Around midnight on March 2, 2020, a series of tornados devastated parts of central and western Tennessee. With winds of 160 miles per hour, the storms left twenty-six people dead, more than 300 injured, and hundreds of homes damaged. Many homeowners had little time to prepare – tornados are unusual in the region and the severity of the storms was unexpected.
Several days later, I traveled to Tennessee to assist with relief work together with several other volunteers from the Bruderhof. We joined the Samaritan’s Purse disaster response team based in Hermitage, Tennessee. From there fifteen of us formed a team assisting homeowners affected by the storm. The tornados had uprooted massive trees right next to their houses, leaving craters on the lawn and branches and twigs everywhere. We cleared away the wreckage and raked the yards as best we could.
It was shaking to hear what people had been through: One couple woke up to the storm sirens and the next moment the tornado was screaming around them. Their windows exploded, roof tiles were ripped off, and their beautiful backyard was completely destroyed by uprooted trees and wreckage from surrounding properties. Another house, built at the top of a hill, was completely leveled – nothing except the foundation remained. The absolute carnage left by nature in such short a time made me feel quite powerless. One person, whose house sustained major damage to the roof and yard, told us, “You always prepare yourself for this kind of thing, but when it comes you react totally different and it’s hard. But your coming brings hope and a fresh start.”
Despite our outward efforts to clean up after the storm, our team’s main goal was to bring hope through hard work and the love of Jesus. Most importantly, we prayed with each family we helped and told them they are not alone – that many others are praying for continued courage to go on.
Looking back on my experiences in Tennessee, I remember the people who dropped what they were doing and came to help those in need. I hope that the positive message of teamwork and caring for the people right around us will grow stronger in our country through what we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic now. I am thankful for the chance I had to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse and be a small part of their mission work.
Mathias Decker lives at New Meadow Run, a Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania.