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Cookeville, Tenn., tornado aftermath | Photo by Jack McNeely, Herald-Citizen

‘Pray for comfort and peace and hope. We are hurting’

Amid the death and devastation brought by a tornado, a grieving Tennessee congregation still trusts in God.

John Nichols, his wife, Kasey, and their three sons — ages 9, 5 and 2 — were asleep when they heard the tornado sirens about 2 a.m. Tuesday.

“Kasey got us to the basement, praise the Lord,” said John Nichols, the 35-year-old teaching minister for the Collegeside Church of Christ in Cookeville, Tenn., about 80 miles east of Nashville.

John and Kasey Nichols

John and Kasey Nichols

After the storm passed, the Nicholses found no damage outside their front door.

But just two miles away, homes of the Collegeside church’s worship minister, Matt Suggs, and the congregation’s youth minister, Matt Collins, were reduced to rubble.

Tragically, Collins’ 4-year-old daughter, Hattie, was killed — one of at least 18 fatalities in the Cookeville area and 24 statewide. Hattie’s parents, Matt and Macy, and sister, Lainey, almost 1, remain hospitalized but are expected to make full recoveries.

In all, the dead include six members of three Churches of Christ in the city of 34,000.

Among those who died: Pat Lane, 67, a “beloved sister” of the Collegeside congregation, which draws about 750 Sunday worshipers, a number of them students at nearby Tennessee Tech University.

In an interview Wednesday, John Nichols talked to The Christian Chronicle about his church’s desire to remain faithful to God and offer the hope of Jesus:

• • •

On how the congregation is doing:We are hurting, no doubt. We have had a lot of members of our church that have been affected on many different levels by the storms that came through our hometown.

“We have, all in all, probably 30 to 40 of our members who have, on different levels, been affected, whether that’s a loss of home, possessions, loss of life. Our county officials have now confirmed that a couple of our members at our church have passed away.

“And so we are just struggling today and hurting today for all those that have been affected in all of the ways, but particularly those that have lost their lives and their families.”

• • •

On church member and tornado victim Pat Lane:She was a sweet sister. She participated in several of our ministries. She  lived alone, and she wrote all of our kids at church birthday cards.

“She actually was introduced to our church through one of our outward-focused ministries. But she was just a sweet, sweet sister.”

• • •

On what this coming Sunday’s service might be like:My hope and prayer is that we are honest about our emotions and honest about our questions. But that in the midst of that, that we would know that the Lord through his son, Jesus, gives us real answers. My hope is to share that hope. I was reading in Romans 8 yesterday, and I think Paul … ultimately points to hope that lives beyond what we see today.

“But I want us to be honest that we are hurting and not to try to take that away. We are. But to know that in the midst of that God meets us in his presence. God’s presence will see us through. We hurt. And I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that and be honest about that. But we believe that God will see us through.”

• • •

On the #CookevilleStrong community prayer gathering hosted by the church Tuesday night:There were over a thousand here. We had an overflow room. We had probably 900 in the worship space itself. We had people from all churches in town. There’s something unique and special about the body of Christ, and we’ve seen that and experienced that.

“The Lord knew what he was doing when he established the church. We have received calls and texts asking ‘How can I help?’ both from folks locally and churches and people from all across the country. It’s encouraging, for sure.”

• • •

On how fellow Christians can help at this time: “There are obviously several ways. Prayer certainly. We believe that prayer works. For the victims, there have been GoFundMe fund-raising campaigns set up (links here). Our church office is the point of contact for churches to contribute. They can earmark it for general tornado relief or the Collins family specifically.


Related: Three more members of Churches of Christ confirmed dead in tornadoes, bringing total to six


“Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort has already brought two trucks to the Cookeville area — to the Jefferson Avenue church and the Willow Avenue church, I believe. Churches of Christ Disaster Relief has done a great job.

“Outside of that, pray for comfort and peace and hope. We are hurting. There’s no doubt. But we also know and believe and have full conviction that in a time of hurt hope can be born.  That’s what our faith is about.”

Filed under: Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort Collegeside Church of Christ disaster relief John Nichols Middle Tennessee National Tennessee Tennessee tornadoes Top Stories tornadoes

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