I returned home on Easter Sunday from ministering to victims of the tornado that hit Newnan, Georgia on Thursday, March 25, 2021. I have to begin by saying that as a Rapid Response Chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, I have seen much devastation and human response to that devastation. But, I have also seen God working within the midst of the storm and aftermath in ways that cause me to shout with praise and worship to our God, learning that there are reasons why He allows us to go through storms.
In spite of the devastation of property in and around Newnan, Georgia, not one life was lost. There was one man, stressed over the storm just 2 days before the marriage of his daughter, who died of a heart attack. Without taking anything from the significance of his death and the grief of his family – especially given the timing – he was not killed by the storm. Why am I making this point? Because no thinking observer could possibly believe that such a storm could hit with the force that this one did without the loss of life…that is, without divine intervention.
As we went about our work, we saw house after house after house that were saved from the falling trees and flying debris. Trees that could have – some of which should have – fallen on houses, fell harmlessly around the houses. Houses that were destroyed by the storm did so in such a way that people inside were saved. One house in particular was flattened except for an upstairs bathroom, where the owner – an overseer of a number of local churches – had jumped into the bathtub at the last possible second before the tornado hit. The storm took the house down, but dropped the bathtub under the bathroom ceiling and wall which formed a perfect A-frame to protect him. When we talked with him, he could not tell us why he ran upstairs against all instructions on how to protect yourself from a tornado. But, that was the only piece of the house left intact. There were far more stories just as miraculous.
We also saw far more local volunteers turning out with our Samaritan’s Purse camp than we normally see. Local residents who were not impacted by the storm turning out in droves to help those who were. People were celebrating the complete protection of every person in the community and celebrating the huge turn-out – spontaneous praise and worship happening everywhere.
One volunteer came up to me while we were visiting a home that his team was working on to offer 200 Easter baskets that his church north of town had put together for the children impacted by the storm. He asked me to be on the look out for who and how they could turn them over to for dissemination. We stopped by a church just 2 blocks from this house for lunch being offered for storm victims and workers. I approached a woman who seemed to be an organizer, and made the offer on behalf of this volunteer and his church. She immediately praised God and said that she was organizing 3-4 sites that would love to coordinate disseminating them. She took me into the church and showed me – not only Easter baskets that had been brought in for the same thing – but also massive amounts of supplies. She explained that she wasn’t even from this church, but was just following God’s prodding to get out and find a way to coordinate supplies – supplies that she didn’t even have! Just as she arrived at the church, a man driving a large truck approached her and asked if she would like to take his truck-full of supplies – water, food, paper products, etc. When she praised God and accepted the payment, he said, “We have 2 more trucks full.” God had anointed this young woman to do a job without even telling her where the supplies would come from!
Utility workers, law enforcement officers, first responders, and Christian organizations came from miles around, ready to do whatever they could to help get this community back on its feet. What better way to spend the Holy Week approaching Easter than by helping resurrect a community from a storm. The atmosphere was filled with more hopefulness than in any storm aftermath I’ve ever worked. I could not help but praise God for what I saw happening amidst the devastation and ruin – neighbors reaching out to neighbors, helping and forming bonds in ways that you don’t see when everything is calm and everyone is relaxing in their lounge chairs sipping lemonade.
So, what happened the night this horrible tornado hit Newnan? God is what happened! God showed Himself in the protection of a community that has been praying for a revival for four years. We were seeing God’s answer to this prayer come in the form of a tornado! Christians saw Him at work. People from the surrounding area saw Him at work. Even non-believers could not deny that there was a power greater than the storm at work that night!
There is only one power greater than any storm you may be going through in your life. Turn to Him and He promises to stick closer than a brother, to go with you through the storm – whatever that storm is. Don’t put it off; He IS the power greater than the storm!