Since Wednesday, April 27, our hearts have gone out to many people who have lost loved ones, home or property in the devastating tornadoes in the South. It is nearly incredulous that more than 300 victims have perished in these ferocious storms.
If you were like me, you found yourself captured by the reports of devastation. But for me, it was even more personal. My mother and sister were caught in one of those deadly twisters. They were returning from Florida and had stopped for the evening in Ringgold, Ga. No sooner had they arrived at their Days Inn room, my sister saw the tornado. Immediately, they rushed into the bathroom as the tornado blew in the room’s window, showering glass everywhere. Fortunately, Mom and Pam were safe.
The next few hours were confusing and dark. No power plus uncertainty and fear on the part of those gathering the 150 survivors from this area near an I-75 exit. After leaving their belongings behind, they moved two or three times and ended that evening at a local high school. By then it was midnight, and strangers began to set up cots for those stranded in the school’s gymnasium.
Upon arrival at the high school, my sister called me, and said, they had been in the tornado and were unharmed. “Praise the Lord!” I blurted out over the phone, as my beloved wife Deb began to stir from a short night’s slumber. Pam continued, saying their car and all their possessions, including Mom’s newly-made and ready to present precious handmade quilts for all five of her children, were likely destroyed. They thought the storm was at least an F4 and had blown all the windows out of Mom’s car. The estimated 150 mile-an-hour winds sprung the trunk lid open.
In a short time, my two brothers and I were beginning a midnight sojourn to northern Georgia. We arrived around 9:45 a.m. As we entered the Lakeside/Ft. Oglethorpe High School gym, now a storm shelter, our sister immediately saw us. Quickly, Pam escorted Mom over to us. Mom began to weep almost uncontrollably as “her three boys – the cavalry” had arrived.
During the next several hours there were endless conversations among ourselves and 300 survivors gathered there. It seemed there were two helpers for each stranded person. What a display of care – from perfect strangers to us – to those who were strangers to others.
An hour later, it began – an endless line of splendor. Perfect strangers to us toted case after case of bottled water, foods of all sorts, as well as clothes of all styles and varieties. There were even packages of underwear donated by the local Walmart for any who desired them.
The part that really moved us was the high school personnel. There was a basketball coach and teacher who had been there since the shelter opened. He was still there at three the next afternoon. On more than one occasion, he had taken my mother aside and asked how she was doing. This giant of a man, 6-foot-4, obviously loved our Lord and the Lord’s people. Mom commented, “Wow, these people sure love us, and they don’t even know us!”
Bev, another volunteer and hospice home visitor, like most people who meet our Mom, was amazed and taken by the large amount of love that flows out of this diminutive five-foot wonder of ours. They talked nearly an hour while my brothers – both fire and emergency management leaders here in Indiana – were attempting to get to Mom’s car to retrieve her belongings.
There’s much more to this story, but everywhere we looked, we saw the radical hospitality of strangers. Their actions called forth in us to do and be the same for others.
– For the only cause that matters, M. Bert Kite, Superintendent of the Central District