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Students Report Disaster-Relief Stories

Feb 8, 2007

Pastor Randy Smith of the Sebring, Florida, Grace Brethren Church and his students at the Great Commission Bible Institute at his church are currently involved in tornado relief at Lady Lake. Here are their reports today of what they are seeing and experiencing:

The tornado that tore through Lady Lake devastated the lives of many, but brought the people of one neighborhood closer together. I had the opportunity to volunteer with Soles for Souls, a non-profit organization that gave shoes to those who had lost everything in natural disasters. I walked through the mobile home park seeking those who needed shoes and was in shock of the destruction that had occurred only days earlier.

Pink insulation clung to the trees like snow and aluminum siding littered every yard. Houses were demolished and several trailers were standing firm with fallen trees tearing through their thin walls. Several homes were damaged so severely that in walking by you saw the contents of the home. Clothes, furniture, and tree limbs were scattered throughout the entire park and if you looked up, you would find a mattress or aluminum siding balancing on a single tree branch.

The most impacting moment of my entire time in Lady Lake was when I was fitting a pair of shoes to a woman who lost everything. Mary and her husband, residents of the park, were in desperate need of a pair of shoes. I never realized how important a pair of tennis shoes was until that moment.

Mary walked up to me in socks and flip-flops two sizes too small and shared with me that the tornado struck their house in the middle of the night. They heard the roar of the storm and clung to each other, praying they would make it through. The tornado picked up their house and dropped it, causing Mary to fall to the floor with her husband on top of her. Many of their furnishings, including a mattress which saved their lives, fell breaking several of Mary’s ribs and bruising them both severely. To insure that the small trailer would be completely demolished, a tree then fell only several inches from where they lay underneath pounds of debris. Mary and her husband were rescued and walked away.

I had the opportunity to place on this woman’s feet a pair of brand new, white tennis shoes. I knelt in front of her, placing her small bruised feet into safety and thanked God for blessing this woman with her life and for me to experience how God provides in ways that we cannot understand. I will never lose the shock of the mobile home park that was tattered by the tornado, but more importantly I will never forget Mary’s smile walking away in a brand new pair of shoes.

-Katy Staley (Ohio)

We filled garbage bag after garbage bag with sticks and leaves and threw away whatever metal and plastic we found. On our way back from a walk to the dumpster, Pastor Randy noticed an elderly man who had come out and had begun to rake his yard. He asked me to help the man, who seemed like he could hardly walk, so I grabbed a rake and asked if he could use a hand.

His trailer was still in one piece, but the roof to his screened-in porch was nowhere to be seen, the screens were destroyed, blinds splayed in crazy directions and more leaves and sticks on his porch. I raked what I could off of his porch, threw away the useless blinds, carefully set aside broken birdhouses, and continued to clear out his lawn.

I didn’t get the chance to find out much about him, but he told me that he had been inside when the tornado, which had killed his neighbors a few hundred feet away, struck. He was alright except that he hit his head on something. He told me many times how grateful he was for my help and what we were doing for his community. When he went inside to rest after only working a few minutes he thanked me again.

As he turned and closed the door I was hit with the fulfillment that only comes from meeting the needs of others in such a real way. We didn’t need to wrestle roofing out of trees or clear roads with bulldozers, but by raking up sticks and leaves and cleaning up what was left of this man’s porch we met his need and left an impression of Christ’s love which is more powerful than any force of nature.

-Jonathan Martin (Pennsylvania)

Today the Great Comission Bible Institute students went up to Lady Lake to help with tornado relief. We had the oppertunity of cleaning the tornado victims yards of fallen debris, aluminum roofs and siding, and chopping up fallen trees.

I was speachless, standing there looking at a tree that had fallen straight through someone’s kitchen. I had the oppertunity to talk with the man that owned the house. The tornado came through during the night and this man said that he woke up and heard the “freight train” sound that a tornado makes and he said that the tornado actually lifted up his bed and set him and his wife back down and then they heard a loud crash and woke to find a tree straight through their kitchen.

This man was so happy that he and his wife were able to walk out of the house without a scratch on them. He told me, “there must have been someone watching out for me.” That was just one of many stories that we heard today. It was amazing to see these houses totally destroyed and then the people that were living in the house were perfectly fine. My prayer for these victims is that they realize that God still has a plan for their lives, that He still has more for their lives. Today was a incredible and I cannot wait to go back tomorrow.

-Morgan Brewer (Florida)

I just think of the pleasure it is for someone to own a home and tend to it over the years and what hurt and loss they must feel when in a matter of hours they see it completely obliterated without any means to stop it.

Today, we worked in a retirement community made up of mobile homes. You can imagine what a tornado can do to a house, much less something lighter and weaker like a mobile home. We saw places where you couldn’t even tell where the house actually was because it just looked like huge piles of metal and wood. There were even places where you could tell the tornado had just picked up a home and wrapped it around a nearby tree. Seeing this kind of destruction made me thankful for one of the biggest blessings I take for granted daily…a constant roof over my head.

As we interacted with the different people today be they homeowners, relief workers, families, or friends, one thing seemed to be clear and Pastor Randy was the first to point this out. It seemed that so many of those helping out and helping themselves were believers. It’s beautiful to see Christ’s love shown through his people in these kinds of moments in life.

It made me realize how thankful I am for the Lord because He is truly the one who teaches us how to love, and without Him much of what good work was done, by everyone, would not have happened. If today did anything to me or for me I can sum it up in one word…gratitude. Gratitude for the Lord and gratitude for those who choose to walk with Him and serve.

-Bryan Irvin (North Carolina)

It reminded me of the town of Wauchula when Hurricane Charlie hit and the only thing standing was a Taco Bell. We raked yards, picked up garbage, sticks and the lot. We also helped put tarps on roofs, and cleared trees off a driveway for a man.

But the thing that impressed me the most today was the attitudes of the people there. They were not mad or shocked, but were happy and joyful even though their homes were totally destroyed. That says a lot to me, that even in the midst of destruction and losing everything they still find joy in life and in God.

-Shea Brewer (Florida)