Friday, June 7, 2013

Supporting Little Axe with presence and prayer

The Salvation Army mobilized to help hard-hit areas

On the evening of Sunday May 19, tornadoes damaged hundreds of homes in Shawnee, Newcastle, Carney and Little Axe..  The Salvation Army responded immediately with food, hydration and emotional and spiritual care.  The very next afternoon the unimaginable happened. An F5 tornado, nearly four miles wide in some places, dropped only 25 miles away from Sunday’s damage, in Moore.

Many of the national emergency organizations that had been in Shawnee and Little Axe immediately left, heading to the area of greater damage on the other side of Oklahoma City.  The Salvation Army was one of those agencies that had to pull out, but it was only temporary. By Tuesday afternoon more mobile feeding units and staff had been mobilized and care of the lesser-hit (but still devastated) areas resumed.  I visited one of these areas, Little Axe, on Wed., May 29, ten days after this small town lost so many homes.

My guides for the day were  Major Marion Durham, Captain Chris Farrell and Lieutenant Michael Missey, Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) counselors, all of whom traveled from Florida to help Oklahomans. This was their seventh day on the ground in the Little Axe community and most of the homes we visited were repeat visits; daily check-ins to offer water, ice, Gatorade, snacks and spiritual care.

The Little Axe community was devastated;  many of the homes impacted were mobile homes with lightweight walls, no foundation and roofs with very little support.  The tornado made a great impact on these rural homes, spreading debris across pastures and up and down red dirt roads, all through the area’s hills and valleys.

The ESC team knew each homeowner by name. As we pulled up, Major Durham would give me an overview of the family’s situation.  Many were still trying to get access to basic needs, others were on the road to recovery, but all were just trying to clear the debris from their land while simultaneously planning to rebuild.
Major Durham visits with Robert near Little Axe, Okla.
When we pulled up to the home of a man named Robert, it didn’t look like anyone was home.  The mobile home looked almost untouched from the front yard, but I knew there was more than met the eye based on the large pile of debris by the curb.  We unloaded and headed to the back of the lot where you could see the back half of the home was completely missing.  We spotted Robert feeding his chickens and said hello while he updated the team on his family’s situation. He was angry; the insurance agency had offered his family less than what he owed for his home and the land it sat upon. Using “colorful” language, Robert shared his feelings with the team and they did what they have been trained to do, listened.

He was frustrated that looting was becoming  a problem along his country road.  Although all of his metal debris, appliances, lawn mowers, etc. had been earmarked for the city to pick up and sell for money that would benefit his community, others kept coming by and trying to take it.  “It’s spoken for,” he related angrily to us.  Just because these items were damaged and piled in the front yard, he was still the owner and felt violated when others stopped and started rifling through his belongings. “People can be real mean at times and real helpful at times,” he said.

Robert was alone that day because his wife, Catherine, and his daughter had traveled into town to visit the Multi-Agency Resource Center at Little Axe High School.  He was glad there was a place where they could go to visit with FEMA, The Salvation Army and other agencies, as well as pick up household items they needed to survive.  He was honest about the situation he was in, a realist in the face of insurmountable odds, “I’ve got my family and I’m going to keep on going,” he said.  “I know it’s gonna be hard. We all have bills to pay and I don’t know how to do it.”

Near the end of the visit, after they’d delivering a bag of ice and some snacks, the ESC team asked Robert how they could pray for him that day.  His response, with gray swirling skies above, “That the Lord doesn’t let us get hit again,” he pleaded.

ESC teams help body & soul.
The team gathered in a small circle, laying hands upon Robert. They prayed for clear skies, strength, faith and the Lord’s blessing on Robert’s home, family and neighbors. When the “Amen” was spoken Robert removed his glasses and wiped away his tears.

“We offer a man like Robert, who may not be a church-going man, something he doesn’t know he needs,” Major Durham explained. “He’s a self-reliant man. It’s hard to get men like that to stop, even for a minute, because they want to keep going and don’t know how to be still and hear the Lord.  He was just blessed.”

The visit with Robert was the last one of my day, I left with a true impression of how impactful our teams can be.  They offer necessities, hugs and stability, day by day building relationships that go far beyond a bottle of water and a cookie.


1 comment: