A Scottish novelist named James Barrie said, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” Recently, memories I haven’t thought of for a time have come back after following the news on the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. My heart and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this traumatizing event. Although I have never witnessed a mile wide tornado ripping apart the city I live in, I have been exposed to smaller tornadoes in my own life. I would like to share briefly what I experienced during two such storms and the miracles I saw during them.
Swainsboro, Georgia—January 24, 2010
My Life Spared: I was working with a fellow volunteer missionary at the time named Richard Genck and we were told by residents in the area to be back at our apartment before 5pm. 5pm was the scheduled time for the storm to hit. Richard and I stopped to visit the Cruz family who we were good friends with. The storm came a bit sooner than expected. Before long the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and a downpour began. The tornado siren outside began to wail. I opened the screen door to check for a tornado but couldn’t see anything. When the rain died down, Mrs. Cruz and I ran onto the front lawn. Above us we could see a menacing, misty gray cloud and drooping down from it was a funnel cloud. The wind started to blow suddenly and pushed the cloud away from us. It is difficult to describe the feelings I felt watching that menacing cloud blown away. I personally feel it was an act of providence that did that.
Me with the amazing Cruz family shortly before I was sent to Savannah, Georgia. At the time, the photographer was making goofy faces at me and I had trouble making a normal smile.
Charity Is Not Dead: When the storm died down for a time, Mrs. Cruz and her teenage daughter Elizabeth drove us home in their pickup truck. Although they didn’t have much money, they didn’t want me and Richard biking home across town in this storm. We loaded our bikes in the back and they got us home before the worst of the storm hit.
Due to the possibility of the storm shattering the windows behind us that evening, Richard and I decided to plan our upcoming day behind the round table we used for meals. We also decided to take this professional photo while we planned as well.
Prayer Works: A tornado watch was in effect till 1am that night. We went to bed around 10:30am. Everything seemed normal outside and I thought the worst had past. I wrote in my journal the following day what happened that night, “I slept till around 11:15pm when the tornado siren started up again down the street. We both woke up and listened. The wind started to pick up and grow stronger. I felt we should say a prayer. We both knelt down in our dark bedroom, as the siren blared and the wind picked up. I said the prayer and it was probably one of the most sincere ones I’ve ever said in my life.” That night we learned nearly four tornadoes nearly touched down in Swainsboro yet were unable to form. We woke up several more times in the middle of the night from the sirens and the howling wind. God was really watching out for us that night.
The morning after.
Grateful For A Blue Sky: The next morning I wrote, “When we woke up all of the clouds were gone. We could see the blue sky again and it was sunny which seemed surreal from the night before. Swainsboro has been untouched from the storm. I don’t see any damage from the storm. Right now it’s sunny, clear skies, and a beautiful cool breeze.” Ever since that night, I’ve been always appreciative of clear blue skies. It’s hard to write down the hope and peace I felt walking onto the apartment porch after such a night. I guess we don’t truly appreciate something till we see the possibility of us losing it.
Milledgeville, Georgia—March 26, 2011
Church Warning: This time I was in an apartment situated on a tall grassy hill overlooking a forest on the outskirts of Milledgeville. I had just gotten back from Warner Robbins with two other volunteer missionaries and we were observing the developing storm clouds before biking into town. There was no tornado warning system installed in our area. I soon overheard a nearby Protestant Church loudly ringing its bells. At first, I wondered if I had missed a religious holiday on my calendar but I soon realized a courageous church member was warning people in the area of the impending storm.
The calm before the storm.
Optimism: Me and one of the volunteer missionaries were getting a bit nervous watching the storm develop. We weren’t quite sure where to go if a tornado did develop since there was no cellar and plus, we were on a hill. The other, Forrest Ross, could see this and decided to lighten up the gloomy situation while keeping a lookout. I remember Forrest jokingly suggesting we hide with our attractive female neighbor downstairs. When I took the following picture above, I heard Forrest gasp and run into the living room. Following him, I came across an unusual site. He had gotten a small bag and was unsuccessfully trying to fit in it. He exclaimed, “Elder Lee, I’ve got to fit in this bag and escape from that tornado outside!” It took us both awhile to stop laughing. Thankfully, no tornado developed.
I am by no means saying I can entirely relate to what all of those poor people in Oklahoma just went through. But I can relate to the terror one feels listening to the wind begin to rattle your apartment and seeing a funnel cloud in the sky. I had kept these memories in the back of my mind until I heard of this disaster. The memories came back but also the lessons I learned during some of the most terrifying moments in my life. It is possible to find miracles, even in the middle of a tornado. Let us all pray that Oklahoma sees many at this time and that all of those affected will be able to get back up on their feet quickly.