Nebraska Man Survives Tornado, Gets Surprise Visit at Church

By   •   July 9, 2014

Nebraska tornado damage
Workers clean up debris in Pilger, Neb., after twin tornadoes killed two people and flattened much of the small community.

In the days following a deadly twin tornado strike in Pilger, Neb., one man was thankful to be alive after taking cover in his basement. There was just one problem: when the storm had passed, his furry friend was nowhere to be found.

Bruce rode out the June 16 twisters and escaped unharmed, but as the funnel passed by, a large tree crashed into his house. In all the chaos, his border collie broke loose and was still missing nearly a week later.

But something unexpected happened the Sunday after the tornado, and by the time Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains Jack and Peg Rasmusson met Bruce, he had quite a story to tell.

“Well, we first asked about his experience in the tornado,” Peg said. “It was pretty scary.”

The Rasmussons, who live in Colorado, are crisis-trained volunteer chaplains who deployed to neighboring Nebraska in the aftermath of the devastating twisters. They met Bruce while the Rapid Response Team’s sister ministry, Samaritan’s Purse, was helping him clean up his home.

After sharing his storm survival story, Bruce began to open up about the rest of his life.

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“As we started to ask about his spiritual walk, he said he hadn’t been to church in 10 years,” Peg said. “But on Saturday he was working around the house cleaning things up and had this strong desire to go to church on Sunday.”

And that’s how Bruce ended up at church for the first time in a decade. It was the first Sunday after the tornado, and electricity wasn’t restored yet. All the windows and doors were open to let in some air…and something else.

“His lost dog came running up the center aisle,” Peg said. “The dog had come into the church and came right down the aisle and right up to him. It’s pretty amazing.”

Up to 75 percent of the small town of Pilger was damaged or destroyed.

That’s right—after six days, Bruce’s border collie tracked him down in what Bruce would have called an unlikely place to find him. He joked to the chaplains that the dog was probably more surprised than his family to see him in church.

As Bruce told the chaplains about his sweet reunion, Jack and Peg noticed that he kept focusing on all those years he was absent from church.

“And then we were able to say it isn’t about going to church. It’s about your relationship with Jesus Christ and what He’s offering to you,” Peg said.

“It seemed like he was freed up to receive that gift, because it wasn’t measured by what he had done up until now. It’s not about works; it’s about Christ and the work that’s been done for us.”

Bruce shared that he had never prayed to invite Jesus into his heart. When Jack asked if he’d like to do so, his “yes” came without hesitation.

As it turned out, Bruce’s mom had been praying for him for years. Living through such a violent storm seemed to be the wakeup call he needed. Then the Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham Rapid Response Team volunteers showed up at just the right time.

“It’s the coolest thing, because the Holy Spirit had already been at work in his life,” Peg said. “It was all coming up to this moment, and we were just a little piece of that. It’s the power of Christ. It’s not us.”

Jack and Peg prayed with Bruce as he accepted Christ into his heart. Then the whole team of volunteers signed a Bible that they presented to him later that day.

Bruce was one of more than 300 people the Rapid Response Team had the chance to pray with over the course of their two-week deployment in the tight-knit community of Pilger.

The chaplains met residents who lost their homes and people who barely made it to safety in time. There are many faces they’ll remember for a long time, but it’s the look they saw in Bruce’s eyes when he accepted Christ that may stick with them the longest.

“He did it so willingly and joyfully,” Peg said. “He was ready.”

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  1. :Linda says:

    God is always there for us – he is just waiting for us to invite him into our lives. God Bless your ministry.

  2. Marie Welch says:

    God Bless, Bruce, his story is so real and touching, my heart rejoycies, with him.
    Thank God for His Son that we all can be free if we choose to be. God gave us that chose.
    How many of us don’t even see that?

  3. Patrick says:

    Dear Reverend Graham, A survivor(s) of a natural disaster such as a tornado usually exhaust their spiritual energy as they seek shelter from the storm. Celebrating with Jesus Christ and thanking Him for His protection after the disaster passes helps the survivor(s) to restore spiritual strengths such as their peacefulness, joyfulness, and hope. Only in Jesus Christ can one survive. Thank you BGEA for assisting in restoring spiritual strength, food and materials.

  4. Jill Whitcombe. says:

    I was brought up in the faith. I had a picture of the Good Shepherd hanging over my bed and my mother taught me my prayers when I was six. When I grew up I lacked assurance of salvation and so I started all over again with the Lord. “You knew all that”, said my mother. Now I just share Romans 10:9 and 10 with friends who lack assurance.

  5. erika says:

    Thank you for posting and for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ – our Healer, Deliverer, Redeemer, Salvation and Restorer. God continue to bless and keep both of you

  6. terry gooch says:

    what a wonderful story