40 children sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as tornado ripped roof off church, all survived

The tornado-ravaged Mt. Zion Baptist Church in McCracken County, Ky.
The tornado-ravaged Mt. Zion Baptist Church in McCracken County, Ky. | Photo: Facebook

Members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in McCracken County, Kentucky, are thanking God after 40 preschoolers and 10 staff members escaped from their building unharmed after a tornado ripped the roof off their church. 

A powerful EF2 tornado with wind speeds of up to 135 mph wreaked havoc on their community and ripped the roof off the church as the children sang spiritual songs inside last Thursday.

“God was definitely with us,” preschool director Michelle Rushing told news station WPSD. “The secretary and I walked through the doors just as we heard our glass breaking and felt the suction sucking the roof off.”

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The Associated Press reported that a state of emergency was declared in the western Kentucky county where the tornado spread damage around a 5-square-mile area, knocking down power lines and covering roadways in debris. At least one injury was reported by emergency officials.

As the storm bore down on the church that houses a preschool, Toni Mathis, a teacher at the daycare, said they didn’t even realize what was happening as they took cover in a safe room.

“We didn’t really realize what was going on,” she told WPSD. “We were singing with the kids. We just blocked out anything else that was going on and was occupied with making sure the kids were safe.”

The children reportedly sang songs like "Jesus Loves Me" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

It was about 10 minutes after the tornado passed and Mathis saw the damage that she concluded that “God was on our side.”

“I think it didn’t really hit me until about 10 minutes after the tornado, after I left here, that — what could have happened, and why God was on our side, and why he was even with us moments leading up to the tornado,” she said.

Ryan Willcutt, a McCracken County sheriff’s deputy who was trying to get to the church to help when the tornado hit, said he was forced to take cover instead.

“I saw the trees coming up out of the ground and flying through the air and power lines coming up and laying down over the road,” he said. “I just kind of put my head down covered my head and prayed for the best.”

Another preschool teacher, Lauren Haneline, told WPSD that she could sense the tornado hitting the church but experienced a supernatural calm as she waited for it to pass.

“My ears popped, and I knew this was it,” she said. “But there was so much peace and a calming in that room. I’ve never felt God’s hands on me like I felt that day. I knew we were going to be OK.”

She continued: “The nursery, where the roof is gone. I mean, I have a door across the hallway, and if I just reached out that door, I could reach their door. It’s that close … we really were protected by God.”

Senior Pastor Wes Conner, who is also grateful no one was hurt, agreed.

“When you look at this building, and you see the destruction, and you recognize it had about 50 people in this facility when this hit and no one had a scratch on them, I think that is what really gives us the focus of what all of this tragedy is all about,” he said.

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