The following day Kim took us to the other church organizing volunteers. Where the first day we spent organizing donations of food and clothes at Community Life Church, the other church, Mustang Creek, was sending volunteers into the neighborhood to help with the cleanup. This church was almost identical to the first one: New, big, and vibrant--The foyer of their building was filled with similar tables of food for homeowners and volunteers. Instead of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, we now had a choice of a Taco Casa or Whataburger freebies.
Out in the neighborhood, Kim got us past the police checkpoint who was restricting traffic into the neighborhood. It wasn’t exactly a gated community but there were only about three ways to get into the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure they have a Homeowners Association. And from my own brief experience with Homeowners Associations I’ll bet they weren’t happy about this tornado.
Let me stop a minute. There were three cities hit by tornadoes that day. I went to Forney because it was closer and I had connections there. But I have to tell you a little secret here: (come close so I can whisper) I don’t think Forney has any poor people. I didn’t see a house older than five years or less than 3,000 square feet. When I asked someone where they kept their poor people they paused a while to think and finally said, “Well….we have an older part of town.”
From what I could see everyone was fully insured and had a professional contractor on speed dial. They were only waiting for their insurance adjusters to tell them what to do. Some of the houses had been taped off because they were structurally dangerous. One guy told me the only thing holding up one side of his brick house was a heavy bookcase inside the house.
No matter how you cut it, destruction is destruction. And tornadoes are the terrorists of weather. They come without the week's warning a hurricane usually gives. Their path is unpredictable and they can turn on a dime. There’s no way to know whose house they will hit nor when. Having your home sucked up and blown into smithereens is hard no matter how nice it is or how many resources you have.
I was used to hurricanes. Few people would choose to live in a hurricane-prone area. So when hurricanes hit, they hit people who either think they are tough enough to handle it or those who can’t afford to move. There are very few MacMansions in hurricane country. Tornadoes spend time with the rich and poor alike. Either way, it still leaves you without a home. You may have money to go to a hotel but you still have lost your medical records, family heirlooms, jewelry, and medicine.
A couple of times we saw a house with no roof and the insides torn apart and exposed. And we gasped at how bad it was. Then someone would tell us that we were looking at what had been a two-story house with the entire second floor gone.
We tried to help one house by picking up debris in their yard but the homeowner told us it wasn't his stuff. The contents of people's houses were blown into each others yards. The best they could do was maybe know their hobbies or job. Then if you found an artist's sketch pad you might know whose it was.
My spoon obsession returned. This had haunted me following Katrina and Ike. In both cases I was in a field of debris that contained the entire contents of homes. And I kept looking for what I supposed to be the most basic artifact of life--a single spoon. Once following Ike I came across a whole drawer of silverware but never a single spoon. Or even one thimble or a CD. I've never, including after this tornado, found something small and alone. I'm not sure what that says, if anything, but it's one thing that always haunts me in the midst of destruction.
We went from house to house looking for anyone who might need our help. There was a Red Cross truck driving around with a quiet PA speaker announcing hot meals available if anyone wanted one. I saw fliers taped to mailboxes offering help. The curbs held trucks from contractors and insurance companies. A lot of the houses already had bulldozers or roofers working on them. Others were only waiting on the official decree to tear down what was left of the house.
I wondered when that time comes will there be any kind of chance to sift through the rubble for jewelry or family photos or if the bulldozers just sweep it all up and dump it somewhere without giving it another thought. I had already gotten a phone call from Jan, my buddy in Pearlington. Jan evacuated from three different hurricanes in her life and each time she grabbed the same eight photos off her wall as she left the house.
Jan reminded me to tell everyone I met to save the photos. Well, Jan, this should make you feel better:
This is the inside of the Mustang Creek Church nursery. Their nursery (which coincidentally was locked with restricted access) was filled with items of value found among the debris. The walls were covered with photos. Boxes along the floor held purses and important documents. Documents were stacked along the perimeter of the room in alphabetical order according to the name on them. On one table lay a wedding dress, almost as clean and beautiful as the day it was worn.
We went out into the neighborhood for a while but soon realized it was still too early for untrained volunteers to be of any value. While driving around I got a phone call from Dallas, my old friend from Katrina recovery. She was taking attendance like I had done the night before. She just wanted to know that I was safe.
Recovery from a natural disaster like hurricanes and tornadoes is so much more than re-building homes or finding jewelry or even spoons. The call from Dallas reminded me of becoming partners in the midst of the tough times and how important is it to be able to trust someone. I had called Kim because I knew she would know what to tell me. She, in turn, knew she could depend on me and her friends at the rehab. When the fat is in the fire trust becomes the fastest way to operate.
I remembered the donations at CLife Church.and the Convoy of Hope trailer....the hordes of strangers who brought clothes and food and simply left it all, trusting the churches to put their donations to good use. When Forney saw that they had more than they needed, they sent it along to Lancaster. They trusted the folks in Lancaster to put it to good use. To my knowledge there was little or no paperwork.
No one had a sense of ownership. Everything we have comes from God and we give it out of God's hand.
Our scripture in worship last Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter, the first Sunday of the church year, our "beginning point" for the year--was Act 4:32-35. Here's the translation from Eugene Peterson's The Message:
The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.Amen.