For the past 10 months, we’ve lived in Harvest, AL. Scott was appointed to CrossWinds UMC last summer, which is located in Harvest. Whenever I told anyone where we were being moved to, the first thing they usually said was, “Tornadoes hit there every time”. Needless to say, those aren’t comforting words!
This past Sunday was the three year anniversary of April 27, 2011. To most Alabamians, it is a date that will be forever seared in their memories. It is when approximately 62 tornadoes came through this state, hitting several cities including Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Phil Campbell, and little old Harvest. Harvest was actually hit again a year later, almost in the same place. In Harvest, there have been 56 deaths, 4 tornadoes, and several neighborhoods hit multiple times by tornadoes in the past 30 years.
CrossWinds UMC had just finished their new building in Harvest 6 months prior to the April 27th tornadoes. The church missed the tornado track by a quarter mile. Because of location and the hearts of my pastors, Michael and Suzanne Katschke, CrossWinds became a beacon of hope to this community. They gave out food, supplies, and whatever else was needed to everyone they could. Suzanne said, “Prior to the tornadoes, they were the ‘new church in town’. After the tornadoes, they were part of the community.”
Because the tornadoes had such an impact on this community, the CrossWinds congregation, and the development of CrossWinds’ identity in this area, the pastors made a remembrance video that was played this past Sunday morning during the worship service. We have 2 services, so I got to see it twice. The first time, my eyes were glued to the screen. I watched every second of it – listened to the music, cried at the devastation, and smiled at the hope I witnessed. I soaked every bit of it in.
See, I wasn’t living in Alabama on April 27, 2011. We were still in Union City, TN. I didn’t really even know what was going on in my Sweet Home Alabama until that night. It was a Wednesday, and we were having youth. Scott’s Dad called him on his cell phone right before youth began and asked how my mom was doing. Scott was totally confused. It was a very, very strange thing for my father-in-law to ask about. There was nothing going on with my mom for him to be concerned about. Then he told Scott he was watching a tornado hit Fultondale, AL on The Weather Channel. My mom lived in an apartment in Fultondale, and my wonderful in-laws were concerned about her.
I immediately called her and she didn’t answer. I left a message for her to get into the tub and take cover! I finally heard back from her, and she said she was safe and the storm had passed. She had spent the evening in the bathtub listening to the sweet voice of James Spann 🙂 When I got home that night after youth and choir practice, thanks to cable television and Facebook, I saw the devastation that had taken place and my heart was broken. I remember telling Scott how guilty I felt about not being in Alabama. I felt like I should be there, with my fellow Alabamians, suffering loss and of course, helping rebuild. I spent hours looking at people’s pictures of tornado damage and watching aerial videos of the tornadoes aftermath. I was obsessed with April 27, 2011.
So when Michael and Suzanne played the remembrance video Sunday, I was sucked in. But when it came time for the second service, I decided to watch people instead of the video. I was on the praise band this past Sunday, so I was standing on the stage facing the congregation. I was watching my girls particularly, because they had been in children’s church the first service, and I wanted to see their reaction to the video. They were zoned in to the video, their little faces showing signs of fear and sadness. Then I started to scan the other faces in the audience. What a beautiful vantage point I had. I saw fearful expressions, tearful eyes, and supporting arms wrapped around each other. I saw satisfying smiles of a job well done and community pride. I saw hope that only God can give. And He can only give it when we allow Him to use us. And that’s what my church did. CrossWinds UMC was an available vessel used by God to renew and rebuild a community. And although I wasn’t a part of this church or community at that time, not even in the same state, I felt a divine pride knowing that I had been able to spend a year of my life with these people. I was truly overwhelmed with gratitude.
Because of what Harvest had been through these past years, Suzanne and Michael have a tangible burden for this community in the threat of severe weather. Working with these victims in their most vulnerable state truly broke their hearts and made them fall in love with the people of Harvest. Suzanne told me that CrossWinds wasn’t the only church serving either. She said, “There were pockets of grace all over the place.” 🙂
Because of this burden, Pastor Suzanne has written 2 grants and has received $835,000 in federal and state money (FEMA and GERF) to build a community storm shelter on our church’s property. Our community has $119,000 left to raise. We had scheduled an April 27th Remembrance Ceremony and Harvest Community Cookout to help raise awareness for the shelter this past Sunday, but it got cancelled due to rain 😦 The plans are to break ground this September. It will be a wonderful thing for our community – a safe place to go when severe weather is threatening – a refuge.
