ST BERNARD, La. — The roof came down on empty chairs at La Vid Verdedera, or “The True Vine”, church Tuesday night, when an EF-3 tornado tore through Arabi.
If Pastor David Pagan had ignored a nagging feeling, those seats would have been full for a weekly prayer meeting.
“I called my wife and said look, we’re going to cancel it. Nothing happens, it’s ok. But hey, like somebody said, better to be safe than sorry,” said Pastor Pagan.
Instead of at church, his tight-knit, 70-person, Spanish-speaking congregation was at home when their church on Friscoville Avenue was destroyed.
“I mean, you tell me if it’s not a miracle,” said Pagan. “This time, I think God stopped everything.”
Pagan says his church has been in this location for 15 years. The evening of the tornado, someone sent him a photo of the extensive damage, and he could hardly believe what he saw.
“When this happened, I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it. Somebody showed me the picture. That’s my church?”
The church had recently spent tens of thousands of dollars to renovate the church, which caved in under the strength of the wind.
The whole second floor, which served as a small church for a man from Brazil, was blown away.
“The front used to be about 30 feet tall with a cross on the top,” said Pagan, pointing to the damage in the front of the building.
But the faith here is stronger than ever. Pagan and some church members were able to rescue their expensive new sound system, their instruments, and the altar, which were all untouched by the storm.
“The pulpit, everything. It’s incredible. Just a little dust on it. I said, I can’t believe it,” he said.
The front doors are still standing, too. Pagan says he believes that means he hasn’t closed them for the last time.
“That’s a message. You know, I’m not finished with you,” he said.
Not finished, because Pastor Pagan will soon be preaching the lessons learned from this terrible tragedy under the roof of a new friend.
While cleaning up his church after the tornado, a fellow pastor he did not know showed up and offered up his own church for use.
“[The pastor said] You don’t lost your church, I’ve got one that you can use for your congregation’,” Pagan re-enacted. “I said, ‘what? You don’t know me’. ‘I don’t care, I just have the feeling you’re man of God’.”
“He took me yesterday, he bought me food, and Sunday we’re going to have the first service about two blocks from here.”
For now, La Vid Verdadera will be holding its services at Living Proof Church just a few streets away. The first service will be held with congregations from both churches together.
A place to pray and celebrate faith stronger than any storm.