by Chelsea Pardue, a Samaritan’s Purse writer who has covered many tornado relief responses, including the recent disaster in Oklahoma.
The first time I saw damage from an EF-4 tornado, I knew I never wanted to see it again—and I knew it probably wouldn’t be my last time. My first day in Tuscaloosa, Ala., I sat and cried without having the words to explain what I was feeling. Since then, I sometimes have nightmares about tornadoes. I never took them seriously until I saw the damage they could do. Now I’ve seen how monstrous a bit of wind can be.
As time passed after Tuscaloosa and I traveled around the U.S., disasters became less horrifying. I wasn’t devastated each time I saw someone sobbing as she looked through piles of trash to find a special photo. But no matter how many times I saw it, I still wasn’t able to get used to it. It wasn’t normal to see a bathtub hanging out of the edge of a second story bathroom. It wasn’t normal to see trees stripped of bark and snapped off with no leaves during the summer. It still isn’t normal.
In Oklahoma, things looked much the same as they did in Alabama two years ago. I arrived only a day after the storm. People were still wandering around without much direction. Some of them weren’t allowed to go back to their homes. Others were, but the damage was too catastrophic to bear. They will have to rebuild and start over.
Over and over, I’ve heard people say, “You never think this will happen to you.” It’s true. As I stood in the beating sun and stared into a living room with no outer walls, I can’t imagine that it could be my house.
I felt helpless and overwhelmed, and it wasn’t even my home. I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of the woman who was walking out of her mostly destroyed house carrying stacks of books. I just couldn’t imagine that this could ever happen to me.
Down the street from that house, a Samaritan’s Purse assessor talked with a woman who was sifting through piles of wood to find anything salvageable. Her whole life was in the house that’s now in a heap on the ground. But as she heard our assessor saying that our teams can help her find her belongings, her face brightened just a bit.
That moment, and many others like it, couldn’t happen without the storm. There’s a stark contrast between a storm and the hope that comes afterward, a starkness that doesn’t exist in everyday life. At every disaster, I see people like our assessor helping people and giving them hope. I see our teams not only cutting trees and tarping roofs, but also taking time to care for these people who have lost so much.
Through all the suffering, I get to see the delight of an old woman who gets to spend her entire day talking with volunteers. She told me that she rarely has company and spends most days just talking to her dog.
I get to meet a volunteer who has returned to his hometown to help the people who used to be his neighbors. He told me that seeing his old town this way made his heart break.
I get to see the joy on the face of a mother whose disabled son receives a new wheelchair. She told me that his was blown away in the storm and the struggle it caused made her not want to live anymore.
I not only see desperation. I also get to see the hope we have in Jesus.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).