DALLAS (AP) — Francisco Flores ran through the sanctuary of Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana seeking shelter as debris pounded against the small church.
The Dallas Morning News reports the walls collapsed around him as soon as he made it to the reinforced breezeway. He crawled out of the tight protected space and climbed through the rubble that was his church, walking away with only a few minor cuts.
"If I would have died, that would have been God's plan," said Flores, 23, who had been at the church late Sunday night preparing for children's classes he oversees. "My faith is even stronger now. This is the second opportunity at life that God has given me."
Sunday's tornado ripped through the area, destroying houses of faith across North Dallas. But even as congregations begin to clear away the crumbled bricks and broken glass, their members expressed thanks — even amid grief — that no one was seriously injured.
One church directed arriving parishioners to help at nearby homes instead of their own building so that families can quickly get their lives back to being as close to normal as possible. Another church will have to rebuild a second time, nearly 35 years after arson destroyed its last home.
Primera Iglesia Dallas was located in what was known as the Little Mexico neighborhood when fire destroyed that small building in 1984. Associate pastor Sam Lara was in high school then and remembers the absolute devastation he and his dad, David, who was senior pastor, saw that night. They were determined to rebuild.
Maybe that's why he doesn't feel as disheartened now when looking at the crumbled white pillars in front of the church's home on Walnut Hill Lane. Much of the roof is missing from the main sanctuary, where services are held in Spanish. The small house for children's ministries was completely in tatters, and the building for English services still had water flooding the floor.
But as cleanup was underway, a parishioner pulled out an old Bible with burnt edges. It had survived the arson and now, the storm.
"We learned a lesson last time that the church is more than a building. It's the people that comprise it," said Lara, who was trying to maintain his humor during a break. "I guess God wants us to build it even bigger and better. Maybe we shot too low last time?"
A handful of churches along Walnut Hill Lane were destroyed by the storm. Across the street from Lara's church was Iglesia Cristiana Emanuel, which had only been open at that site for about three years after renting space since it was founded in 2010.
Volunteers salvaged some kitchen equipment and a few chairs, but nearly everything else in the church was a loss.
Around the corner, the pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana looked over Flores to see for himself that the young man was all right. Then Ricardo Brambila gave directions to volunteers as they began to make plans for a tent service this Sunday.
Brambila said the church was founded in 1918 and originally met in a former Jewish synagogue. This was the fourth location for the church.
"In about 20 seconds, it was all gone," Brambila said. He looked at Flores and then added, "This is a sign that God is with us, and he will make a way for us to rebuild."
Two blocks away, parishioners of Northway Church were being sent to the neighborhoods hardest hit. Pastor Shea Sumlin said the immediate concern was helping families.
Northway had just became an autonomous church three weeks ago after previously being part of the Village Church in Flower Mound. Sumlin is unsure what the storm means for the immediate future of Northway but the plans are for that church to also rebuild.
"Our primary focus right now is for those most impacted by the tornado," Sumlin said, noting that the congregation is planning a community dinner on Wednesday night to feed those working on neighborhood cleanup.
Nearly 3 miles north, monks dressed in orange robes donned work gloves and carried chainsaws, taking on felled trees and big branches at the normally tranquil Buddhist Center of Dallas.
The main temple building, which is only about 5 years old, suffered damage to the roof, concrete railings, stained glass doors and intricate metal decorative tiles imported from Thailand. A heavy golden statue of a lion lay about 50 feet from its original post at the entrance.
The food service building and school building behind the temple suffered the most damage. The school — which holds classes on Thai language, culture and dance — lost its covered patio, and there was a large hole in the roof of the kitchen.
Dr. Ken Theppote, a vice president at the temple, is a local chiropractor who's been in Dallas for 28 years. On Monday, he surveyed the grounds, contacting contractors and utilities to assess how to rebuild and get things back in working order.
"Unfortunately, our temple doesn't have any insurance for this kind of disaster, so we depend on volunteers and the community to pull together and help out," Theppote said. "Right now it's just a mess. More hardship."
But volunteers tried to keep up their spirits as they helped the monks clear out debris.
"Buddhists are the best," said John Smylie, who teaches meditation at the center and was helping clean up. "This place will be spic and span in a couple of hours."
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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com