Was this reality or a dream?
Tony Stallings had drifted off, up late doing homework, when he heard his son Chris, yelling downstairs in the wee hours of Jan. 24.
“A tornado is coming! A tornado is coming!”
It was 3:30 a.m., and living in Alabama he’s heard this line of warning a time or two. Or 10.
But just to be sure, he got up quickly, and still slightly dazed, hurried to look outside.
“This particular time when I went to the window, I heard the freight train sound they talk about,” Stallings said. “And it does sound like a freight train.
“I heard the roof start to buckle and I felt the house shake.”
But immediately, Stallings felt the peace of the Lord wash over him as the early-morning twister ripped right past his house.
“I remember thinking of Psalm 91,” he said, having studied that passage in his church the day before. “I couldn’t even get it out of my mouth fast enough. I just thought Psalm 91 and sat down and in about seven seconds it was all over.”
“I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Stallings and his family had survived the storm that claimed two lives and destroyed 200 homes. But he didn’t have to go very far to see just how close they’d come to a very different outcome.
“I went out in the backyard and it looked like a war zone,” he said. “I went around and starting knocking on doors to see if I could help my neighbors, if someone was trapped or something.”
Stallings’ street was battered. “I saw dead animals and live wires,” he said.
And the days that followed proved difficult for this homeowner, as he received several quotes of up to $10,000 to clean up his yard.
Discouraged, he came inside and sat down, asking God for help and guidance.
“About 20 minutes later my wife said, ‘There’s some guys out there who want to talk to you,’ and I said, ‘Lord, what is this?’ “
It was Samaritan’s Purse offering to clean up his yard for free.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team then followed up with a much-needed visit earlier this week.
“We were going to go to the grocery store and for some reason I wanted to stay home,” Stallings said. “The doorbell rang and I looked out and saw the name Billy Graham on the side of the van and I love Billy Graham.
“I watch his classics on TBN all the time. Even as a child growing up, I would listen to him.”
Stallings opened the door, was greeted by two Rapid Response chaplains and quickly felt at ease.
“These gentlemen were out there and their demeanor was so calming,” he said. “They started to minister to me and wanted to pray with me. This is the first time since the tornado hit that somebody wanted to pray with me.”
Stallings was grateful for the help both Samaritan’s Purse and the Rapid Response Team provided to his family. To date, nine Rapid Response chaplains have prayed with more than 200 storm survivors in and around Stallings’ neighborhood.
“They prayed for my financial situation, they prayed for my home life,” he said. “It’s a blessing. It’s truly a ministry that whatever needs to be done to move it forward needs to be done. It’s truly a blessing.”
‘There are No Words’
Australia and the United States may be worlds apart, but when it comes to a disaster, the language of love is the same.
Phillip Ohman, the deployment manager for the Australian Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, happened to be in the U.S. when the Alabama tornado hit and he quickly made his way to the Center Point-Trussville area, just northeast of Birmingham.
His response to the devastation was the same as it would’ve been Down Under.
“How do you talk to someone who has had their house completely flattened?” he said. “You just need to be there. You can be Jesus with skin on.”
Ohman expressed the greatest value a Rapid Response chaplain can give sometimes is what he calls “a ministry of presence.”
“It’s really a matter of coming alongside them and not saying crazy things like ‘It could be worse,’ ” Ohman said. “For them, it probably couldn’t be. Just stand alongside and encourage them.”
‘Hands and Feet of Jesus’
When he heard about the need in Alabama, Joseph Morrison didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to leave the comforts of his Charlotte, N.C., home and minister as a chaplain to the these tornado victims, some living in less-than-ideal conditions.
“They need help and we’re supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who paid the debt that none of us could pay,” Morrison said. “When I visit homeowners and try to bring them hope … they don’t know which way they’re going. “
Sometimes it’s a matter of speaking a word of truth and love in a time of chaos.
“They just need someone to walk up beside them,” he said, “and give them a hug and let them know that everything’s going to be OK.”
Be the Hands and Feet of Christ
During 2012, the Rapid Response Team will continue to bring God’s love to people touched by disasters. You can play a part through your prayers and donations. Please give today to help hurting people at home and around the world.