Residents from Tuscaloosa, Ala., are still recovering from the destructive blow in the aftermath of what is being categorized as the most destructive string of tornadoes to hit the U.S. since the 1930s.
But more than 600 miles away, a Houston area church responded to news of the devastation with a two-day emergency relief drive.
When Walter August, Jr., senior pastor of the Church at Bethel’s Family, learned that relatives of one of the members of his church had been directly hit by the tornado, he contacted the family to help, and spearheaded an outreach effort in conjunction with Rev. Kelvin Croom of College Hill Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa.
Although media attention had shifted from the devastation left by the tornadoes in Alabama, and other hard hit states, August charged his members to direct their efforts to providing emergency supplies to tornado victims.
“We wanted to do something to make a difference for those impacted by this devastating storm, many of whom lost everything, andsome their lives,” said August.
To maximize the effort, August put in calls to Rev. Mike Pender of The Fallbrook Church in Houston and Rev. Byron Stevenson, pastor of
The Fort Bend Church. Members from each church and the surrounding community brought enough clothing and emergency supplies to fill the trailer of an 18-wheeler truck in an effort to restore hope and rebuild lives.
Stevenson, pastor of one of the partnering churches, called the effort an “optimal opportunity to assist our brothers directly in the recovery relief,” a sentiment shared by the other participating churches.
A resident of Fort Bend County, Stevenson reflected on the increasing number of natural disasters in recent months, describing it as a reinforcement of scripture, quoting Psalm 46:1: “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Brad and Mandy Hill, the Church at Bethel’s Family members whose relatives were in the path of the tornadoes, were comforted by the outpouring of support extended to their family members in Tuscaloosa.
Brad Hill first received word of the storm’s impact when he received a call on his cell phone from his mother who was shaken to tears.
“I was sitting in my office about 4:30 and thought it was strange, because she normally calls me on my work phone,” Hill said.
She kept repeating the words that they were alive and that it had happened so fast.
His mother’s home was the only one left standing in a five-block radius, all other homes were destroyed, described Hill.
Mandy Hill called it God’s divine protection because when their relatives heard the tornado alarms, they did not have time to go into the storm shelter of their home as others in the area had done. Homes, cars and buildings were shattered into unrecognizable pieces, many areas looking as if a bomb had gone off.
Croom, whose church took a direct hit, expressed appreciation for the efforts of August and partnering churches.
“We appreciate the love and concern and know that this will be a long-term effort, and we are thankful that they have reached out to us during our time of need,” said Croom.
He and his church members were in the process of making plans for the church’s 30 year anniversary, when the tornado hit destroying the church’s fellowship area and damaging the structure, but miraculously leaving the church’s stained glass windows intact.
Visiting a daughter in a neighboring part of the city, Croom listened on a police radio blotter to descriptions of a series of advancing tornados that converged on the area.
“Somehow all three tornadoes came from three different areas and got together and it looked like it had its own personality,” says Croom.
The Tuscaloosa pastor has been in a number of tornadoes, but never one like this, he said.
“It seemed angry and seemed to have an intent to destroy. I have seen a lot of tornadoes, but have never seen anything of this magnitude, this thing was a monster,” says Croom.
Croom believes many in the area were caught off guard because there had been an earlier tornado sighting in the area that had phased out and then the sun came out.
“Many people thought the storm was gone for the day and so they began to go out, and children were in the park playing and families were outside, and then the storm came so quickly.
People were just caught off guard; you had the beautiful sunshine and then here came the storm,” Croom described.
According to reports, the death toll reached 41, and included numerous children.
“It has been very tough, we have a shortage of housing space for those who have been displaced, so many people are leaving the state to go to other places to live,” added Croom, who said he counts it a blessing that “it is as well as it is.”
Croom’s brother, Sylvester Croom, who coaches with the St. Louis Rams, returned to the area and was emotionally moved by the devastation, according to the Tuscaloosa pastor.
“Pictures don’t give you an accurate description of what we are dealing with,” he said.
As the truck load of supplies from Houston was dispatched for the 620-mile trip to Tuscaloosa, a group of men from the Mighty Men of Bethel, the church’s 100-member male chorus, traveled down to the area to assist with relief efforts.
“It wasn’t long ago that many in this area were in a similar position when Hurricane Katrina hit,” said August.
“Our goal is to do everything we can to help our brothers and sisters get through this devastation and to uplift their spirits, in any way we can.”