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A crane holds up an American flag amid the rubble in Rolling Fork, Miss.
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Harding students balance tornado relief, final exams

Christians respond with compassion and aid as storms devastate communities across more than a dozen states.

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In a tough month for many communities facing storm devastation, Churches of Christ and their disaster relief organizations stayed busy.

But those organizations weren’t the only groups to respond to the widespread natural disasters.

In Arkansas, volunteers from Harding University made trips to hard-hit Wynne and Little Rock even as the students prepared for final exams.

Andrew Baker speaks to Harding University student volunteers in the middle of tornado destruction in Wynne, Ark.

Andrew Baker speaks to Harding University student volunteers in the middle of tornado destruction in Wynne, Ark.

Senior Karrisa Neal — who will graduate in May — said volunteering in areas affected by the tornadoes was time well spent.

“It feels kind of silly to be like, ‘I need to go study for a test because I’m in school,’ and not just be like, ‘You know what, I have the time. There’s nothing stopping me from going and helping,’” said Neal, who attends the Griffithville Church of Christ in Arkansas. Wynne reminded Neal of her own small, rural hometown.


Related: ‘Jesus is near, and the ambulance is on its way’


“​​I’ve grown up in a very servant/work-oriented family,” Neal said. “I remember my dad leaving to go help with disaster relief and helping with Katrina in the aftermath.

“To me, it doesn’t seem like we made that much of a difference,” she added. However, for those affected by the storms, the students’ presence was touching.

Wayman Cochran, minister for the G Street Church of Christ in Wynne, commended the Harding students.

“They did a marvelous job,” Cochran said. “It helped us out a whole lot.”

Cochran and his congregation weren’t connected with Harding prior to the storm, but now the university’s students have visited the G Street church multiple times to help clear downed trees and limbs that caved in the roof over the auditorium and caused substantial damage to the building’s exterior.

Volunteers clear rubble with a Bobcat excavator in Wynne, Ark. A tree downed by the storm damaged the G Street Church of Christ building.

Volunteers clear rubble with a Bobcat excavator in Wynne, Ark. A tree downed by the storm damaged the G Street Church of Christ building.

“They just called me and told me they were coming over to help us clean up,” Cochran said.

On a recent Sunday, the G Street church members fellowshipped with the Harding volunteers at the neighboring Wynne Church of Christ before another day of disaster relief.

“It’s just people taking care of people,” Neal said.

‘Jesus … will help you make it better’

Over two weekends in late March and early April, nearly 200 tornadoes — some rated as high as EF4 — caused severe damage to regions across more than a dozen states and killed more than 50 people.

Churches served as relief hubs, distributing food, clothing and other supplies donated by individuals, congregations and organizations.

Archie Haley, minister for the Oak Grove Church of Christ in Louisiana, said he told a 10-year-old girl in Rolling Fork, Miss., who had lost her home, “Jesus and the people who followed him here will help you make it better.”

At the forefront of many of the relief efforts was Nashville, Tenn.-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort.

“We’ve been scrambling,” the organization posted on its Facebook page in early April, reporting that it had recently sent five truckloads of supplies to Mississippi — two to Amory, one to Rolling Fork, one to Belzoni and one to Winona — and two more to Lanett, Ala.

“This morning, we’re sending supplies to Arkansas areas hit last night by tornadoes,” the post added.


Related: Churches and organizations offering relief after devastating Mississippi tornadoes


That included a shipment to the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock and another to the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock — with one more in the works for the city of Wynne.

Another tornado outbreak hit Oklahoma a couple weeks later, on April 19 and 20, with storms as strong as EF3 killing at least three people.

Damage to the G Street Church of Christ auditorium.

Damage to the G Street Church of Christ auditorium.

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort responded there, too, sending a load of supplies to the Northridge Church of Christ in Shawnee.

In total, the organization dispatched 19 tractor-trailer rigs to eight states — Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma — between March 1 and April 25, Executive Director Mike Lewis told The Christian Chronicle.

Each shipment contained around $70,000 worth of basic supplies, from water bottles to brooms. Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort is also keeping track of affected families — particularly those with lower incomes — to help them replace big-ticket items such as appliances and furniture when the time comes.

But while these storms have left behind a major wake of destruction, Lewis said this year’s tornado season started later than usual and has, in fact, been tame compared to most years.

Filed under: Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort disaster relief National News Top Stories Tornado damage

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