By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
In the early morning hours of March 3, Tennesseans were awakened by tornado sirens across Middle Tennessee. In just a few minutes (though it probably was an eternity to those directly impacted), the storms moved on to another portion of the state.
The tornadoes left behind at least 24 fatalities, massive destruction and lives turned upside down. According to AccuWeather the total damage and economic loss caused by the March 3 tornadoes is estimated between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”
And, after checking out sites throughout Benton, Davidson, Wilson and Putnam Counties, that is not as farfetched as it sounds. Hundreds of houses in the affected counties were just piles of rubble after the storms moved through.
Like any disaster, it is more personal when it happens to yourself or someone you love. In this case, we were spared, but our son Daniel and his wife Jill were in their Lebanon home when the tornado hit their house. They were able to hide in a storm shelter so they escaped unhurt and we will forever be grateful to God.
Their home, however, took a hard hit as did so many others across Middle Tennessee. Unlike many houses, however, their structure was still standing. Trees were down everywhere on their property.
What happened next is nothing short of a miracle and God’s grace and mercy.
Volunteers descended on the hardest hit areas within 24 hours, some even sooner if they could get through the downed trees and power lines.
Before week’s end, volunteers had cleared our son’s property of downed trees and debris and Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers had come by and tarped their roof.
Similar stories were repeated all across Middle Tennessee. In many places, volunteers had to be turned away or sent to other locations because there were so many in one location.
I have always been and will always be a staunch advocate of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. And, DR was visible throughout the days following the tornadoes.
But, in some cases, volunteers are needed immediately, before DR teams can get the call out to assigned areas.
That was the case in Middle Tennessee. Volunteers were needed immediately to help begin clean up and to take food and water to people who did not have anything. People showed up in droves with loving hearts and willing hands, ready to do whatever was needed. Churches all across Tennessee sent volunteer teams out for several days.
This outbreak of tornadoes has helped me see more clearly that people may not be trained, but they can still serve and serve effectively. We need both untrained and trained volunteers.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, along with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, has implemented steps that will involve both trained and untrained workers.
In the days ahead, the number of untrained volunteers will decrease as people return to work and those affected return to a “new normal.” But there will still be relief work that needs to be done. That is where Tennessee Baptist DR is at its best. One volunteer leader told me that DR is not a sprint, but instead is a marathon. That is so true.
Disaster relief is not rocket science. There are some tasks more difficult than others and some that require specific skills.
But, what makes all volunteers special is not their skills. Rather, it is the heart and compassion of those who give of their time to minister to others.
Baptist volunteers are as ready to share the good news of Jesus Christ as they are to cut up a downed tree or recover family treasures from a pile of debris.
Getting your earthly home back in order is essential, but nothing is more important than getting your eternal home in order.
Pray for those who were affected by the tornadoes in the days ahead and also for those volunteers who will continue to show God’s love to those who need it. To God be the glory!
— One week after their house was badly damaged by the tornado, Daniel and Jill Wilkey returned home with their daughter, Clara Ann, born on March 8. The Wilkey and Pransky families are extremely blessed!