A University of Alabama student is missing after her off-campus apartment was obliterated.
A crying baby is found safe and sound—on the ground, in the arms of his dead mother.
An 800 lb. safe containing someone’s most valuable earthly possessions is found in a river.
These are but a few of the many ways tornadoes sweeping through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia on Wednesday night have devastated lives.
Untold numbers of homes and business were wiped out. Entire towns were leveled, and hundreds of thousands of people were without power. More than 262 have been killed.
The National Weather Service received reports of more than 150 tornadoes around the regions, including 66 in Alabama and 38 in Mississippi. The worst damage is in Alabama.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deployed in coordination with Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, who is also president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“The swath of devastation that has ripped through the South and brought so much death and destruction is stunning,” said Preston Parrish, executive vice president of ministry at BGEA. “The overwhelming sense of loss – for those who lost their homes, and especially for those who lost loved ones – will be nearly unbearable for many. We want those suffering to know that Christ cares for them, that we are praying for them, and we will be standing beside them.”
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains will address the emotional and spiritual needs of tornado survivors in and around Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. According to news reports, there are more than 160 confirmed casualties in Alabama alone.
Ginger and Denny Sanders, chaplains who live in the Birmingham area, are already on the scene. Denny described the devastation by phone this afternoon: "You can go to the Georgia line or the Mississippi line. Regardless of where you go, there is great devastation.
"The death toll continues to climb," Sanders continued, "every time we hear a new report. Not only are there people who are injured and have lost possessions; there are people who are still missing loved ones. We are really going to need the church here."
While it seems that most of the victims are injured and displaced, or have suffered the loss of a loved one, there is another group of people who are missing family members.
“There are a large number of people who don’t know where their loved ones are. There has even been a Web site set up where these people are posting photos of their missing loved ones, in hopes of having them returned home—alive and well. There is a lot of desperation in the hearts of these folks,” said Sanders through tears of sympathy.
He also reminds us to pray for the emergency personnel. “They are working tirelessly, hour after hour, and not feeling released in their hearts to stop until they make progress. It is tough, tough work.”
A Ray of Hope in the Darkness
Amid the tragedy and devastation, however, there have been stories with happy endings.
Sanders was visiting with people who were out in their yards assessing the damage at the home sites when he met a young man who was looking through his grandparents’ debris. The grandson said that the elderly couple lived there for six years, and no one had ever been successful at convincing to go elsewhere during other severe storms.
This time was different, however. While they hesitated to leave their home, their grandson was persistent in his plea for them to come to his house, where he thought they would be safer. They gave in to his request and drove to his house. A short while later they returned home to find that their house was completely gone. Had they stayed, there would have been a very slim chance of survival.
Through further conversation, Sanders discovered that both the young man and his grandparents are believers in Jesus Christ. “I made him promise me one thing,” he said. “I said to him, ‘I want you to call all the family together tonight to offer up a prayer of thanksgiving.’ Things could have gone completely differently than they did.”
Be the Church
For those of us who have friends and loved ones who have suffered loss, Sanders has some advice: Let the Holy Spirit speak for you.
“There is no set answer, no way for you to tell someone that you know how they feel—because we don’t. Whatever needs to be said, the Holy Spirit always says it the right way. What the Holy Spirit says through you will aid and comfort and He is the only One who can make Romans 8:28 happen,” he explained.
In the days and weeks to come, tornado victims will require quite a bit of help. “We are going to need a lot of volunteers. There is massive damage, pray for emergency personnel,” Sanders says. “We, as the Body of Christ, need to be steadfast and come to work. Let’s be the the church to these people.”
Join us in praying for those who lost homes and loved ones in Alabama, North Carolina and many other parts of the South. Visit our prayer page or follow the BGEA Prayer Team on Twitter to support prayer efforts.
Copyright 2011 Billy Graham Evangelistic Assocation. Used by permission. All right reserved.