Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — A Salisbury church has resolved to continue with its first tent revival this week despite the dangerous turn it took Tuesday night.
Two people were taken to the hospital with head injuries after being struck with tent poles blown by a storm.
About a dozen members of the River Church of God in Salisbury were setting up for the second night of the revival around 6 p.m. Tuesday at North Long and East Lafayette streets when the rain began.
“We were watching the radar, and we saw there were showers around us, but it looked like we were OK,” said Pastor Brian McMasters, who was not at the site when the storm hit. “Then all of a sudden, it popped up on us.”
As the volunteers began to leave, a strong gust of wind blew under the 40-foot-by-30-foot tent and yanked it off the ground, ripping it from some of the metal stakes and bending at least one.
One by one, the tent poles pulled up and started whipping around, striking two people in the head.
One pole hit church member Richard Criss’ stepson, James Morton, and caused a fracture in his skull. He received 21 stitches to close the wound and is currently recovering at home, Criss said.
The same pole then struck McMasters’ wife, Gina, leaving a 3-inch gash on her forehead that required seven staples. She and Morton were taken to Rowan Regional Medical Center along with a woman who had an anxiety attack, McMasters said, and they are sore but doing well.
Allen Ruiz, said he was trying to get to Gina McMasters when two poles hit him in the stomach and back. The 14-year-old, who said he is feeling sore but didn’t go to the hospital, had been helping set up 100 chairs.
Ruiz, Criss, McMasters and a handful of other volunteers went to the site Wednesday afternoon to clean it up and ready it for the night’s event. The tent sat in a crumpled heap next to the metal chairs, wooden stage and soggy sheet music.
The pastor said he’s relieved that Tuesday’s storm didn’t hit while the revival was going on, because it could have been much worse. About 40 people attended Monday night’s event.
One of the poles smashed a window in a church van parked nearby. Some electrical equipment, including a keyboard, also was damaged by the rain.
The revival was called off Tuesday, but McMasters said when church members prayed and talked about it, they were “adamant” about continuing.
“We’re not going to let it get us down, because we’re out here to minister to people and to meet some people’s needs,” he said.
McMasters said this is the first tent revival for the River Church of God, and church members are hoping to make it an annual event.
The church is giving away food to the community starting Wednesday, he said, and it will give out clothing items on Saturday.
“We wanted to come into this community because we know that this is kind of a difficult area,” McMasters said. “We’re trying to come in here and make a difference.”
The revival started Monday, and will continue each night through Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday starting at 11 a.m. An hour of music will be followed by a half hour of preaching and another half hour for prayer and fellowship.
It’s a joint effort between the River Church of God and Operation Clean Up Crusade, a ministry of West Monroe Deliverance Center Church of God.
Pastor Wendall Neal, who leads the Monroe-based ministry, said it partners with churches to hold tent revivals in low-income neighborhoods.
“We have never had something like this happen,” Neal said, referring to the windblown tent. “We’ve been doing this for 12 years, going on 13 now.”
The tent was back up in nearly the same spot by Wednesday evening. Volunteers moved it on top of asphalt because the original grassy area was still too soft and muddy.
“We know there’s good reason for us to be there, and we’re not going to give up on being there,” Criss said. “We’re still trusting in the Lord.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.