I watched the radar like a hawk from Friday to the very last pieces of the storm last night. My husband called me “obsessed” and I resembled it. We live in a one story house surrounded by windows. Our safest place in this house that is big enough for the 7 of us is a small bathroom. In our last home up north, where tornadoes are few and far between, we had a finished basement. When a system would come through, we would just move downstairs for the duration and do life as usual. So this house feels very flimsy and unprotected when meteorologists are saying things like “strong and long tracking tornadoes are likely”. I was anticipating the tornado sirens and the warnings because I knew that Albany was already on edge with this system.
The last system that came through on January 2nd did massive and widespread damage to entire regions of the city. It left thousands without power and damaged hundreds of homes. The Lord was gracious and there were no lives lost specifically attributed to the storm, but it also was severely under-reported because of that. With very little attention, help and resources, our community…lead by area churches and the local government…went to work to clean up and rebuild. Many people that we know were without power for 2 weeks. Even now, it is reported here that over 80% of the debris remains untouched after 3 weeks of work. So you can imagine the trauma that another report of severe storms brought to our already reeling community.
I, like many others, felt the seriousness of this situation. I have never in my life been in the middle of weather like what happened on Saturday night into Sunday morning. The lightning was incredible and the downpours were massive as storm after storm after storm rolled through our area. I didn’t sleep and when the tornado warning sounded at 2am, I calmly woke everyone and hurried them into our “safe place” that felt anything but safe when you can’t know or see what is coming.
As I gathered my crew, my mind raced to anything else that I might need to get into the bathroom so it could be preserved. What would I save in what might be the last moments before everything was destroyed? My family (I did grab my purse after all we might need insurance cards). That’s it. That’s my treasure on this earth. Everything else can be replaced. We hunkered down and we prayed for our city. We prayed for the places that had already suffered and we prayed for the ones that hadn’t. We prayed for our church family and for all the loved ones in the path. We didn’t pray for cars and houses and financial documents…although we did ask that the damage would be limited. We prayed for people…lives.
So the devastation this morning has wearied us. Not only has massive damage been done, but lives have now been lost. We have taken a direct hit again and January seems to want to destroy us. I feel the exhaustion even into the depths of my spirit. And that is why I write… because I know all my Albany friend and neighbors feel it too. We worked so hard and put so much heart into recovery and now we have to start from the beginning.
Yet if we want the Lord to really work in this city, we cannot be weary in well doing. He is using this evil to put open doors in front of us to be light and to share Christ. He has opened the hearts of a weary people in this world to the only true Hope in the world. As we weep with those who weep, Church, we have to find the strength to point out the hope and the joy so others can see it too. When we have lost, we still really win…because Jesus. These people need to know Him. They need to be able to lean on Him. They need to know the One in whom all hope is found.
This morning I want to point out the good in the midst of all the devastating pictures and heartbreaking stories. I want to give God glory for His protection over this city. I don’t want in any way to minimize or to ostracize the destruction that has taken place just down the street from me, but I want to point you to the God who sees and knows and has the plan to turn it from the evil that the enemy meant to the good of a whole city.
Within 20 minutes of the passing of last night’s storm, men of God headed directly into the most heavily impacted areas. They took chainsaws and heavy equipment and immediately began rescue efforts. Churches opened shelters within hours for the people who lost their neighborhoods. Over 100 people were at the First United Methodist church last night and the church noted this morning that immediately people had donated to fulfill the needs of this effort. We were ready. We knew what to do and how to do it. We are exhausted, but hope is enough.
Schools were cancelled again today. My kid’s school is 2 minutes from the tornado’s direct hit. The cross in Legacy Park next door still stands straight and tall like a beacon, untouched by ferocious winds, but the power in the area is out. So students gathered at Sherwood Baptist Church this morning and headed out to meet the needs again. These kids are tired, but hope is enough.
I drove through Albany this morning surveying the hardest hit areas of the last storm. For the most part, those areas have not sustained any more heavy damage. A full weekend of storms through this area where “damaging winds” were the top thing predicted and yet it seems that besides the new area of devastation there are no widespread repeat power outages and most tarps stayed in place. These places have not fully recovered, but hope is enough.
The Coke Plant which our pastor officially renamed “The Hope Center” on Sunday was packed with vehicles this morning of people headed out to volunteer. Just as one of our church leaders noted yesterday, the Lord gave us this facility for such a time as this and it remains such a beacon of hope in the middle of a city despairing. The rebuilding isn’t over, but hope is enough.
A 4 year old was missing last night. Her mother screaming for her in that neighborhood. We all felt the worst would happen in this situation. I expected to wake up to the news of it. So when I read the words “they found the 4 year old alive”… it sprung up in my heart. There was loss of life, but hope is enough.
We have prayed and prayed for revival to come to Albany, yet 80% of the community remains unchurched and leery of church people. In the past 3 weeks, people have welcomed the church into their neighborhoods with open arms and let us bring Jesus in. Samaritan’s Purse has a running count of over 40 people who passed from death into life specifically because of these storms…and that is just one organized effort. Is there a cost to winning souls to Jesus? Always. But hope is enough.
Let’s go to work, Church. Hope is enough.
“This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5
(Picture courtesy of the Weather Channel of actual tornado that devastated the Radium Springs part of the city of Albany, GA.)
*I have removed the story of the infant in the dryer because it has been reported that it was false. I did not want it to detract from the real point of this article if that was the case.