Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Angels in all forms showed up to help tornado victims

I was riding to Mississippi Kairos Music Team practice three days after the Yazoo City and elsewhere tornado, and my companion was the man who succeeded me as the Grand High Muckety-Muck (Chairman of MS Kairos Prison Ministry) who lives not far from that storm’s path and had been heavily involved with the clean-up since that fateful day.  

Reece was moved to tears, not only by the effects of the storm on his friends and relatives who had lost their homes, but mainly by the response of people who showed up to help those who are trying to cope with their losses and injuries.

One elderly man from Minnesota arrived Sunday afternoon, the day after the tornado, in a well-traveled van, pulling up into a hard-hit neighborhood where men were working to remove fallen trees from homes, yards, and streets. He quickly got the word out that he had one of those jiffy chainsaw chain sharpeners within the van, and spent the next few days doing nothing but sharpening chains, for free!

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Roving bands of mostly women could be traced by the smoke and smell of their mission: they set up portable grills in ruined neighborhoods, fired those suckers up, and began grilling hamburgers – they’d even bring you one, if you were too busy to come to the grill site! Coffee, soft drinks, tea, water, cookies, were all available for the asking, free.

A group of Samaritans pulled in with trucks loaded with the everyday items folks who have lost everything need: toothbrushes and toothpaste, diapers, sandals, toilet paper, towels – you name it – as well as food and clothes. In addition, they also passed out $25 Gift Cards from Wal-Mart stores – who wants to bet that Wal-Mart didn’t donate those for the passing out?

The Game & Fish rangers from a nearby wildlife refuge appeared Saturday and Sunday driving a crane-type vehicle with a gripper that they could use to simply lift the trees off of people’s homes.  

One lady ranger in uniform was doing the advance work for the crane crew, walking through neighborhoods advising men who were trying to remove large trees from houses with only chainsaws that they should hold off on those dangerous jobs – the crane would be there momentarily.

Men from Amish and Mennonite churches were evident by their beards, pitching in focused on clearing a house site of debris, then offering to rebuild the home on that site – all the homeowner had to pay for was the materials: the men from those churches would return to rebuild the homes, according to the blueprints.

When Reece and I arrived for music practice, guitarist Rusty shared a story his mother had related from a turkey hunting camp farther northeast in the twister’s path.

About 40 club members and families were sitting in the lodge for lunch when someone shouted that a tornado was within sight, and to evacuate the lodge. People ran outside, looking for low spots to lie down in, as prescribed by safety bulletins.  

This lady and three companions headed for a gully nearby, but were stopped by a man who yelled, “DO NOT get in the gully!” He pointed toward an old barn: “Get in the barn!”  When they hesitated, eying the apparent safety of the gully, he repeated the order, shoving them toward the barn.

The structure was ruined, but the ladies were all uninjured, taking cover in the hay of sturdy stalls. When they emerged moments after the storm’s passage, they saw that the gully was now packed with fallen tree trunks – they would have been crushed if they had gone there!

But when the rest of the club members gathered around the ruined lodge to count noses and check for injuries, they did not see the man who had warned them not to go into the gully – nor did anyone present recall seeing someone of that description, wearing the clothes they had noted. A stranger on the hunting club property? Who could it have been?

Rusty’s momma knew: it was an angel, sent to protect those ladies in the midst of the storm.  Reece knew it too: he’d worked with angels for the past three days! God is there, in the midst of the wreckage, or in the midst of the storm.