In March, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) deployed to three cities in Middle Tennessee after tornadoes swept through the area, killing 24 people. While chaplains are no longer serving in the area, this story is a reflection of how God moved through the deployment. Please keep those who are still picking up the pieces in your prayers.
Laurel Massey stared at her TV screen.
The Weather Channel was featuring video of tornado damage in Cookeville, Tennessee, panning to 6-year-old Bristol Stockton in tears as she sat on the foundation of her destroyed home.
“Why are you crying?” the reporter asked her.
“I lost my shoes!” she responded. Her mother, Marie Stockton, explained how she had three sets of leg prosthetics that blew away in the storm. They managed to recover two sets, but one was still missing.
Watching from her home in north Georgia, Laurel broke down in tears and began to pray for the disheartened family. Little did she know, God would create a divine appointment for them to meet in the coming weeks.
Chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, Laurel and her husband, Kurt, were about to be asked to deploy to the heart of the devastation in Tennessee.
About 80 miles east of Nashville, the couple walked across a field mixed with mud and trash, ready to offer comfort at the next damaged home being repaired by Samaritan’s Purse. They’d been deployed for several days, hearing story after story of grief, survival and pain.
Laurel saw a young mom nearby and asked, “How are you holding up?”
Their conversation continued for a few minutes, and Laurel commented, “We need Jesus Christ in our lives to be real to us.”
The mother agreed. “Yes, I know Him, but my two daughters do not,” she shared.
She then granted permission for Laurel to speak with them—8-year-old Klowi and 6-year-old Bristol, who had trouble walking. At first, Laurel didn’t recognize the younger sibling as the little girl from The Weather Channel.
Starting with the story of Adam and Eve, Laurel took them through the Gospel, telling them about the origin of sin and how bad things come into people’s lives, to Jesus dying on the cross.
Having sung in the choir led by Cliff Barrows as a teenager at a Billy Graham Crusade in Florida, Laurel is no stranger to the simple truth of Jesus. She’s spent decades sharing that news as a medical missionary, writer and now co-owner of a Christian radio station—through which she interviewed the late George Beverly Shea twice.
Wanting to make sure the girls were able to grasp the Gospel, Laurel brought the Bible’s words to life when telling them about Jesus’ crucifixion.
“You know what they did to Him?” she asked. “They put nails—just like the ones out in your yard but really big—and they put those in His wrists.”
The girls held out their arms, studying their own wrists.
“But why did they kill Him?” Bristol asked with a sad voice.
“They really did not like Him,” Massey explained. “But God liked Him a whole lot, and was thinking about Him and you, too. And [Jesus] died for your sins.”
To make sure the girls understood the meaning of sin, she asked them a few questions.
“Do you ever talk back to your mother?”
“No,” the sisters answered. “We’re nice to our mother.”
Massey tried again, thinking of another area in their lives they may have disobeyed God.
“Do you ever fight with your playmates?”
“Yes, we’ve hit them,” the girls admitted. “Then they won’t play with us for two days. But then we’re nice again.”
Massey told them that’s what sin looks like—and repentance.
“Would you like Jesus in your lives to help you?” she asked.
The sisters said they wanted Jesus. Laurel prayed with them, and Marie picked up her youngest daughter, holding her and excited about their decisions for Christ.
A while later, Laurel’s husband asked her, “You know that was the girl from The Weather Channel, right?”
Laurel started to weep, having had no idea Bristol was the same girl she’d prayed for two weeks before.
“God wanted to make Himself known to her and save her,” Massey said. “That’s a precious message to children. God knows your whole life and you are on His mind.”
An Update on the Stockton Family
After leaving a closet only to find their home demolished from the tornado, the Stocktons have since moved into a rental house that has a basement—easing the family’s fears of tornadoes to come. Although they have yet to recover Bristol’s missing prosthetic, the now 7-year-old is managing without it.
“We are doing better every day,” Marie said. “Storms are still a big struggle. We’re back to normal activities other than the coronavirus going on, but it still gets rough knowing we could’ve been gone in 10 seconds. But the Lord saved us and we’re still alive.”
With more than 450 affected families in her community, Marie recognizes the disparity of the situation and has appreciated how so many have helped them.
“I know [God] was with us that night. There is no doubt in my mind He was there keeping us safe,” Marie said. “He has a purpose for us. I don’t know what it is but I know there is something He has planned for us.
“I definitely want to get the girls in church,” she added, planning to take them when the coronavirus restrictions lift.