As his home’s windows blew in, Michael Kemp didn’t know if his mom was OK.
Yelling for her across the house, the two met in the main hallway while a tornado tore through their historic neighborhood in Mayfield, Kentucky, on Friday, December 10. It was one of at least 30 twisters to touch down across the Central U.S. and killed at least 90 people, ranging in ages from two months old to 98 years old.
The next few minutes would be the most terrifying of the Kemps’ lives.
“Mom, what are we going to do?” Michael asked, standing in his bathrobe in the pitch black of night.
“We’re going to start praying,” his mom, Janet, said.
And they didn’t stop.
While the twister sent debris flying overhead, tearing down the exterior walls of the house and removing much of the roof, the Kemps laid flat on the laminate floor with their two small dogs and repeated the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:5-13).
“That’s all I knew to do,” Janet recalled on Tuesday, December 14, as she talked with Greg and Vicki Fleitz, crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT). The team consists of more than 2,200 chaplains, and dozens have been deployed following the catastrophic storm system.
“[Faith] is sometimes all we have,” Greg said gently.
“The good Lord brought me through it with my son. It happened so fast,” she said before explaining this wasn’t the first house she’s lost.
In 2007, a house fire reduced her belongings to ashes.
“I prayed through that,” Janet said.
Two years later, her husband died.
“I prayed through that,” she said again.
Then, she had to file bankruptcy and lost the home her late husband built for her.
“I prayed through that,” Janet repeated.
For the past 12 years, the faithful woman has lived in the green house near the old downtown district.
“I ain’t stopped praying, honey,” she said. “It’s the first thing I do every morning. I have my coffee and say my prayers.”
And what happened next is evidence.
Saved Twice in the Hallway
As Michael showed Greg where he took shelter in the hallway during the storm, the chaplain mentioned how fragile life is.
They were surrounded by shattered glass, shreds of insulation and debris wedged into the bright-colored walls.
Right after the storm, Michael said it looked “like a bomb went off.” Between the flashes of lightning, “You could see rubble everywhere,” he continued. “People were crying and screaming. [It was like …] all kinds of hell.”
And yet, Michael and his mom had only small cuts on their hands from the storm’s treachery.
Greg asked the young adult if he hadn’t made it through the twister, did he know where he’d spend eternity?
Despite his mother’s faith, Michael wasn’t sure. He’d pulled away from God due to issues with Christians and the church.
“Churches are full of sinners,” Greg explained. “[Salvation is about] a relationship between you and God.”
Pulling out a Steps to Peace With God booklet, the chaplain shared several Scripture verses with Michael, including 1 John 5:12 which states, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
In the same hallway that Michael had survived the storm four days before, he wanted to be saved once again. But this time it was for eternity.
“Never doubt His love for you,” Greg assured Michael, who attested God had “been dropping pretty big hints” in his life to get his attention. “He knows I’m hardheaded,” Michael explained.
A few minutes later, Greg and Vicki gathered alongside a sea of orange-shirted Samaritan’s Purse volunteers to pray over the Kemp family before heading out. After asking for Michael’s permission, Greg openly shared that the young man decided to follow Christ, resulting in smiles and cheers from the volunteers.
But no smile was bigger than the one on Janet’s face.
“You accepted Christ?” Janet mouthed to her son.
“You don’t know how long I’ve been praying for this,” his mother said. “Now both my kids are saved!”