This post reflecting on the CBF Disaster Response tornado clean-up efforts in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is from Charles Ray, special projects coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas.
Sunday on Peach Street in Hattiesburg. Three hours before services a few blocks over. Time to start the Bobcats and bulldozer. Do a 360 turn and see nothing larger than a few walls that used to be homes. Cars crushed, trees snapped at about thirty feet. Unfinished obelisks from another time.
So much destruction.
As our team began working on the south side of the street, I notice a lady walking toward us.
She stops and stares at one of the piles that could have been a home a few hours before. She’s all alone.
I ask her if that was her home. “Yes, it was,” she says.
I ask, “Where wee you when the tornado hit?” Her reply: “On the floor in the hall.”
Hard to believe, she doesn’t seem to have a scratch.
I introduce myself – “hi I’m Charles.” “I’m Pam,” she says.
Pam tells me that she is 70, a widow for six years, and got out, somehow, with one of her dogs and nothing else. Now, Pam has a place to stay and a rental car but hoped to find her wallet and a few other personal items.
But I can’t even get in because of the trees blocking the front.
I ask our team to stop the work on the south side and come help Pam get into the four walls still left standing. In a few minutes the heavy equipment with CBF signs on them make light work of the 100 year old trees.
One of our team members, Hannah, an EMT from Florida, tells Pam it’s still not safe to go in and she will do so for her. Hannah crawls through a fallen section of roof and disappears. Soon she crawls back with something in her hands.
“Here’s the first thing I could reach and thought you might want to hold it while I go back for your purse,” says Hannah. It was the old family Bible. Water-soaked and dirty.
Pam is trying not to cry in front of these strangers. It doesn’t work. We hug and someone takes a picture.
As more valuables come out, I share with Pam about the fact that grieving will come later and for her to understand that it is natural, and she can get past it if she knows why she feels bad.
I point her to that wet Bible and mention my pastor friend just down the road.
Pam beams and tells me she did not even want to get up this morning, but now feels new life. Pam says she’s ready to rebuild. “You folks have changed my life.”
That’s what we are here for.