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Local churches observe Palm Sunday

SHAMOKIN — Churches throughout the area observed Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding upon a lowly donkey while crowds of people waved palm fronds. Since that historic event over 2,000 years ago, the tradition of handing out palm branches at the conclusion of church services has become commonplace.

The natural beauty of the long, thin, bright-green branches makes them a favorite to display. Yet it’s the message behind Palm Sunday that truly makes it special for Christians everywhere.

At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Pastor Rose Shepley shared her thoughts on the significance of Palm Sunday.

“The hope and promise found in the waving and laying down of the palms is that God’s salvation is made available to all of us as believers in Jesus Christ. It allows us to become part of a heavenly community, which we weren’t born into but receive through faith in Christ,” she said.

Pastor Sam Derr, of the First Baptist Church, also addressed his congregation, sharing a Palm Sunday message.

“When it comes to Palm Sunday, it’s all about people praising God,” Derr said. “The Lord wants people to worship and praise him from their heart. When the religious leaders told Jesus to quiet his disciples down, he answered them by saying that if they (the disciples) would keep silent, the rocks would cry out in praise and worship.”

Derr went on to share what he called the four great qualities of the donkey that carried Christ on its back on the first Palm Sunday.

“It was resigned, reserved, resistless and resolved,” he said. “In God’s eyes, we must be resigned to the fact that we’re all sinners, in need of a Savior. As believers in, and followers of, Christ, we learn that we’re reserved for God’s purpose and plan for each one of our lives.

“We must not be stubborn but resistless, willing to follow after the Lord. Finally, we must be resolved to do whatever it is that God calls us to do, whenever he wants,” Derr added.

Storms sweep across the South, killing 8 and injuring dozens

Powerful storms swept across the South on Sunday after unleashing suspected tornadoes and flooding that killed at least eight people, injured dozens and flattened much of a Texas town. Three children were among the dead.

Nearly 90,000 customers were without electricity in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Georgia as of midday Sunday, according to as the severe weather left a trail of destruction.

Two children were killed on a back road in East Texas when a pine tree fell onto the car in which they were riding in a severe thunderstorm Saturday near Pollok, about 150 miles southeast of Dallas.

The tree “flattened the car like a pancake,” said Capt. Alton Lenderman of the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office. The children, ages 8 and 3, were dead at the scene, while both parents, who were in the front seat, escaped injury, he said.

At least one person was killed and about two dozen others were injured after a suspected tornado struck the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in East Texas during a Native American cultural event in Alto, about 130 miles southeast of Dallas. Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis said the fatality that was reported was of a woman who died of her critical injuries.

In neighboring Houston County, the sheriff’s office said one person was killed in Weches, 6 miles southwest of Caddo Mound.

There was widespread damage in Alto, a town of about 1,200, and the school district canceled classes until its buildings can be deemed safe.

A tornado flattened much of the south side of Franklin, Texas, overturning mobile homes and damaging other residences, said Robertson County Sheriff Gerald Yezak. Franklin is about 125 miles south of Dallas.

The weather service said preliminary information showed an EF-3 tornado touched down with winds of 140 mph.

It destroyed 55 homes, a church, four businesses, a duplex, and part of the local housing authority building, authorities said. Two people were hospitalized for injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening, while others were treated at the scene, Yezak said. Some people had to be extricated from damaged dwellings.

Heavy rains and storms raked Mississippi into the night Saturday as the storms moved east.

Roy Ratliff, 95, died after a tree crashed onto his trailer in northeastern Mississippi, Monroe County Road Manager Sonny Clay said at a news conference, adding that a tornado had struck. Nineteen residents were taken to hospitals, including two in critical condition. A tornado was reported in the area 140 miles southeast of Memphis, Tennessee, at the time.

In Hamilton, Mississippi, 72-year-old Robert Scott said he had been sleeping in his recliner late Saturday when he was awakened and found himself in his yard after a tornado ripped most of his home off its foundation.

His 71-year-old wife, Linda, was in a different part of the house and also survived, he said. They found each other while crawling through the remnants of the house they have lived in since 1972.

“We’re living, and God has blessed us,” Scott, a retired manager for a grocery store meat department, said Sunday as neighbors helped him salvage his belongings.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Moore said a possible twister touched down in the Vicksburg, Mississippi, area. No injuries were reported, but officials reported damage to several businesses and vehicles.

