Day trip to disaster

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Army volunteer sees hope as well as help.


It seemed too beautiful a day to be driving into a disaster zone. The skies were colored a robin’s egg blue. The dogwood and redbud blossoms were a perfect complement to the fresh light spring green that was just beginning to fringe the trees. Traffic was light as I traveled through the rural countryside of west Tennessee. The peacefulness made you feel that all was really well in the world …until you pulled into Bradford, Tennessee, once with a population 1,081.

The Sunday evening before my visit, Bradford was struck by a tornado, or a family of tornadoes, no one seems to know for sure. What is known is that a quiet, off-the-beaten-track community was devastated around 8:00 p.m., their world literally turned upside down.

I don’t know how many people lost their lives in the Bradford tornadoes that Sunday evening. Tommy, one of my new Bradford friends, said he was certain that when the tornado passed over his house both he and his wife were about to die. “We are so blessed to be alive.” Four of his friends died Sunday night. He told me about the local funeral home director who had lost four family members, his son and daughter-in-law, plus their two children. He was planning to bury them himself, son and grandson in one casket, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in another.

In the midst of calamity, a community needs a place to gather, share stories, get hugs and give help. It needs a place to grab a bite to eat and a place to pray. The Bradford High School parking lot provided just such a gathering spot. Here I found The Salvation Army emergency canteen, staffed with four volunteers from Jackson, Tennessee. These men of faith were driven by sincere need to help others. Throughout the day, exhausted workers, military engineers, disaster relief officials and residents came to catch a quick meal.

As the day progressed, the canteen was becoming a focal point of activities in the parking lot. It became a magnet, drawing and holding people until everyone had soaked up some of the revitalizing spirit around them. Something about a calamity seems to bring out the very best part, the Christ-like part, of who we are as people.

Thanks to The Salvation Army and the multitude of citizens who gave their time, this day ended better than it began. In the midst of disaster, I found recovery; Men and women openly showed their love and concern for one another; Men cried but talked about the resurrection to come. It was a day of tears and hope, with the promise of Easter only days away.

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