A little before 2am, Thursday, April 25th, I awoke to our power shutting off, and a raging storm outside our home. Gathering up flashlights, I checked my phone for the time and noticed missed Emergency Alerts warning of a tornado in my area until 2:15am. One room in our home is adorned in large bay windows stretching across the wall facing our backyard. As lightning flashed I could see the trees shaking violently, and the chaos of rain beating down. It wasn’t until 5am we were alerted of the true state of emergency. In the dark of the morning, I drove to The Wesley Foundation, having to maneuver around downed trees and power lines. Debris filled the streets, especially once I approached campus. The Wesley building, however, was untouched. I stood for a moment there in the dark, listening to sirens and the sound of water splashing off tires as they drove by. For a moment, all was dark and calm and quiet. After an hour of finding my way on streets cleared of trees and debris, I arrived at a home where three students of the Wesley laid, on couches and air mattresses, visibly shaken and exhausted. I listened to them tell me how they had woken to their roof being ripped off their home, one waking just to see a large limb pierce her ceiling, jutting right over the head of her bed. The three scrambled to find their hiding cat, and ventured into the streets which were now rivers of trees to be brought to a safe home. We cried and prayed and finally, learned soon of fatalities mere blocks away from their home. Still, it wasn’t until daybreak any of us knew what we were dealing with.
Driving - or attempting to drive - through Ruston that morning I continually exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!” Home after home, now I know a whopping 1,300 homes at least, were utterly destroyed by winds and trees. Buildings and businesses simply gone, a pile of twisted metal and glass. Brick walls torn down as though they had just melted away. Houses blown off their foundations. Mid-morning, after hours of damage intake, overwhelming scenes of destruction and loss, I stood in a street of trees, the noise of people and chainsaws and sirens still all around, but all went still again it seemed.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
It makes little sense to me that these verses came to mind. It makes little sense when staring at the force which twisted trees out of their rooted ground, which flung entire buildings backwards, and which stripped brick wall bare, how the Lord is mighty--mightier. Yet that chorus rang through my mind all day.
I saw the Lord’s might that Thursday, not solely in the wielding of winds, thunder and lightning. Not only in his ordering them to cease and to go no further, to do no further damage than was made. I saw the Lord’s might not even in non-literal comparison, the hopeful and even faithful declaration of knowledge that He is mightier still than this tornado. I saw the Lord’s might in drones of people, mostly Christians, responding to their neighbors grief and needs. I saw in no small measure that the people of God are a force to be reckoned with, and the church, though at times idle and silent and still, still has a lot of fight and life left in her. Thousands of ordinary Christians took the lead in establishing teams to aid in the recovery efforts of homes, business, and campus. Thousands of Christians put aside differences of denominations, political opinions, race, gender, and the like. They stood hand in hand in the yard of a neighbor-- mostly neighbors they had never met or known-- and prayed. They gave up their resources to ensure others didn’t go without. Food business and groups took to the streets with meals for first responders. By lunch-time Thursday more alumni and out of town Christians asked how to help than I had places or needs to yet put them. Hundreds came to a volunteer meeting at a local church, city officials included. City officials looked to the church, because the church did not wait for permission to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Miles of tree-covered streets were cleared in a matter of hours. Trees as big around as 4-5 feet were removed from homes with small chain saws and a multitude of able-bodied friends. Homes were opened up to welcome the refugee. Without sermon or charge, the Church embodied the Church. We became to ourselves the sermon, the witness, the proof that, though illogical as it seems, “Mightier...is the Lord.”
By Friday, the three students whose home was destroyed were moved into a new home. Their cat was sleeping in tempered sunlight on the foot of one of their beds. Their fridge and pantry was full of gifted food. Paintings were going up on the wall. By Friday evening, staff and students were in the midst of the damaged, electricity-less LA Tech apartments serving burgers and providing a space of laughter, joy, and feeding hungry bellies. Saturday thousands gathered to serve once again.
The Lord has shaped the Body of believers at Wesley to preach with their lives the sermon they displayed this past week. The sermon which proclaims to the desperate, needy and hopeless, “Mightier is the Lord.” Dozens of ordinary students, gathered around the Table on Friday morning; they took the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Together we prayed the Lord would make us be for the world the Church. I smiled that morning knowing we already are being for the world the Church. And by living it out we are becoming it, more and more.
Thank each of you for your care, prayers, and concern for our Wesley community last week. We are deeply thankful and deeply loved.
Update by Kaiti Lammert, Associate Director of The Wesley Foundation on May 1st, 2019