Friday, May 20, 2016


May 3, 1999 Near Anadarko, OK

          On May 3, 1999, a spring day turned into a nightmare as an EF5 tornado ripped through the lives of Oklahomans. It showed no mercy. Forty-four lives and more than 300 homes could not escape fury’s path. Surely, it was the tornado that would never be equaled – at least that’s what we thought.
          We were proven wrong on May 20, 2013, as another EF5 plowed much of the same area and left splintered lives dazed in unbelief. Twenty-four Oklahomans, including nine elementary students became our latest heartache. The speed at which the skies boiled into one deadly cloud left little time for even the most savvy weather watchers to find cover. Sixteen minutes was their allotted time to read Mother Nature’s mind and get out of her way.

May 20, 2013 Moore OK by Wikipedia
          And, as disaster relief workers from around the state and the nation were settling in for weeks of recovery efforts, May 31 became another page in our history books.
          An EF5 tornado that measured 2.6 miles wide and carried winds of 295 mph became the largest tornado ever recorded worldwide. More lives were lost. An infant and her mother, three experienced storm chasers whose study of the storms have saved countless lives, and a family of seven were among the victims. The trail of destruction differed only in the names of the highways, streets and structures affected and the flooding brought on by record-breaking rainfall. Rain that hid the beast from its victims until it was too late. The rest of the sad scenes filling media reports were much the same.

Photograph by Mike Bettes     El Reno, OK  5/31/2013

          Why Oklahoma? We’re a small state in the heartland that, absent tragedy, rarely grabs a headline from national and world-wide news.
          According to our local weathermen, the tornado that struck the area east of Oklahoma on April 19, 2013, could easily have been pegged an EF5 had it not been in a rural area. It wiped out a mobile home park, many additional homes and took two lives. On April 19, 1995, it was hatred that used our state as a personal and political site and literally put us on the map.
          Dr. Ronnie Hill is an evangelist from Ft. Worth, TX. On May 26, 2013, he was the guest speaker in our church. First Southern Baptist Church was a command post after the May 3, 1999 tornado. Dr. Hill's powerful message followed the path of the tornadoes, but with healing rather than destruction.
          When he shared Job’s story, I followed along and was surprised that I had never noticed how Job’s children died. One of several messengers bringing bad news to Job that day reported the most heartbreaking:

“…'Your sons and your daughters were eating and
drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house and behold,
a great wind came from across the wilderness
and struck the four corners of the house, and it
fell on the young people and they died, and
I alone have escaped to tell you.’”
(Job 1:18,19,NASB)

          Why Oklahoma? Why not? The tragedies that are becoming part of our history seem out of proportion to the size of our small state, but we’re certainly not the only ones in America who are hurting in the face of natural and man-made grief.
          We are learning to “bear one another’s burdens” as we mobilize our man power and resources and rush to the aid of our neighboring citizens, and as they do the same for us. Fellow Americans are never too far away and the need never too great to cause one second of hesitation in reaching across the miles.
          Pastor Dave Evans of Highland Baptist Church in Moore watched on May 20 as the monster tornado took dead aim for the church. As he drove about a mile east to flee the path, he prayed for God’s will. Willing to accept either the church’s demise or the responsibility of ministering to the community, he watched God work.
          The tornado lifted away from the chosen campus, then resumed its path. Later one of the members would point out the date inscribed on the plaque commemorating the day of dedication of the church. It was May 20, 1984.
          On the heels of the May 20 tornado, Operation Blessing was literally driving through Moore asking God for His direction. All heads were bowed (except the driver, of course.) When they looked up, they saw their answer. The sign that read “Highland Baptist Church” told them they had reached their destination.
          Our son-in-law, Ken Kniskern, joined the staff at Highland as a bi-vocational worship leader a few months prior to the outbreak of violent storms. He chases and photographs tornadoes and was literally on the heels of the storm. He and the pastor arrived at the church very quickly. They would be there for the next several days and nights working with other volunteers, doing what they could to see to the immediate needs of Moore, OK residents. Ken’s full-time position at the University of Oklahoma graciously gave him over to the church for those days because that’s where he was needed most.
          At this writing (one week to the day) the church is still operating with generators. Classrooms now house truck loads of kindness from around the nation. The sanctuary has been transformed into a dining room for upwards to 1,000 volunteers who have come and gone and for those who arrive daily. (That number would grow to more than 5,000 with more volunteers showing up daily.) One young man, Hugo, traveled with a group from Texas and when they had to return to their homes last week, Hugo stayed. Oklahoma welcomes her newest resident.
          On May 25, the morning service gave way to living the scripture as teams were dispatched into adjoining neighborhoods to deliver food and essentials and to continue the monumental task of cleaning away the ruins.
Photo by MacKenzie Cage 5/23/2013
          That evening, the worship center was staged outdoors for a community service. The church sits on a beautiful hill overlooking the pain, yet the hope, that resides in her view. One of the members looked up during the service and saw a cloud formation of a cross. Many pictures of rainbows appearing over us that week have been shared through social media. Highland Baptist Church is but one of so many churches and organizations doing exactly the same things for Oklahomans. Churches out of the area partner with the ones that have the best accessibility to the wounded and homeless.
          Our daughter, Mandy, walked through Highland’s parking lot and counted 15 different out-of-state license tags. Food, water, and clothing – all essentials are being brought in by cars, trucks and semis from around the country. The generous cash donations enable families to address their particular immediate needs.


