NEW MINDEN, Ill. - Tuesday night marked the first Christmas Eve since a deadly tornado blew through the small town of New Minden, Ill. On that Sunday in November, two people were killed, the church and more than a dozen homes were seriously damaged.
The scars left by that storm are still very visible at St. John's Lutheran Church. But the damage to the building didn't keep the community from setting up a nativity scene on the front lawn. And while they can't celebrate services at St. John's, there's still a lot of healing going on just down the road in Nashville where people gathered to show their spirit is still strong.
"On Christmas Eve the children tell the story of Christ's birth," said Pastor Tim Mueller.
It's a Christmas Eve tradition in new Minden dating back to the 1880s. It's one that wouldn't be derailed by last month's tornado.
"We had just a few seconds of chaos and darkness in the tornado. But ever since then it's been the bright light of people sharing with us the love of Christ. We have about 17 families that are out of their homes for Christmas. But they seem to be doing well, all things considered," said Mueller.
And at the service Mueller showed a powerful symbol of a community that continues to shine in through darkness.
"It's the baby Jesus from our old manger scene in front of our church. This one kind of got damaged in the storm, underneath it's kind of broken up," he said.
"The core things are here," said Mueller. "Christ is present among us. He says where two or three gather in my name there am I in the midst of them. The trappings might look different but this is still God's house."
Pastor Mueller says it could still be a while before the church is ready for services again. He's praying for a stretch of good weather so crews can repair the roof and rebuild the steeple.