LOUISVILLE, MISS.—To say this is the worst tornado damage that Jace has ever seen may not mean a whole lot.
After all, Jace is only 11. His life experience is somewhat limited.
But this Winston Academy fifth-grader knows that the mile-wide twister that hit his hometown of Louisville, Miss., was a once-in-a-lifetime disaster.
“My grandpa is 77 and he said it’s the worst he’s ever seen,” Jace said.
Other Louisville residents echoed the same. A 47-year-old can only recall one other time she was really scared and that was riding the bus in first grade.
Sure, Louisville is technically in “Tornado Alley,” but tornadoes have always just missed this town of 6,600. Veered just north. Stayed just south…
Jace knows the drill when the sirens start blaring. Get under the stairs, the safest haven for a tornado strike in his home, a nook his dad custom built into the house. Wait. Then breathe a sigh of relief.
Only this time, it’s different. One-fourth of the deaths from this storm system (nine of 36) have come from Winston County, where Louisville is the county seat. Jace, carrying a heavy heart, was over helping some of his classmates clean up their yards, delivering food and water.
He’s heard stories of friends who were in their cellars when their homes were wiped clean. “They said it sounded like a bomb was going off for 30 seconds.
“You see it on TV, then it happens here and it’s a whole different thing,” Jace said. “We say ‘We’ll pray for them. They’ll be fine. They’ll rebuild.’ Now, we’re the ones needing prayer.”
Like Jace said, seeing pictures or videos of the damage in 2-D doesn’t do it justice.
You don’t see all the power lines strewn over main roads like a plate of spaghetti. Or 100-year-old trees uprooted like weeds. Or the hospital with all the windows blown out. Or drive past the daycare where one of the workers died—holding a 4-year-old girl, who survived—after the roof collapsed in on her.
Nor can you feel the depths of the grief people are feeling.
And that’s why the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has deployed three different chaplain teams, trained in crisis management situations, to the storm-riddled states of Arkansas, Kansas and Mississippi, to help provide emotional and spiritual care.
One chaplain team, Desi and Carolyn Perez, were in Mayflower, Ark., by Monday afternoon, while John and Suzanne Galvin are ministering in Baxter Springs, Kan. These coordinators will soon welcome and direct trained volunteers from the extensive network of chaplains, on standby in 48 states.
Toni and Al New, along with Mike and Pookie Mattingly, are on site in Louisville, helping provide comfort and the hope of Christ to those hurting.
“I talked to a man today,” chaplain Toni New said. “But when he found out I was a chaplain, all he could do was cry.
“He had this dazed look on his face and he looked like he felt hopeless. He was holding a bunch of clothes he got from the community center.”
This early in a deployment, it was not an unusual encounter for Toni. Neither was the response from one pastor she talked with.
“He said there’s other people who need more help than he did,” Toni said. “But he did say he wanted prayer.”
Pastor Eddie Painter of Friendship Baptist Church in Sturgis, Miss., has heard similar things this week. One family in his congregation lost an aunt to the tornado and some experienced damage, but most of his church just wanted to do something to help.
So, Painter offered his good-size church to host Samaritan’s Purse and the Rapid Response Team.
Painter is no stranger to disasters. While he has Missisippi roots, he just recently returned from pastoring in Lafayette, La., where he led church rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Gustav and Isaac.
He feels offering help during crisis is a tangible way to show the love of Christ, and it often times leaves people scratching their heads.
“People ask the question, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Painter said. “They would ask, ‘What are you getting out of this?’ We would simply respond, ‘We believe this is what God wants us to do to help you out.’
“If you care, you find opportunities to share the Gospel while you’re serving.”
Click here to Help Share the Hope of Christ through our Rapid Response Team.