When Miss Fletcher noticed two strangers walking down her street, she rushed over to request their credentials and inquire about the purpose of their visit. As the unofficial guardian of Castlewood Lane, Fletcher knows who belongs there and who doesn’t.
And when she learned that the two strangers—wearing matching blue shirts—were chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, she broke into a huge grin.
Very quickly, she scooped up Ginger and Denny Sanders and whisked them to her front porch which, amazingly enough, is completely intact. Just one block behind Miss Fletcher’s house, the devastation is total. Not a house remains.
Pratt City, a neighborhood in northwest Birmingham, was severely damaged by one of an estimated 200 tornadoes to sweep through the region April 27. The storms killed about 350 people, with 250 of those fatalities in Alabama alone.
But Castlewood Lane was mostly spared. Yes, trees are damaged and uprooted. Roofs are torn off. Life, though, remains. Walls are standing. And Miss Fletcher says she knows why.
“I just prayed that big, ole twister away,” said Fletcher, with a crack in her voice. “I looked up and asked God for his mercy.”
People across the street and next door say they are thankful, and most have stories of their own.
LaToya was nursing her baby when the deafening sound of the tornado frightened her “almost to death.” The 22-year-old mother was in her mother’s house by herself. Fear drove her to her knees—and to the phone.
“My mom stayed on the phone with me and talked me through the storm,” LaToya told Ginger and Denny as they continued their walk down Castlewood.
“Isn’t that a beautiful picture of God?” Denny responded. “We all will go through storms in life, but our heavenly Father is there to talk us through them.”
Carlton–a middle-aged single man who lives across the street–would agree. He’ll never look at storms the same way again.
When he returned from work that evening, Carlton’s dog greeted him at the door and after doling out a few canine kisses, she reminded her master it was time to go outside.
“We were standing in the front yard, and that’s when the biggest lightning bolt I ever saw splintered the sky,” Carlton recalled. “Me and the dog ran inside and dove on the floor.”
Seconds later, the monster announced its arrival. “I heard it,” said Carlton. His spoke softly at first, but in describing each successive “boom,” his voice intensified. “Boom, boom, boom,” he yelled. “And the whole house shook.”
The Monster Plays Hopscotch
Just as quickly as it descended, the monster left Castlewood Lane. It decided not to touch down there, but preferred to wipe out the next block. And the next one. It destroyed an entire apartment complex around the corner, and Bethel Missionary Baptist Church a few more yards from that.
Carlton broke into sobs when telling Denny and Ginger his reaction: “I don’t know why it missed me. I don’t know why I was spared.”
The chaplains asked Carlton about his faith in Christ and whether he thought God might have chosen to show him mercy. The man admitted he knew about Jesus, but hadn’t been to church in months and not living a Christian lifestyle.
“Now I know why we came to this street,” said Denny. The couple spoke with Carlton about Jesus and asked if he wanted to pray.
The God who spared Carlton’s house saved him for eternity. “Now when the next storm hits, I’ll be ready,” he said with a smile.
Peggy, who lives about four houses from Carlton, knew before the storm where she would spend eternity. “I wasn’t afraid to die,” she told the chaplains.
Her house was completely preserved. Only a few trees fell in the back yard. “How grateful I am,” Peggy said with tears flowing down her cheeks. “How blessed I am. Jesus knew my heart. He knew how much I wanted to live and serve Him.”
Watching volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse clearing branches and hammering roofs, Peggy couldn’t help but notice that the tornado unified a very diverse group of people. “We may be different denominations and different races, but we are God’s family.”
Like a family that disagrees but rallies during personal tragedy, “the body of Christ shines during dark times,” said Peggy.
“My grandson is here right now and he is watching. He sees that Billy Graham’s response people and Franklin’s Samaritan people are here. He’ll remember that one day,” Peggy added. “He’ll remember that the tornado that brought so much death and destruction brought you beautiful people here in the name of Jesus Christ.”
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