Chainsaw cross conveys hope after tornado onslaught

by Jane Rodgers/Southern Baptist TEXAN, posted Wednesday, January 06, 2016 (4 years ago)

ROWLETT, Texas (BP) -- Three weeks after Shane Pruitt was a guest preacher at Bellville First Baptist near Houston, one of its disaster relief teams assisted Pruitt's family in the wake of devastating tornadoes that swept through the metro Dallas area the day after Christmas.

Pruitt, who serves as director of missions for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, recounted that he was en route to a preaching engagement when his wife called to tell him that tornado sirens were going off in their Rowlett suburb.

Chainsaw crew volunteer Rick Evans with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention cuts tree branches at one of the homes damaged by an EF3 tornado on Dec. 26.
Photo by Gary Ledbetter
The tornado, an EF3 in Rowlett, was one of 12 that touched down in north Texas on Dec. 26, killing 11, according to the National Weather Service in Dallas.

"We have four kids under 10, and they all moved to the bathroom to hunker down," Pruitt said. "Five minutes later she called to tell me it was over."

Pruitt returned home to find a 2-by-4 had smashed through a window, showering glass on the sofa where his family sat moments before. Otherwise, the house sustained only minor damage, while residences a few houses and blocks away were destroyed.

Kay Burns, the widowed grandmother of Pruitt's wife, whose neighborhood is about two miles away, suffered extensive damage to her home. A large piece of plywood pierced her roof and a huge tree was down in her backyard. The next day's rains caused Burns' kitchen and a bedroom to collapse.

"Hey, don't I know you?" an SBTC chainsaw volunteer from First Bellville assisting Burns asked Pruitt, recognizing him from his earlier preaching engagement.

"They came over and began to cut limbs. Some folks from C3 Rowlett [Connection Community Church, where the Pruitts and Burns attend] moved limbs and debris as they were cutting," Pruitt said. When the tree was cut, limbs removed and backyard cleared, First Bellville's Rick Evans offered to cut the remaining part of a stump into a cross.

Burns had talked of selling her home in the aftermath of the storm. "Now she does not want to move," Pruitt said, noting that "the men taking the time to cut that cross offered an extra step of healing. She wants to stay in the house, and she plans to carve the date into the cross, so that the next family will know what that is about."

As Mike Phillips, one of the chainsaw volunteers, noted, "A year from now, we'll be gone.... But the cross will remain."

The cross in Burns' yard had an additional impact as crowds of onlookers came to photograph it. Many commented that they planned to do the same with stumps in their yards, Pruitt said. "It was a calming, healing moment. She [Burns] took a deep breath, smiled and laughed. The cross is a reminder of hope."

Rowlett homeowners Dan and Bonnie Rangel were home with three of their eight children when the tornado sirens sounded.

"We grabbed pets and kids and piled into the master bedroom closet," Dan Rangel said. "We felt the pressure and heard the noise like a train. It was all over in 30 to 45 seconds."

Although homes surrounding theirs and one block over were destroyed, the Rangel house suffered minimal damage, yet a towering live oak tree in the front yard was hit hard. Large limbs hung precariously, threatening further damage to the home and the safety of the family.

"I feel guilty that I'm just worried about a tree limb," Rangel, a former Marine, said as DR chainsaw team leader Monte Furrh of Bonham, Texas, confirmed that the situation needed attention.

After the chainsaw team cut and removed limbs, Bonnie Rangel asked if they would cut some pieces of a large limb for her.

"That tree bore the brunt of the storm," Rangel said. At the core of the cut portion of the fallen limb was a heart-shaped ring.

"Miracles do happen," Rangel said, tearfully holding one of the pieces. "God is real. I am going to carve that into the tree." As for the cut pieces with the heart-shaped core, Rangel will use them to remind her family of the tornado and the day they were helped.

Twenty-three SBTC volunteers in chainsaw, cleanup and recovery, laundry and shower, feeding, assessments and chaplaincy served in Rowlett and nearby Garland the week following the storm, said Dewey Watson, an SBTC DR leader who was in Rowlett the Sunday after the storm to assess the area and make plans for the deployment.

SBTC volunteers were housed at First Baptist Church in Rockwall and joined hundreds from national relief organizations and other church groups in helping the people of Rowlett and Garland begin to dig out of the devastation.

New teams rotated in over the weekend to continue relief efforts. As of Jan. 3, SBTC workers had assessed 45 jobs in Garland and Rowlett, completing 35 with more expected.

Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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