Triumph Amidst Tragedy
Written by: HFI Reservist, George Camp
I entered the doors to the tiny Episcopal Church just as the circle of prayer had ended. As I looked around the circle it was hard to find a dry eye. Everyone was wiping their eyes or reaching for a tissue. What did I just miss? Was I too late?
It was Friday afternoon. Our work over the past week was now wrapping up and we were all heading home by Saturday morning. A bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to both the community we have embraced as well as our Hope Force family.
Earlier in the week we were stationed in White Sulfur Springs, one of the hardest hit areas where homes were washed from their foundations, some with people still inside.
Tim, the elderly owner of one of the homes we worked on, told us how he was unable to get home to his wife that day. A story we found to be common among many families. The waters came up so fast and unexpected, that many got trapped in their homes with no way to escape. Tim’s wife was alone in the house with their two dogs. He called her by phone to tell her he could not get home. They stayed on the phone as the waters rose. She stood in the kitchen holding her dogs, the waters rose to her knees. There was no upstairs to flee to; nowhere to escape.
As Tim remained on the phone with his wife, she began to tell him that a woman was screaming from the house on the other side of the engorged creek. Then in absolute horror, she watched that house, with the woman inside, dislodge from its foundation and float down stream and disintegrate.
As I stood there in Tim’s home reliving the story with him, as he explained where his wife stood, and how the waters encircled their home, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t help but think how distraught I would be, helpless to rescue my wife, and not knowing if she would survive. Even now as I write it down, those emotions resurface. Many husbands, wives, fathers and mothers were helpless in reaching their loved ones that day. Some perished.
Later in the week, we scouted out another community some 30 miles away. The overwhelming volunteer response that we had seen in White Sulphur Springs had not yet reached the community of Rainelle, so we relocated to a military tent camp set up in the parking lot of their local school. The camp was set up for both volunteers and displaced homeowners, complete with showers, laundry and did I mention air conditioning? Yes air conditioned “Navy Seal” tents. And we thought they always roughed it!
I joke about the comfortable tents, but still the week was long and hard and we had our ups and downs. Disaster areas can be very chaotic and frustrating. After Friday morning’s devotion we prayed for us all to have a special moment, a touch point with someone we had served. A God moment to wrap up our week. Wow...did He deliver!
Now, back to the Episcopal Church…. Our team had discovered the little church while working on another home across the street. There were several elderly members of the church working to muck it out. Our team, along with another volunteer group, Hope Reigns, jumped in to help. Turns out that one of the women’s father built the church back in 1939, and both her father and her husband of 62 years (who just recently passed away) were pastors of the church. There were only a few faithful members remaining, but they had a heart for God.
Even though I had missed the prayer that afternoon, I soon realized I was not too late for the “grand finale”. In the emptiness of the church with the walls stripped bare, a marvelous sound arose as one of the elderly ladies began singing Amazing Grace. How "sweet the sound" was indeed! One by one, each person raised their voice until we were all singing in perfect unity, filling the emptiness of that little church with what sounded like a multitude of heavenly hosts!
We were given a glimpse into heaven that afternoon. A reminder once again that in the midst of such destruction, God is still, and always will be ever-present!
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