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West Florida Ministry Network Offices, AG Church Recovering from Jan. 9 Tornado

An EF2 tornado struck the West Florida Ministry Network offices and other buildings on the Evangel Church campus in Marianna, Florida, causing significant damage.

The West Florida Ministry Network office building, a part of the Evangel Church campus, and several Evangel buildings suffered significant damage when an EF2 tornado ripped through the city of Marianna on Jan. 9.

Larry Perry, West Florida Ministry Network superintendent, says that the front porch of the building, which had columns supporting the overhanging roof, was completely ripped up and off their offices, with the roof also being lifted up and heavily damaged.

“I ended up with a ‘skylight’ in my office,” Perry says, tongue in cheek. “With the roof damage, we ended up with two inches of water in the building . . . we have yet to find that front porch.”

However, Perry says that a local businessman has offered the use of a building to temporarily house the network offices until its new offices are completed, which is estimated to be about four or five months.

“Pray that the insurance company will come through,” Perry requests.

LaVon Pettis, who has been leading Evangel Church for nearly 25 years, says the church was still working on some repairs left from Hurricane Michael in 2018 when the tornado struck buildings the hurricane missed.

“It took out our cafeteria – totally flattened it,” Pettis says, “then went by the activity center that houses our gym and classrooms and took out a wall and lifted the roof causing extensive damage there as well.”

And although the church’s worship center was also damaged, it remains functional.

However, Pettis says several miracles took place. The church sits on a 48-acre campus, including the former district campgrounds.

“My daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren (ages 5 and 1) live in one of the campus houses,” Pettis says. “It appears that the tornado split in two and went around the house (and other residences), then joined back together before it struck the cafeteria.”

Pettis says that the tornado also ripped through the center of the RV park, which was nearly at capacity, located next to the church property and bounced through three or four other Jackson County communities.

“Yet, despite the extensive damage, no one was killed,” Pettis says. “I believe just seven people were reported injured.”

Pettis says that it took more than a dozen estimators to evaluate the damage the church suffered, with bids for repairing and rebuilding expected to be received within the week.

“We’ve received overwhelming support from pastor De Jesús (the general treasurer from the AG national offices) and the community churches have come together, offering help in a variety of meaningful ways,” Pettis says. “This community is one of the best!”

Pettis notes that the church was in midst of 21 days of fasting and prayer when the tornado struck and has continued despite the disaster.

“Our theme for 2024 is ‘Stronger,’” he says. “And this (disaster) is just going to make us stronger!”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.