Not long after tornadoes tore through Alabama, we were able to go and assess the needs and how Adventures could help. We’ve been sending teams in to help with recovery and rebuilding efforts. Tonya Norman, one of the first of our staff to be on the ground, offers these reflections:
Until I came here to Alabama, I had no idea the level of devastation that this area had faced. When you round that last curve in the hills of Northeastern Alabama and come into the area that Adventures is serving, the destruction is so overwhelming it takes your breath away.
It is more reminiscent of a war zone than a rural community. In the face of something so horrible, it’s easy to look at the scope of the devastation and think, “Can I even make a difference?”
When we met Donnie, it was almost two weeks after the tornadoes had ripped his life apart and he seemed to have lost all hope as he wrestled with his loss. He lost his two neighbors in that storm – his neighbors were his mother and his brother.
Family is everything in this area. There aren’t a lot of outsiders that make their way into this community, and it was unheard of for absolute strangers to show up to lend a hand. Of course in the midst of a disaster, all of that changes.
Our teams befriended Donnie and began to see some ways that they could help — they could spend time with him and they could work.
They fired up their chainsaws, pulled out their hammers, and warmed up their power tools and went to work. With team after team coming in, we have been able to help Donnie begin to put his life back together. He seems stronger and stronger with each visit — and the warmth and genuine thankfulness can be seen clearly in the glistening in his eyes.
Teams come to serve him, but he insists on serving us. We arrived on site last week and he had put up a shelter and set up lawn chairs for the volunteers to have a place to rest in the shade. He brought out water coolers of ice and packed his refrigerator, now plugged in outside, with cold drinks for us.
Donnie’s family made potato salad and beans and cakes for over 100 volunteers serving all along his neighborhood! He is intent on writing personal thank you notes to every person who has come out to help him. To say that he is grateful is a profound understatement.
Just yesterday we went by his house around dusk and had the opportunity to talk with him. The transformation is astounding.
He greeted us with a sweet smile and gave us some eggs from his chickens and invited us in. He talked about God and how he didn’t need to worry about anything and that God was good and that He would take care of him.
This was a man now carrying hope. He had even gone to church for the first time in a long time that Sunday.
He is one person – one person who lost almost all that he had, including loved ones, He had been running from God, but God caught up with him.
And each of the individuals who came to work on Donnie’s land, or build his chicken coup, or construct his shed, or clean up around his property, or listen to his stories, or hug his neck, or share a story of the love they have in Jesus – each person has had a hand in filling him up with hope one moment at a time.
You can make a difference by simply reaching “the one” — the person standing right in front of you. This is the heart of God; this is the heart of Adventures in Missions.
There are so many more like Donnie who need love; they need someone to climb up on a roof and lay some shingles, or drag some limbs to the street, or rebuild a fence, and at end the day, sit in the shade and listen to their story and love on them, and tell them about the best Carpenter who ever lived.