MOORE, Okla. — Hundreds of worshipers came to an evening prayer service for tornado victims — but not to dwell on devastation and death.
They wanted to push forward, to reclaim what they could and rebuild what they couldn’t. Last Monday’s tornado killed two dozen people, including 10 children, and destroyed homes and upended lives. But on Sunday, the survivors were here to pray for the strength to persevere.
“We choose not to walk as victims, Lord,” Dennis Jernigan, the worship leader, prayed before the crowd at First Baptist Church in Moore.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin urged people to “stay strong during these challenging times.” She recited a line from Psalms: God is our refuge.
Fallin recalled walking through the campus of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died. She held up a battered poster she found in the debris with handwritten “school rules.”
The last rule: Always do your very best.
“There have been a lot of miracles talked about this week, along with the tragedies,” she said.
Waynel Mayes, a first-grade teacher at devastated Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, came to the prayer service with a group of students who survived the tornado. The children — the girls in dresses, the boys in khakis — each carried a flower and sang “Jesus Loves Me.” The crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Mayes recalled singing that song and others with her students as the tornado enveloped them.
“I just kept singing louder and louder, and debris just started falling everywhere around us,” she said. “I just kept singing and then it stopped. ... I started calling out their names and they started answering, and I could hear them.”
She told the frightened students a “real live hero” was coming to rescue them from the rubble.
“You mean KD?” one of them asked, referring to Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant.
Led by a massive choir, with members dressed in different-colored robes, the congregation sang a song that matched the community’s prayers: They will mourn, they will take the time to cry, but they will push ahead.
We will rise, sure as sun in Oklahoma skies.
We will rise though the road be rough and long.
We will rise, live or die, shoulder to shoulder, side by side.
We will rise. We will rise. Yes, we will rise.