congregations reaching out to each other amid disaster. Both churches became relief centers. 
One thing of note I didn't realize til I looked at the accompanying photo story is that Faith Missionary Family Church is pastored by an African American; Cornerstone Assembly of God is pastored by a white man.  The AG church opened its doors to Faith congregation whose building suffered major damage in the tornado. Instead, the journalist focused on the unity in Christ aspect.
And most importantly, the story ends on a hopeful note. I've commented to other journalists how the utter hopelessness exuding from so many news stories are a big reason the industry is imploding. When I open my newspaper and all I see are gloom and doom, I quit reading. 
But this story radiates hope in Christ amid disaster. Check it out.

I love it when readers write my critiques for me. Makes my job so much easier!

I enjoyed the Morning News story, too.

My only criticism: The focus on grassroots relief efforts neglected to acknowledge the huge role that organized, national faith-based organizations play after such disasters.

If I missed such coverage, by all means, please let me know.

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