It’s been three weeks since an F4 tornado struck Central Illinois, shredding homes and destroying 20% of my hometown. One of the most devastating parts of this tragedy involves the reality that so many families have been uprooted. 1200 homes were damaged. Everybody knows somebody who was impacted. Every person seems to have a story from the morning of November 17th, what they were thinking or doing and how they responded. Sounds and images continue to sear minds and steer conversations. PTSD is far-reaching as people say things like, “I can’t sleep.” “My mind won’t stop.” “My daughter now cries for no reason.” “My son started throwing temper tantrums.” Some feel depressed and can’t get going while others are anxious and can’t seem to stop.
Many are simply overwhelmed by the gravity of it all. People feel uncertain about the future and dazed by the past. The effect of such a powerful storm, in November nonetheless, cannot be forgotten. Life as we know it is turned upside down. Piles of debris adorn streets that once were friendly neighborhoods where children used to run and play. The scene looks surreal, as though some invading army dropped a bomb which shattered homes across the state.
I noticed my body tense up once I first entered the afflicted area hit the hardest. I quickly realized that I could not find my way around all the wreckage so I used a map program on my phone to figure out where I was and locate where I was going. “How strange,” I thought to myself. “I used to roam these streets with my high school buddies only now; all signs of familiarity are gone.” It took less than 30 seconds as 200+ mph winds cleared homes and threw cars and minivans like they were leaves.
The story continues and there is hope on the horizon. The community is pulling together like never before. Accounts of salvation and unexplainable intervention paint a picture of God’s hand that remarkably saved countless lives and families. One church packed full of praying congregants huddled on their knees were spared as the tornado struck the parking lot then miraculously changed course with a last second shift in its path. Families’ report how some went to church for the first time in years that morning – which saved their lives since their homes were lost. Others fled to their basements as the tornado hurled debris, vehicles and trees at their homes.
A father was holding his two infants safe in his arms as the tornado struck his house. Once he opened his eyes, he saw his two infants safe and sound nearby while his lap was full of bricks. The tornado was big. The tornado was bad. Yet, God was good. For many who are looking for God, peace is replacing tension and pain while others still feel trapped in despair.
One of my friends lived just on the line of the tornado and was a first responder to many of the demolished homes in his neighborhood. He described the scene to me, running up the stairs from his basement then peering out at the devastation from his deck. He ran to piles of rubble then grabbed dazed children as they were lifted out of basement windows, he helped shocked families climb out of debris. When we prayed together, he experienced Immanuel change for the first time since the tornado and his perception of God being with him brought much-needed peace and relief, even some new perspective. During prayer he noticed a new “God thought”, and described how he perceived God carefully guided the tornado through the town for the least possible casualties. “God was protecting us” he said as a smile broke loose and melted away tension and anxiety. “God was with my family” he said, and now he could breathe easier.
Jen and I knew we needed to reach out and serve our community. Here we are, sitting on a gold-mine of training and resources that equips people to thrive, to start joy and to recover when things go wrong. “We must do something! But what?” we asked ourselves. We turned to Immanuel for guidance and felt God’s quiet affirmation, “I will bring the opportunities to you.” He has.
This Sunday, December 15th we are offering Share Immanuel training for leaders to learn basic tools at New Life Christian Church in Morton, Illinois. The following Wednesday, December 18, we invite the community for a time of ministry and prayer to help families find comfort, peace and joy by having the awareness of God’s presence.
There is not much time before these events take place and we pray God will bring people to these scheduled meetings who need some peace. We will follow up with more training events after Christmas. Will you pray with us that God will restore the ashes to beauty for this region?
Thanking you for your faithful prayer support,
Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org
Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com