          WHY, Oklahoma? Why do we stay in a land known as “Tornado Alley”? We know the storms are coming, yet we never know exactly where their razor-sharp tailwinds will strike. There are certainly more beautiful and serene places to live. But Oklahoma roots run deep.
          We appreciate the quality of life and the quieter pace. For many, those roots are deeply grounded in our faith and in knowing that God is sovereign and that His time is measured in eternity, not in our limited perspective of the temporal.
          As horrible as the scenes we relive with every news cast are from this side, we know that the innocent children are in a place of unimaginable beauty and forever protected from another moment of pain or sadness. They didn’t leave this world alone. They were accompanied by the Jesus who loves them to that special place He had prepared for them before the first hail stone fell from the sky or the circular winds began to blow.
          We have the opportunity to show others, not the Oklahoma Standard, but God’s Standard. We are just the messengers of His love and provision as we reach out to others and as we accept their incredible love and support when the need is ours. We show that our hope is not misplaced as lives are healed and homes are rebuilt.
          It is our prayer that, through it all, hearts will be changed and that many will come to know the Jesus we serve and the One who loves them enough to die for them through His sacrifice for our sin. Then their perspective will be forever changed from the temporal to the eternal.
          May we be found as faithful as Job and as willing to accept that which we cannot comprehend or attempt to explain:

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
(Job 1:20b, NASB)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you,
which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you;
but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also on the revelation of His glory
you may rejoice with exultation.”
(I Peter 4:12-13, NASB)
© 2013


Barbara Lynn Culler said...

Wow! Powerful post. I have no words...

Karla Akins said...

I grew up in Wichita and know well the adventures of tornado alley. May God continue to protect you! Such a powerful post.

Nancy K. Sullivan said...

Thank you, Barbara and Karla. This post was written for Christian Women's Voice Magazine last spring. This seemed like a good time to share it here. I'm looking forward to a lighter mood next week :) Thanks so much for stopping by. Happy New Year and God Bless.

Joanne Sher said...

Oh, Nancy. Powerful. Beautiful. Will not forget this post. Must share.

Nancy K. Sullivan said...

Thank you, Joanne. It was written just days after the storm so (I guess) the information was bring driven by the emotions of the week. A tiny variance in each of the storms' paths and we would have been in the center of the destruction.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year and every success with your beautiful writing. Thank you for all you do for FaithWriters and our blogs!

dandelionfleur said...

I love, love, love your take-home message here.

Nancy K. Sullivan said...

I appreciate that so much, Lisa. Thank you! Happy New year to you and God Bless :)

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