The storm damaged a roof of a hotel in New Albany, Mississippi, and Mississippi State University’s 21,000 students huddled in basements and hallways as a tornado neared the campus in Starkville.

University spokesman Sid Salter said some debris, possibly carried by the tornado, was found on campus, but no injuries were reported and no buildings were damaged. Trees were toppled and minor damage was reported in residential areas east of the campus.

The large storm system also caused flash floods in Louisiana, where two deaths were reported.

Authorities said 13-year-old Sebastian Omar Martinez drowned in a drainage canal after flash flooding struck Bawcomville, near Monroe, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Department. Separately, one person died when a car was submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, also near Monroe.

As the storm moved into Alabama, a possible tornado knocked out power and damaged mobile homes in Troy, about 50 miles south of Montgomery.

Near the Birmingham suburb of Hueytown, a county employee died after being struck by a vehicle while he was helping clear away trees about 2:15 a.m. Sunday, said Capt. David Agee of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The man, whose name was not immediately released, died after being taken to a hospital.

The forecast of severe weather forced officials at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, to start the final round of the tournament early on Sunday in order to finish in mid afternoon before it began raining.

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"Born for This" stirs hearts on Palm Sunday

KULPMONT — On Palm Sunday evening, the congregation and visitors at First United Methodist Church were treated to a powerful musical performance titled “Born for This,” which depicted the passion of Jesus Christ.

The program, presented by Lift Your Spirits Performing Arts (LYSPA), a non-profit theatre group based in Ashland, used real-life visual imagery to depict Jesus’ life from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, his suffering and death on the cross, to his burial and victorious resurrection from the grave.

Director’s thoughts

LYSPA director Dan Thomas Sr. spoke of his group’s presentation of “Born for This.”

“We are honored to be the only group in the United States performing this musical production, which was written by CJM Music, based in the United Kingdom.

“Through powerful music and narration, this program leads us from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, while the cast helps everyone experience the road in a way that few can imagine,” he said.

Thomas said “Born for This” is a great way to kick off the Holy Week.

“It’s a wonderful time for the family to come and spend together with us as they get to place themselves in Jerusalem and experience being part of the Palm Sunday celebration, the Last Supper, Jesus’ betrayal, his unjust condemnation, crucifixion and resurrection. It will also help everyone to understand how our own sins drive nails into him, mock him and betray him,” he said.

Pastoral address and opening

Prior to the opening of the program, Pastor Julian Milewski prayed and addressed the crowd of several hundred who packed into his small church, located at the corner of Ninth and Spruce Streets, on a rainy Sunday evening.

“Welcome my friends to Kulpmont United Methodist Church. When I first heard these people perform, some time ago, I was moved by their ability to portray the gospel message in a very special way and I know you will be too,” he said.

Thomas, who also led the music, encouraged audience participation throughout the evening.

“Are you happy to be here tonight? I want us all to sing like we are,” Thomas said.

He then asked, “How many of you have ever seen a passion play before? I believe this will be one of the most moving experiences you’ve ever witnessed. Our entire cast is dressed in black except for Jesus. As you watch the program, try putting yourself in the place of those surrounding our Lord. How would you feel and what would you do?”

One of the unique aspects of the program was the added element of audience participation. For example, to depict Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, each member of the audience was given palms to stand and wave along with the cast, who sang “Prepare Ye the Way.”

Musical numbers

In addition to those mentioned, the program featured 18 songs, including “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Via Dolorosa,” “Thy Will Be Done,” “Pilate’s Song,” “Walk Alone,” “On My Knees,” “Born for This,” “Why Me?” “Veronica’s Litany,” “Fallen Again,” “Save Your Tears,” “Mercy Gate,” “O Great King,” “Father Forgive,” “Final Lullaby 1 and 2,” and “Hallelujah for the Cross.”

The words of two of those songs, the opening number “Prepare Ye the Way” and closing finale “Hallelujah for the Cross,” told the story of the entire program:

• “Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Yeshua, you reign on high. Almighty God, your love is like no other.”

• “Hallelujah for the war he fought, love has won, death has lost. Hallelujah for the souls he bought. Hallelujah for the cross.”

Becky Lock / Charles Krupa/AP FILE PHOTO 

In this Feb. 16, 2019, file photo, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, smiles as he listens to a question during a stop Feb. 16 in Raymond, New Hampshire.