They Walked Away from a ‘War Zone,’ Decided to Follow Christ

By   •   August 7, 2020

Billy Graham chaplain Barb Grabowski (right) talks with Coella Tate (left). After surviving the tornado with her husband Manley, the couple decided to follow Christ.

Manley and Coella Tate woke up in the middle of the night to a tornado headed their way in Bertie County, North Carolina, on Monday. As they exchanged “I love you’s,” they took cover in their bathtub and said a quick prayer.

“Heavenly Father, please protect us,” Manley recalled his words. “We may not be the perfect people, but at least we have some faith.”

“When we did that shhhhoooo, it was gone,” he explained. “Maybe that prayer saved us.”

They got up and walked out to what Manley called a “war zone.”

Giant trees were strewn across the yard. Their front porch was completely obliterated and its white columns elsewhere. Their metal roof was ripped—and the plywood underneath gone—allowing one to look directly at the sky from the inside of the home. Heavy rain and wind compromised many of their unveiled belongings. Their carport had been thrown into his uncle’s cornfield behind their yard.

But what mattered to Manley most was he and his family are still alive.

“We’re still here,” Manley said, saddened that two people lost their lives and 20-plus were injured. “All this right here is physical—cars, houses, you know everything can be replaced but my life can’t. And that’s the main thing.”

Across the yard, Coella—his bride of 27 years and high school sweetheart—listened in agreement.

“She’s with me and I’m with her,” he said. “I’m going to stand by her to the end. It’s a beautiful thing.”

“When 2020 came in, I said, ‘This is going to be the year. [But] this year, we’ve been having a lot of problems. We have the virus, tornadoes, people rioting. It seems like the world in 2020 is turned upside down. … It’s real bad. I think it’s Almighty God trying to give us a forewarning: ‘Get it together.’ … He has my attention,” Manley Tate said.

A Life-Changing Visit

The following day, chaplains Barb and Leo Grabowski visited them while Samaritan’s Purse volunteers diligently worked to repair their home. Part of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, the chaplains are offering a ministry of presence—a listening ear and if desired, prayer—to those recovering from the storm.

While the ceiling was being taken down nearby, Barb sat on the couch with Coella, who shared about some challenging health issues.

“God doesn’t necessarily save us from tribulation but He helps us in it,” Barb said. “You’re never going to be alone. Not even your husband can fill that void you have in your heart, only God can do that.”

Barb went on to ask if she ever remembered a time that she gave her life to Jesus. Although Coella had been to church, she said she’d never made an actual decision to accept Christ, but she would really like to do so.

Amid dripping sweat and construction noise, Barb prayed with her to trust God with her life. Coella then said she and her husband only do things together—so she wanted Barb’s husband, Leo, to talk to Manley about Jesus.

>> View photos from the Bertie County, North Carolina, deployment.

Leo hopped in Manley’s truck—where the air conditioner brought a breath of fresh air amid the humid day. After looking into several religions previously, Manley thought he could earn his way to heaven. But Leo shared with him that faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

He then pulled out a “Steps to Peace with God” booklet, which uses Bible verses to explain how to follow Christ.

“I need more of this,” Manley said. Then they read Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Just as his wife did, Manley prayed that Jesus would become his Lord. Although the couple has a long road ahead, they now have Someone they can always rely on.

“Thank you for coming here,” Coella told the chaplains. “I feel the love of God.”

Have you accepted God’s love for you? Know your heavenly Father today.

Chaplain Leo Grabowski (left) walked alongside some of the Tates’ neighbors to see the devastation.