Over the past weekend, news headlines on the Republican primaries and Syria violence were momentarily overtaken by a story that hit closer to home for many Americans: numerous EF2, EF3 and EF4 tornadoes spawning across the south and Midwest, leaving in their wake a massive path of destruction and devastation. Last Friday's deadly tornado outbreak leveled towns in four states, and claimed the lives of at least 39 people.
“It’s horrible,” says Jack Cleveland, a 50-year-old Census Bureau worker in Henryville, Indiana, one of the areas heavily hit by the massive storms. “It’s things you take for granted that aren’t there anymore.” In Henryville, homes were leveled, and half of the local school was destroyed. Neighboring Marysville, Indiana, was completely flattened. Countless homes were annihilated by the tornadoes, and many of those who survived the devastation lost loved ones in the storms. Today, many victims are turning to faith to support them in their most difficult moments.
A Church Reaches Out
For Rev. Steve Schaftlein, the work of providing aid to victims is well underway. He is grateful that St. Francis Church – located in the center of storm-ravaged Henryville – survived the disaster, and pledges to use the building to help rebuild the community. "We were spared with a purpose by God,” he says, “to be a symbol of hope and also to walk the talk.”
He says the congregation is coming together to help provide for those who were injured in Henryville. In the back room of the church, boxes of food and clothing reach the ceiling, and have overflowed into the sanctuary."We're praying here, that's our first work, but underneath is the food, the clothing that will help sustain the community in the months ahead," he says.
Memorial Service for Family that Died Praying
On Monday, days after a tornado ripped them from a New Pekin, Indiana home, a family of five was buried. Joseph Babcock and Moriah Brough were parents to three small children, including 2-year-old Jaydon, 15-month-old Angel, and 2-month-old Kendall. Angel alone initially survived the tornado that claimed the lives of her family; she was discovered in an Indiana field and rushed to the hospital, but died Sunday of massive brain injuries. The family was in a neighbor's home when the tornado struck, and those who survived recall the family's final moments: holding hands and praying as the storm raged outside.
Survivors 'Sustained by Faith'
Joseph and Moriah and their children were remembered in a quiet and simple ceremony on Monday, attended only by close friends and family. Jack Brough, Moriah Brough's father, called it “a sad day, but a glorious day.” He said, "I've been heartbroken the past three days, but today my heart wasn't broken so much. God told me it would be okay."
Brough says that his faith in God is the only thing sustaining him through some of the most difficult days of his life. "I would have never made it through these past few days. It is through our faith in Jesus that its going to be okay. I truly believe that."
Aid Efforts Underway
Samaritan's Purse is responding to Friday's deadly tornado disasters in the south and Midwest. Tommy Belisario, program manager for the organization's response team in Harrisburg, Illinois, says that he's seeing some “pretty heavy damage,” but that the support of the communities and local church leaders has been strong. “We met with a group of pastors Thursday morning. They want to reach out to help the community, and were very open to us coming on board with them.”
Staff members of Operation Blessing arrived on the scene of the Midwest tornado disaster within 24 hours of the storm. OBI was on the ground conducting relief efforts on Friday when a second storm system approached, prompting the team to take shelter. “As the skies darkened and sirens began to sound, our team grabbed our bags and began running to our vehicles to head to the command center for shelter,” said Jody Gettys, who serves as director of U.S. disaster relief for Operation Blessing. “When I looked up residents were fleeing as well. I looked into their eyes as we were all racing for shelter and there was an indescribable terror and fear in their eyes that I will never forget.”
Samaritan's Purse is working in several states struck by Friday's storms, and is asking for volunteers to help in relief efforts. Operation Blessing is accepting volunteers in groups of two or more for relief operations in Harrisburg, Illinois, and asking for donations to help victims.
Heart to Heart International is working with victims in Henryville, Indiana, and accepting donations for tornado victims. Dan Weinbaum of Heart to Heart says that the impact of the disaster is intense. “There is damage here, plenty of it,” he says. “I was asked by a television crew how this disaster ranks compared to others. I told them it doesn’t compare, not for the people who live here. For them, this is the big one. This is their Joplin, their Alabama, their Katrina. This is their Henryville. This is their Marysville.”
Along the path of deadly destruction, individuals from nearby towns have been dedicating time and effort to reach out to victims who are truly their neighbors. Jessica Bradford is one of them. The tragedy of the Babcock family lost in Friday's storms in Indiana has captured hearts of people across the nation, and in neighboring Indianapolis, Jessica Bradford was no exception. She felt moved by the tragedy, so much that she drove to Henryville to volunteer and help tornado victims. Bradford stopped at the family's grave along the way. Placing fresh roses on the grave, she said, “I just had to drive over here.”
Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].
Publication date: March 6, 2012