Members of Primera Iglesia Bautista of Dallas and their pastor, Ricardo Brambila, could not have known that Sunday in October 2019 that just a few hours after they concluded their worship service, their building would be ripped to shreds by a tornado that wove a path of destruction through northwest Dallas.
No lives were lost to the storm. But to the members of Primera of Dallas, everything they had worked for was lost.
“What happened to Primera is something you wish never happens to any church ever,” said Brambila, who had been with the church for a year-and-a-half when the tornado struck. It was the second time the church building had been destroyed. A fire in 1930 took the original building.
But though the building was gone, the spirit of the 100-year-old congregation remained strong.
“The Wednesday following the tornado, we gathered under some tents and sat in folding chairs, and we began a process of mourning,” Brambila said. As someone with experience working with trauma survivors, Brambila knew how important it was for the Primera Iglesia family to mourn their loss.
Today the church continues to thrive and serve its community even though it has been unable to rebuild. A few months prior to the tornado, the church had revised its insurance policy, and it no longer covered tornado damage. Reconstruction is estimated at $4.2 million.
“I encourage churches to have a plan to respond during a time of crisis,” Brambila said. “Create a plan that is bathed in prayer to respond, a plan that you consult with lawyers and other professionals [about], because now we know that you can lose your building in just 20 seconds.”
The church has been renting space four blocks away in a building that used to hold a Presbyterian church. Primera Iglesia has invested in the property to get it up to code and refurbished it to meet the needs of the congregation.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt the church another blow, when it had to close its doors temporarily. But the church bounced back.
“Instead of losing people, we have gained,” Brambila said.
Some of the new people have visited the church after finding it online during the quarantine. The church is back to meeting in person following CDC guidelines. When Brambila arrived, the church membership stood at 15. Today it is more than 100.
“Through it all God has been faithful,” he said. “We don’t have any debts, just debts of gratitude to all the volunteers and churches that came alongside to help us clear more than 100 tons of rubble that took more than three months to get done.”
Some of that rubble included a bell from one nearby church and a steeple from another.
“If the pandemic hit us without the tornado hitting us prior, our church would not have faced this pandemic difficulty like it has,” Brambila said. “God has allowed us to experience having nothing but Him and see that in Him we really do have everything.
“Older churches can tend to love their building more than the people, and then the building becomes more a museum than a temple. But then you come one day and find everything torn to shreds and you realize that the church, the body of Christ, truly is the people.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keila Diaz is Hispanic life correspondent for Baptist Press.)