I was coming up on the Outer Banks when I received the Samaritan’s Purse text about them needing help on tornado response & recovery in Greensboro, North Carolina. So instead of continuing my trek north to Virginia I headed west about five hours to Greensboro. I’d served with SP before on hurricane cleanup and rebuild projects in the Houston area so I knew what I was getting into. So I thought.
About 5 pm Sunday I arrived at Grace Community Church, our hosts for the team’s deployment. Lorenzo, the SP project manager, met me as I pulled in and helped get my rig secured for the duration. After dinner in the community room, I settled in for the night to get rested for what looked like a rainy day Monday. And rain it did. The next two days were a soggy mess., slogging & sloshing thru mud & wet brush.
In the morning on the way to our first job site we passed significant tornado damage, including one house that had been blown fully off its foundation about 20 feet away. (The television, however, was still sitting on the foundation.) Downed trees were everywhere; roofs were gone; bricks and debris were scattered all over the place. It was gut wrenching. Kenny, our team lead, asked me to grab a chain saw and start cutting trees into movable sizes that could be dragged or hauled by wheelbarrow to the street. We cleared trees and debris for hours—all day.
Our team, which ranged from about six of us to more than 20 co-workers cleared trees, brush, fences, trash, personal belongings, and whatever else the storm tore up to the street where city crews could pick it up for hauling to the dump. A couple jobs required a skip-steer to move larger tree trunks or lift trees off vehicles. It was amazing how a bunch of regular men & women could come together to help make a horrible situation a little bit better.
I feel bad that the 20+ jobs I helped on have already begun to meld together because each job has a story: a home destroyed, beautiful trees uprooted, lives impacted. I guess that’s what storms do.
But I’m also heartened and so very grateful for the opportunity to serve. I met incredible people, both on my team and the homeowners we served. My core team—those with me the longest—will always be more than friends. They are my brothers and sisters. Mike & Nik from Hillsboro, Ohio are a couple of the most diligent chainsaw guys & solid people you could ask for. They never quit and, I know, those 36 inch guns get heavy! Ricky, from Long Island, New York, a retired NYPD officer and now pastor of his church: what an awesome, loving, caring man of God. Theresa from Fort Wayne, Indiana who’s a “domestic engineer” and has the tenacity and joy in serving like no other. The Teen Challenge guys (more on them in a minute) nicknamed her G.I. Jane. Perfect! Theresa, in turn, nicknamed me Vagabum. I like it. Gonna let that stick. And finally Kenny, our team lead. I’ve rarely met a man chasing so hard after God’s heart. Kenny’s dry humor, his goofy songs & stories, his faith-building songs, his love for people… what a man. I’ll work with you anytime, anywhere Kenny. I love all you guys and pray for God’s blessings on your lives. Hope to see you all down the road!
Wednesday and Friday the awesome guys from Teen Challenge joined us on our job sites. These guys, each recovering from some kind of addiction, were nothing short of God-sends. They brought life, laughter, youth and strength to the game! To a man they served ceaselessly with obvious joy and love for Christ in their hearts. They were kinda like wood chippers, as they made mountains of brush, limbs, and trees trunks disappear to the street. We would’ve been in a world of hurt without them. I’m so proud of how they’ve turned their lives over to a better Strength.
And there were the homeowners. I’ll never forget or truly understand how gracious they all were. How appreciative they are. How, in the midst of horrendous destruction, so many of them are standing strong in their faith and how, on several occasions, they served us simply with their hugs, smiles and, yes, even tears. Whether we were praying into a job site for safety and that we’d be the hands and feet of Jesus in the neighborhood or we were thanking Him for protecting us through another job, homeowners often stood with us hand-in-hand recognizing that even in the midst of hell on earth, God is good. I know we have some issues in our country, and I know racism continues its ugly impact on lives. But this week, in Greensboro, I saw nothing but care, concern & love for each other thanks to one Common Denominator. It was beautiful!
I could probably write about this week all night and not cover it all. But I’m battered, I’m bruised. I’m beat. Yet I’m so blessed. This has been the best five-hour detour of my life. Good night my friends. May God bless Greensboro and the life-giving work of Samaritan’s Purse.