Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eight Minutes of Hell

I just returned from a short mission trip to Greensburg, KS.

If you remember, Greensburg, KS was changed forever the evening of May 4, 2007 – when an F5 tornado leveled over 95% of the town and killing 11 people. The tornado was almost 2 miles in width and traveled for nearly 22 miles. It hit at 9:45 pm – and when it was over – it had all but obliterated Greensburg.

One thing it didn’t obliterate was the spirit and resiliency of the townspeople. The town got together shortly after the storm and vowed to rebuild – and not only rebuild – but rebuild better. The town is rebuilding as a “green” town – and I saw some amazing progress during my visit there.

Houses are going back up – businesses are re-opening – and there’s groundbreaking on the new hospital and the school. Volunteers are still coming to the town; in fact, while we were there, there was a youth group from Manhattan – as in New York City!

My first project involved painting a bedroom in the house of a resident named Mike. Mike told me his story one day of when the tornado hit. He remembers that the sirens went off about 20 minutes before the storm struck. His family huddled in the basement; Mike had one arm wrapped around a plumbing pipe, and the other arm was holding on to one of his kids for dear life. The tornado struck – he said the sounds and noises were deafening, similar to a “jet engine” flying directly overhead. Then – an incredible, dead silence. The family looked at each other in amazement, wondering if it was over – but their ears were still popping from the air pressure. So the decision was made to stay in the basement just a little longer – wise decision. The tornado wasn’t over yet – this storm was so big, it had an “eye” – and once the eye passed over, the back edge of the storm hit. All-in-all, the tornado lasted for 8 minutes – which probably seemed like an eternity to Mike and his family.

When they dug themselves out of the rubble and debris, they saw an incredible site – the entire town was gone. Just gone. Including their house.

Our group - including me! - working on the wall in Mike's house

Mike has rebuilt, though. The work is coming along slowly – most of it being done by volunteer labor, such as myself and fellow church members. The family is living in the house as it goes up around them – the dust, the noise, the mess – it would drive a sane person crazy. But Mike is philosophical about it all – and just grateful to be alive. After what he and his family has been through, a little chaos and confusion isn’t going to bother him.

We worked on some other houses while we were there – all in various stages of completion; all coming back strong after the storm. When you talk with the local residents, you pick up on their hope for the future – their determination to not let this tragedy beat them – but you also pick up on an underlying weariness – a sigh for how things used to be, for both their own families and for the town as a whole.

Another view of Mike's wall - this shows you the perspective

As God reminded Moses, “…the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” When God comes to us, no matter where, we are on holy ground.

God has promised that the Spirit is with us at all times and in all places. God is certainly in Greensburg, KS, as I saw for myself on this trip. God bless Greensburg, the residents, and all of the volunteers who are standing on holy ground.

Be sure to do YOUR part to save the world – one action at a time, one mission trip at a time.


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