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Faith carries victims through storm, rebuilding and beyond

TAZEWELL COUNTY -- Three months have passed since tragedy struck Pekin, East Peoria and Washington.
TAZEWELL COUNTY -- Three months have passed since tragedy struck Pekin, East Peoria and Washington. The initial shock of the tornadoes has worn off for many, but the devastation lingers. Reporting for WCIA-3 News, Maria Chandler finds a group of people choosing hope instead of heartache.

"He had come for the early service. I had worked the Welcome Desk and came in at 9:30."

At 10:45, the alarms went off. Karen Sitler and her husband, John, were shuffling people into safe shelters at Crossroads United Methodist Church.

"People were still coming in the door at about 11, like five minutes before the tornado hit."

"I got the call in Dayton, Ohio that JoAnn was in the basement with our dog. They were trapped."

"I looked up and there was blue sky. I didn't hear the house coming apart or anything."

JoAnn Petri knew then, her home she shared with her husband, Russ, was destroyed. Karen and John found out three weeks later.

"About 2:00 then, our youngest son got in with his Jeep. He texted us a picture and that's how we found out."

But, they didn't go home. They stayed at church to help, along with hundreds of others.

"Just went into hospitality mode I guess."

Their church, one of the only buildings still standing.

"We actually saw the tornado on the ground, coming through Devonshire. It looked like, at that point, like it was going to hit our church."

"Story after story, about churches in this area, that we were spared."

"When we came here, there was virtually every kind of disaster relief you could imagine here. Every kind, and I know then, that everything we've talked about for years and years and years around this church. People were allowed to act that out and they did and that was a beautiful thing."

They chose and are still choosing everyday to see the beauty in the destruction; to see their faith.

"People just started showing up. They weren't even really sure why they were here."

"It's hard to explain, I think to someone who doesn't have faith, what having faith does for you in a situation like this. But, you know it will be alright. He will give you the strength to face whatever you're going to have to face."

They don't have all the answers. They don't expect anyone to.

"I'm not quick to say that God's up in heaven maneuvering storms. What I do believe is that God is with us in the midst of the storm and after the storm, he quickly mobilized us instantly to respond."

But, as everyone rebuilds, they're choosing to rebuild on faith because, for whatever reason, in times like this, there aren't answers.

"Normally, I can't see this church from our house. Most of the houses were gone. We had a generator going. It really was, it was the light at the top of the hill. It was a beacon on the hill."

But, there are some things you just can't help but notice. Both couples are members of Crossroads United Methodist Church. Churches across the affected communities became hubs for volunteers and residents immediately after the tornadoes and continue to focus on recovery efforts.
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