Here is just a glimpse of Pastor Suzanne’s heart on this topic:
I am super passionate about this. There has been so much heartache and pain. They are a strong community, but it’s gone on way too long. 56 deaths, 4 tornadoes, several neighborhoods hit multiple times – a storm shelter is long overdue. We need to do whatever it takes to protect these precious people. I’ve been working with the community on this for three years. I am 100% confident this will happen. Maybe, just maybe, some of who lost their lives would have survived if they just would have had a safe place to go to. My prayer is Harvest never loses another life due to tornadoes. I am so grateful for this community. They are so special to my heart.
Please click on the video below to see the remembrance video I mentioned above:
If God is laying it on your heart to donate to the Harvest Storm Shelter, you can do so here at this website: www.harveststormshelter.org
I also think it’s pretty ironic that at the time of this ‘Tuesdays with Sarah’ post, we had another bout of severe weather roll through North Alabama. I am grateful that it seemed to skip over Harvest, but I am heartbroken for the neighboring counties that were hit. But because of the weather, I got to spend a lot of quality family time with the girls in the closet, so I wasn’t able to complete my blog post for this week on time. So that’s why this is being posted on a Wednesday 🙂
I actually had another subject that I was going to write about this week, but while I was watching the remembrance video on Sunday morning, I felt God tell me clear as a bell, “This is your blog post for this week… the storms of life… peace be still…”
You may have remembered the story of Jesus calming the storm from your childhood Sunday School class. I love the story. I love knowing that God is powerful enough to even calm Mother Nature 🙂 And it must be a pretty important story. It’s repeated in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). But as a child, I saw this ‘storm’ the way a child views a storm. To a child, a storm can literally be a terrible thunderstorm. Or it could be arguing parents, bullying classmates, or having trouble reading. But then as an adult, our storms sure do change, don’t they? Actually, I don’t think they change, I just think the number of things we view as storms grows. It can still be the same type of storms that we were scared of as a child, like thunderstorms, marital problems, mean co-workers, and insecurities. But also finances, our parents failing health, miscarriages, loss of jobs, disobedient children, church politics, change of management at our workplace, government, our own health… the list goes on and on and on.
I have below the story of Jesus calming the storm from Mark 4:35-41. I like this one because the thought of Jesus sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat makes me smile 🙂
Jesus Calms a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
I re-read this passage Sunday night in preparation for this blog and the forecasted storms that were supposed to hit us Monday and Tuesday. As I read it, I remembered something that I had heard Scott use in a sermon before: Jesus was the one who sent them on to the other side. He sent them out on the boat knowing full well that a storm would hit. He knew what was coming but sent them on ahead anyway. And while He was at it, decided to take a little siesta on a cushion while the disciples are freaking out.
You might think that the image of Jesus sleeping in the midst of this chaos would be a sure sign of peace to these fellas. I mean, if Jesus is asleep, this really must not be a big deal! But instead, I think it had the opposite effect. His sleeping state caused even more frustration! They even questioned his care and love towards them. “Do you not care that we are perishing?!”
Thinking of my own life, and all of the things that I view as storms, I realized a few things:
1 – Nothing takes God by surprise. It was His idea to cross over to the other side, knowing the storm was brewing. So when a storm seems to pop-up in my life, I need to remember that nothing takes Him by surprise. He’s fully aware and unshaken.
2 – He’s always there. When we decide to follow Jesus and become believers, it doesn’t mean that our life will then be super-easy and we will never have stormy times. It just means that when the boat is rocking, and He is in the boat with us. And you may not realize He’s there, because you are so focused on the storm. Just take a look at the stern, and He’s probably asleep on the cushion 🙂
3 – He is all-powerful. Once He was aroused due to the disciples whining, He immediately brought peace to the situation. “Peace! Be still!” He is fully capable of bringing peace to your situation, even to the point of doing the supernatural. You never know what ways He will use to resolve the storms in your life.
4 – He is always teaching us. He didn’t let their whining and doubt go on without being addressed. He used this storm as a teaching moment. He always wants to make us better and to mold us into His image. So although his teaching may hurt our pride a little, in the end, we are one step closer to looking like Him.
I can’t think of one person that isn’t going through some type of storm in this life. Especially in the wake of the thunderstorms and tornadoes that just blew through the southeast this past week. But know this: God is our shelter, our safe place, our refuge. He is in the boat with you, fully aware and capable of taking care of His children. And it is our job as His children to point others towards Him – to provide a place of safety and shelter – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Peace, be still…