Tornado-stricken church in Kentucky awed by God’s provision


PADUCAH, Ky. (KT) – Pastor Jason Medley marvels at how God is rebuilding Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Five years removed from a tornado that swept through the community, destroyed the church’s sanctuary and damaged other buildings, Mt. Zion will vote Sunday to approve construction of a new church building. The plan is to break ground Wednesday on the fifth anniversary of the tornado they refer to as “The Miracle at Mt. Zion.”

The tornado broke out during the morning when 40 preschool children were in class in an adjacent church building. Not one of them had even a single scratch.

The rebuild of the church has faced multiple obstacles, including spiking construction costs, said Medley, who is in his second year as senior pastor.

“We have needed to rebuild, and a series of things have happened,” he said. "Of course, COVID, but also an incredible change in the atmosphere of construction. We had a tornado in one world and rebuild in a different one.”

Not only that but the church’s previous senior pastor retired and a deacon who was heading up the rebuilding projected passed away from a heart attack.

“We’ve come to place where we were saying, ‘What do we do?” Medley said. “We asked God, ‘What do you want us to do?’”

What came next could only be described as God taking over — from providing, at zero cost to the church, a professional construction manager, free labor from experienced builders, and even drywall specialists from Missouri who offered a hand.

“The way God has done this has been incredible,” Medley said. “In desperation we were about to sign with a construction management team that we couldn’t afford. We might not make it past blueprints. I get a phone call from a Christian man in the community who is a professional construction manager. He said he would donate all his services for free but wanted to keep his name out of it. He is meeting with us in a meeting at least once a week and working daily at no cost.”

Medley said he was having coffee with a gentleman who previously worked with the North American Mission Board who asked him how it was going at the church. The pastor told him the church badly needed a sanctuary and he wasn’t sure what was going to happen.

The friend who worked with NAMB was on a hunting trip with the assistant director of Chilton Baptist Builders, a group of 100 to 125 skilled laborers out of Georgia. After a church had canceled a project that was scheduled for June, the group came to Kentucky, looked at Mt. Zion’s grounds and blueprints and offered its services — again at no cost.

“We went from thinking if we had a miracle, we might do something in 2026 to having four months to get this ready,” Medley said.

The ball was rolling fast, the pastor said.

Phase I of the project is getting the shell and rough framing done inside and funds are already allotted, Medley said. “We have a team in church looking at every possible option.”

Medley said a church member asked him last Wednesday, “Pastor, is God in this?”

The pastor told him he would be a “failure and horrible sinful man” if he went forward with this without God being in it.

“We’re literally seeing our needs provided as we progress forward,” Medley said. “It has been incredible. God is outrunning us. Before we can have the meeting, God sends the answer. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The pastor said the church had insurance money and donations not only from church members but from others throughout the U.S. immediately after the tornado struck the church in 2019. Medley was an associate pastor at a church in nearby Marshall County when it happened.

He had some previous ties to Mt. Zion, including his brother and sister-in-law coming to faith at the church.

“I came out of the Army and the next day started on staff at a church,” he said. “The senior pastor left a couple of months later. The former pastor and youth pastor at Mt. Zion took me in a little bit, checking on me all the time. So, we had some distant history with Mt. Zion. We heard about the tornado and saw the aftermath.”

Michelle Rushing, the director of the Mt. Zion Baptist Day Care, still works for the church. When the staff received notification of a tornado that Thursday morning, they implemented the evacuation plan and moved all the children and workers into the safe room. The twister hit about 10 minutes later.

Students and staff felt the building decompress and could hear glass breaking and other loud noises. The children became frightened when the power went off but Rushing kept them calm by singing songs with them including “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

“She’s still here,” Medley said. “One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen was when we had a tornado warning. When it happens, if I’m on campus, I search the building and make sure everybody is OK. I came into the safe room and this girl, who five years ago went through the tornado, was dancing and singing and leading kids. She’d step behind a bookcase, out of sight to the kids but I was able to see her kneel to the floor and start bawling. She’d get up smiling and singing. That is a hero right there. She was fighting her own inner battles and then standing in front of these kids to keep them calm.”

The preschool has grown from 40 to 150 and there are 140 on the wait list, Medley said. The church will be making more space with the rebuild.

Church services have been held in the Family Life Center, a gymnasium building, since the 2019 tornado, he said. But the church needs a sanctuary.

“I’m thankful we have it but it’s not practical to use as both,” he said. “That building [the Family Life Center] was damaged, but we patched it up.”

If all goes to plan, Medley said they hope to have the first service in a new sanctuary at Christmas.

“That’s very ambitious but maybe not with the pace we’ve seen,” he said. “Six months ago, we didn’t have an architect.”

The church, he said, has been a blessing to others through it all. It helped Freemont Baptist in Boaz after it was hit with a tornado and donated $15,000 to Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief for a fund to help victims of the 2021 west Kentucky tornadoes.

“We’re looking at people still nursing their own wounds pouring out to others who have been through what they went through,” Medley said. “I’m so proud of them.”